Blanco's Bar & Grill
The minute you walk into Blanco's and see the beaten hardwood floors, or breathe in the fog of cigarette smoke, or just push your way past a posse of cowboys in Wranglers and pearl-snaps, you know you've found the real thing: a genuine Texas honky-tonk. This oasis of traditional Texana in the heart of the Greenbriar area is no poseur's paradise; the people who frequent the place know their country music, and they know their right foot from their left. On the dance floor, as the band kicks in the kicker tunes, the two-steppers twirl and glide with a mechanical precision that is awesome to behold. Rookie hoofers need to watch for the oncoming train of two-steppers ready to knock them off the tracks. Joe Parsons, otherwise known as the River Oaks Redneck, books the bands, and there are few others in the Lone Star State who know the music better than Joe. He has an uncanny ability to spot young talent, like Clay Farmer, as well as to showcase the finest artists from around the state. The only drawback is Blanco's hours of operation, or lack thereof: The joint is closed Saturdays. We suspect the honky-tonk believes in the time-honored philosophy of artists everywhere: Always leave 'em wanting more.

Blanco's

The minute you walk into Blanco's and see the beaten hardwood floors, or breathe in the fog of cigarette smoke, or just push your way past a posse of cowboys in Wranglers and pearl-snaps, you know you've found the real thing: a genuine Texas honky-tonk. This oasis of traditional Texana in the heart of the Greenbriar area is no poseur's paradise; the people who frequent the place know their country music, and they know their right foot from their left. On the dance floor, as the band kicks in the kicker tunes, the two-steppers twirl and glide with a mechanical precision that is awesome to behold. Rookie hoofers need to watch for the oncoming train of two-steppers ready to knock them off the tracks. Joe Parsons, otherwise known as the River Oaks Redneck, books the bands, and there are few others in the Lone Star State who know the music better than Joe. He has an uncanny ability to spot young talent, like Clay Farmer, as well as to showcase the finest artists from around the state. The only drawback is Blanco's hours of operation, or lack thereof: The joint is closed Saturdays. We suspect the honky-tonk believes in the time-honored philosophy of artists everywhere: Always leave 'em wanting more.

