As we may have mentioned, Rocks Off was none too pleased when we read The New York Times' most recent article on Houston in this past Sunday's travel section and found exactly zero mentions of anything music-related. This is Houston, so of course we expected all that restaurant/museum/architecture love, but to read Denny Lee's article, you'd also think that the folks at Poison Girl, Max's Wine Dive and Marfreless carry on in total silence without even a jukebox or bartender's iPod for company. But we Texans are friendly types, for the most part, so Rocks Off sheathed our long knives of sarcasm and polled a few of our regular writers to see where they'd take an NYT travel writer should they come back with the assignment to study Houston's music scene. (Hey, Dallas did it, so anything can happen.) And we hope they do come back... eventually.
Alice's Tall Texan (4904 N. Main, 713-862-0141): You want to show the Yankees how we really drink? Take them to Alice's Tall Texan off North Main for a few cheap-ass goblets of Lone Star and Shiner Bock. Make them listen to George Strait and Freddy Fender while they attempt to guzzle down a few glasses for added effect. Tall Texan is the kind of place where we will all end up after we tire of tequila shots and well bourbon in our old age and just want to be left alone to our own devices, watching the Astros lose while drinking the best beer our state has to offer. Did the Times folks even try a Lone Star, let alone a Saint Arnold's Summer Pils? We doubt it. Craig Hlavaty Blanco's (3406 W. Alabama, 713-439-0072, www.houstonredneck.com): Though the musical lineup can be spotty, on nights when the right band is booked, Blanco's comes fairly close to the Urban Cowboy image that the whole world seems to still project onto Houston 30 years after John Travolta rode the mechanical bull at Gilley's. On the right nights, when dance bands like Jake Hooker, Davin James or Johnny Falstaff command the stage, and if you squint your eyes just right, the old River Oaks dive takes on an aura that reminds us of the vestiges of our rapidly fading cowboy culture when a cold beer and a two-step with a pretty lady or handsome cowboy were about all that was required for a successful Saturday night. This is one place where out-of-towners will actually see people in cowboy hats and fancy boots in a town where that chic faded 20 years ago. We recently took a friend from Baltimore to a local bar where he was surprised to find that he was the only person there with a cowboy hat! Completing the cowboy honky-tonk trifecta, there's even a pool table, shuffleboard table and a stuffed buffalo. Throw in Blanco's "just the way your mama made 'em" burgers and fries or Texas-to-a-T tacos and nachos and you're set for a laid-back, enjoyable and relatively inexpensive evening. You could never find a honky-tonk this legit in NYC, so even if you're not a dancer, this is a must see. And did we mention there's ample free parking? William Michael Smith Cactus Music (2110 Portsmouth, 713-526-9272, www.cactusmusictx.com): If the Times is so intent on shopping, they might as well buy some music, right? Although from what we heard from one staffer or another one time, when Little Steven visited the store and called Cactus "one of the last truly cool record stores" in the famous Twitter update that's now been blown up super-size on one of the store's front doors, the Underground Garage guru mentioned that there are no longer any record stores in Manhattan proper. Sad. Besides, with up to four in-stores a day on some weekend afternoons, they don't have to buy anything at all - but once they get an eyeful of all that vinyl at the Record Ranch, they might want to bring an empty suitcase just in case. C.G.
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The Mink (3718 Main, 713-522-9985, www.minkonmain.com): If you are staying downtown, this is one of the few small venues reachable by Houston's expansive network of public transportation. The upstairs, aka The Backroom, is reserved for bands, but some of the best nights we've had there have been on the tiny dance floor downstairs, where a succession of DJs spin monthly gigs, everything from a Soul and Mod night to Mexican indie-pop. On weekend nights, it's one of our most favorite places to sit back with a simple cocktail or a St. Arnold's Elissa. If it's still before 2 a.m., you can also hop next door to Tacos A Go-Go to soak the drunk up. Brittanie Shey Mr. Gino's (7306 Cullen Blvd., 713-738-0555): First, I'd send them to Mr. Gino's Sunday Night Blues Jam. New York may lay claim to being the birthplace of several different types of music, but the blues is something they can't touch. What's more, hip-hop, New York's No. 1 musical export, is a derivative of the blues. Reminding them that they're best music actually started here would be like reminding your dick friend that you slept with his wife before they got married. Shea Serrano Notsuoh (314 Main, 713-409-4750, www.notsuoh.com): Were The New York Times' writers too dear to hit the Main Street drag? We sort of think that whoever was shepherding them around town was trying to white-wash the image of our city. God bless them both, but if you want to see the real art world of Houston you don't walk into Anvil or Poison Girl. Your best bet is Notsuoh, which smacks of nothing but Houston, from weekly poetry readings, noise acts, and a hearty cast of every stripe of boho artist you can think of, including cameos by colorful local bums. C.H.
The Pitt (109 Spooner, Pasadena, 832-372-6229): Second, I'd send them to the minor-friendly The Pitt at about 10:45 p.m. on any Saturday night in the summer. It's not the music is just so great there - on average, it's probably second or third tier metal-- but it's usually packed with a bunch of wild, sweaty, half-drunk white and Mexican kids from Pasadena. The chances of the New Yorkers making it out of there without getting stabbed would be pretty low. S.S. Rudyard's (2010 Waugh, 713-521-0521, www.myspace.com/rudyards): The little Montrose pub has been a neighborhood favorite for over a quarter-century. The upstairs has seen the first (and final) gigs of tons of local bands past and present, as well as up-and-coming and legendary indie groups from across the nation. We've seen veterans The Fleshtones there, fucked-up bluesman Bob Log III and our best friend from junior high's band, on tour all the way from California, and that's just in the past few years. Downstairs is often populated with laid-back regulars. You can get a burger, fries and a Shiner or Lone Star at lunch for $7.50, and although it's just a Gardenburgers, their veggie burger is one of the best we've ever had. Fancier beer and microbrews in draft and bottles, and on the last Thursday of each month the pub has a beer tasting with specially-prepared food at $50 a head. Highbrow, meet lowbrow. B.S. Under the Volcano/Mango's: Should the Times be here mid-week, Rocks Off would take them on what has become our regular Wednesday-night tramp: First to the free shows at Under the Volcano (2349 Bissonet, 713-526-5282, www.myspace.com/underthevolcanobar), then a quick run over to Mango's (403 Westheimer, 713-522-8903, www.mangoscafehouston.com) for the late set by Robert Ellis and the Boys. These two drastically different venues - the Volcano has all sorts of high-end drinks and its toilets work, Mango's is El Cheapo personified with $2 Lone Stars and bathrooms that make peeing in the parking lot sometimes look like the smart play - make perfect bookends for any Wednesday bar crawl. While Ellis and the Boys hold down their residency with hardcore honky-tonk covers and a very eclectic (and usually packed) crowd mix, the Volcano shines with its choice booking mix of local (Mike Stinson, John Egan, Teresa Kolo), regional (Shinyribs, New Orleans Hustlers Brass Band, Fat Man & Little Boy) and occasionally national acts (Chuck Prophet, Tremoloco, Pistolera, Cordero). And the price for all of this would make a New Yorker weep with gratitude. Yes, NYC, the cost of living in Houston is amazingly low. Oh, and did we fail to mention there is free and ample parking? W.M.S.