Blanco's

The blues is not complicated. It does not require a complicated venue to host it. In fact, it thrives in just the opposite: intimate neighborhood bars where the beat of the drummer matches the beat of your heart, each offering something to the other in a sort of telepathy between bandstand and audience. Houston is blessed with many such venues, places like Miss Ann's Play Pen, El Nedo and the Super Star Club. But for atmosphere and a killer schedule of talent, no one tops the Big Easy. Its Kirby winner, between the yuppie playgrounds of the Rice Village and Upper Kirby, belies its gritty ambience. For every corporate executive slumming in a pair of Gap khakis, there are two bikers in leather and chains and maybe even an Urban Animal performing pirouettes on the dance floor on a pair of in-line skates. This is the blues as a tactile experience, perhaps even an act of survival on those nights when the crowd is packed in there like worms in a bait can. The Big Easy books the best local, regional and sometimes national talent and showcases those bands with a minimum of fuss -- and cover charge. The place understands that the blues does not come with a high price tag, although it always exacts a cost from the listener who really pays attention.
The blues is not complicated. It does not require a complicated venue to host it. In fact, it thrives in just the opposite: intimate neighborhood bars where the beat of the drummer matches the beat of your heart, each offering something to the other in a sort of telepathy between bandstand and audience. Houston is blessed with many such venues, places like Miss Ann's Play Pen, El Nedo and the Super Star Club. But for atmosphere and a killer schedule of talent, no one tops the Big Easy. Its Kirby winner, between the yuppie playgrounds of the Rice Village and Upper Kirby, belies its gritty ambience. For every corporate executive slumming in a pair of Gap khakis, there are two bikers in leather and chains and maybe even an Urban Animal performing pirouettes on the dance floor on a pair of in-line skates. This is the blues as a tactile experience, perhaps even an act of survival on those nights when the crowd is packed in there like worms in a bait can. The Big Easy books the best local, regional and sometimes national talent and showcases those bands with a minimum of fuss -- and cover charge. The place understands that the blues does not come with a high price tag, although it always exacts a cost from the listener who really pays attention.
Spotlight Karaoke
If Ed McMahon had the gumption to host a Houston Star Search, Spotlight Karaoke would be his headquarters. Bringing in crowds of all colors, all ages and all -- umm, both -- genders, the Spotlight is where countertenor accountants go when they're not crunching numbers and where shower-stall divas go when they're trying to combat stage fright. A good majority of Spotlight's clientele exhibits some voice training, presumably from church choirs or high school ensembles. And these folks are real. No frilly costumes here. That guy sitting two stools down with the Shiner Bock in his hand and wearing the CAT baseball cap can really soar like Johnny Wilder on Heatwave's "Always and Forever." And that older gal in the stirrups and flats, her voice is a dead ringer for Patsy Cline's. Though the techies in charge of the microphone could lay off the echo sound effect a little, they never fail to deliver top-notch sound quality, in a room that's cavernous, clean and fun -- for everybody, not just out-of-work or aspiring musicians.
If Ed McMahon had the gumption to host a Houston Star Search, Spotlight Karaoke would be his headquarters. Bringing in crowds of all colors, all ages and all -- umm, both -- genders, the Spotlight is where countertenor accountants go when they're not crunching numbers and where shower-stall divas go when they're trying to combat stage fright. A good majority of Spotlight's clientele exhibits some voice training, presumably from church choirs or high school ensembles. And these folks are real. No frilly costumes here. That guy sitting two stools down with the Shiner Bock in his hand and wearing the CAT baseball cap can really soar like Johnny Wilder on Heatwave's "Always and Forever." And that older gal in the stirrups and flats, her voice is a dead ringer for Patsy Cline's. Though the techies in charge of the microphone could lay off the echo sound effect a little, they never fail to deliver top-notch sound quality, in a room that's cavernous, clean and fun -- for everybody, not just out-of-work or aspiring musicians.
Face it. The heat, humidity, hurricanes and assorted other urban horrors make Houston a place that can't survive without a healthy dose of -- you guessed it -- humor. While there are only a handful of stand-up comedy venues in the area, the the Laff Stop consistently comes through with the pros with the punch-line polish. The late Bill Hicks and assorted other Texas Outlaw Comics kept Houstonians laughing through the Bayou City's bleak days, and Laff Stop operator Mark Babbitt ensures that the fun will continue into the future. Laff Stop has a suitable venue, with good service and a showroom that holds up to 300, along with a more intimate lounge. Credit Babbitt's coast connections for a steady supply of major-league comedians (Jake Johannsen, Lewis Black, Harland Williams and Colin Quinn, to name a few). And his handle on humor keeps the club on top of the area's comedic scene. The Laff Stop bills itself as Texas's oldest comedy club -- while it shows it still has the freshest talent. And that's no joke.
Face it. The heat, humidity, hurricanes and assorted other urban horrors make Houston a place that can't survive without a healthy dose of -- you guessed it -- humor. While there are only a handful of stand-up comedy venues in the area, the the Laff Stop consistently comes through with the pros with the punch-line polish. The late Bill Hicks and assorted other Texas Outlaw Comics kept Houstonians laughing through the Bayou City's bleak days, and Laff Stop operator Mark Babbitt ensures that the fun will continue into the future. Laff Stop has a suitable venue, with good service and a showroom that holds up to 300, along with a more intimate lounge. Credit Babbitt's coast connections for a steady supply of major-league comedians (Jake Johannsen, Lewis Black, Harland Williams and Colin Quinn, to name a few). And his handle on humor keeps the club on top of the area's comedic scene. The Laff Stop bills itself as Texas's oldest comedy club -- while it shows it still has the freshest talent. And that's no joke.
Sometime in the '60s, the moviegoing experience suffered a serious blow: Chain operators built small, shoe-boxlike theaters where people were shooed in and out with all the ceremony of cattle herding. In recent years, chains have started building megaplexes with stadium seating and large screens. But the cheap materials, gaudy colors and boxy constructions still bespeak corporations more interested in moving tickets than leaving moviegoers genuinely moved by their surroundings. The Angelika, by contrast, understands that moviegoing is a sensual experience and that it deserves a building to complement it. This film center in downtown's Bayou Place is tastefully constructed and appointed: The foyer is a grand high-ceilinged waiting area with a light color scheme, a chandelier and oversize French liquor advertisements, à la Toulouse-Lautrec. To the left is a casual and subtly elegant cafe serving adventurous appetizers and sandwiches, and to the right is the hallway to the theaters, which come equipped with all the stadium comforts found in those megaplexes. The Angelika books a smart balance of mainstream Hollywood pictures and independent films, hip enough for inner-city cineasts and broad enough for their suburban friends. And unlike those Outer Loop gigaplexes, the Angelika doesn't dump you into an ugly, sprawling parking lot. Instead, it guides you right back into the heart of downtown, with even more entertainment options for the taking.
Sometime in the '60s, the moviegoing experience suffered a serious blow: Chain operators built small, shoe-boxlike theaters where people were shooed in and out with all the ceremony of cattle herding. In recent years, chains have started building megaplexes with stadium seating and large screens. But the cheap materials, gaudy colors and boxy constructions still bespeak corporations more interested in moving tickets than leaving moviegoers genuinely moved by their surroundings. The Angelika, by contrast, understands that moviegoing is a sensual experience and that it deserves a building to complement it. This film center in downtown's Bayou Place is tastefully constructed and appointed: The foyer is a grand high-ceilinged waiting area with a light color scheme, a chandelier and oversize French liquor advertisements, à la Toulouse-Lautrec. To the left is a casual and subtly elegant cafe serving adventurous appetizers and sandwiches, and to the right is the hallway to the theaters, which come equipped with all the stadium comforts found in those megaplexes. The Angelika books a smart balance of mainstream Hollywood pictures and independent films, hip enough for inner-city cineasts and broad enough for their suburban friends. And unlike those Outer Loop gigaplexes, the Angelika doesn't dump you into an ugly, sprawling parking lot. Instead, it guides you right back into the heart of downtown, with even more entertainment options for the taking.

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