Didn't know there's a lesbian Tejano bar in town? Tight niche. Mela's has been filling that niche free of competition since 1980, back when few folks were comfortable with the thought of lesbianism and fewer were familiar with the word Tejano. Owner Herlinda "Mela" Contreras, 55, was born and raised in Houston as one of 16 children. Contreras was honored as the female grand marshal for this year's pride parade. Her family always knew she was gay but never gave her anything less than full support. That support has been instrumental in her success at keeping her bar open more than 20 years. Mela's has changed with time, with its guests branching out to lesbian and straight couples alike, Latinos, bolillos (gringos) and every other race. Order up a michelada, a house favorite made with Mexican beer (usually Corona) mixed with lime and hot sauce. The spicy coolness strikes a tasty balance against Houston's heat.
Didn't know there's a lesbian Tejano bar in town? Tight niche. Mela's has been filling that niche free of competition since 1980, back when few folks were comfortable with the thought of lesbianism and fewer were familiar with the word Tejano. Owner Herlinda "Mela" Contreras, 55, was born and raised in Houston as one of 16 children. Contreras was honored as the female grand marshal for this year's pride parade. Her family always knew she was gay but never gave her anything less than full support. That support has been instrumental in her success at keeping her bar open more than 20 years. Mela's has changed with time, with its guests branching out to lesbian and straight couples alike, Latinos, bolillos (gringos) and every other race. Order up a michelada, a house favorite made with Mexican beer (usually Corona) mixed with lime and hot sauce. The spicy coolness strikes a tasty balance against Houston's heat.
Not many jukes can take the pressure of having their own theme night, but Tom McLendon's Big Easy box can. Every Monday, he turns off the coin slot and customers have free rein to play all the Lightnin' Hopkins, Ray Charles, Neville Brothers and George (both Porter and Jones) they want. There's free pool, too, so if you want to go in and bone up on your billiards and your Gulf Coast classics some Blue Monday, the Big Easy's your best bet.
The Big Easy Social and Pleasure Club
Not many jukes can take the pressure of having their own theme night, but Tom McLendon's Big Easy box can. Every Monday, he turns off the coin slot and customers have free rein to play all the Lightnin' Hopkins, Ray Charles, Neville Brothers and George (both Porter and Jones) they want. There's free pool, too, so if you want to go in and bone up on your billiards and your Gulf Coast classics some Blue Monday, the Big Easy's your best bet.
Tack an extra digit onto your SAT scores. Valhalla is a grad student-run bar tucked into a corner of the old chemistry building on Rice's abundantly treed campus (look for the red arched door). Even without the verdant surroundings, Valhalla's ridiculously cheap 75-cent beer is a sufficient lure for anyone interested in the effects of ethanol on the human body. The bartenders are volunteer Rice staff, faculty, students and alumni. Out on the lawn, perpetual doctoral students and their families lounge on the grass while their four-year-olds debate the existence of the Higgs boson particle and deconstruct Finnegans Wake. As DEET-coated children play Frisbee to observe laminar flow, adults take turns making beer runs into the dim, quasi-subterranean bar.
Valhalla
Tack an extra digit onto your SAT scores. Valhalla is a grad student-run bar tucked into a corner of the old chemistry building on Rice's abundantly treed campus (look for the red arched door). Even without the verdant surroundings, Valhalla's ridiculously cheap 75-cent beer is a sufficient lure for anyone interested in the effects of ethanol on the human body. The bartenders are volunteer Rice staff, faculty, students and alumni. Out on the lawn, perpetual doctoral students and their families lounge on the grass while their four-year-olds debate the existence of the Higgs boson particle and deconstruct Finnegans Wake. As DEET-coated children play Frisbee to observe laminar flow, adults take turns making beer runs into the dim, quasi-subterranean bar.
Chris Wolfe has been at the original Berryhill Hot Tamales for the last four and a half years. New patrons hear his singsong "Hi, I'm Chris, what can I get you?" then are amazed as the sandy-haired, all-American boy rattles off instructions in Spanish to the kitchen staff while filling a drink order a regular hasn't even asked for yet. He makes juggling the tiny bar and Mexican eatery look easy, even on a clear night when 50 or 60 folks fill the outdoor tables and line up for takeout. If you've been in more than twice, Chris knows your name and what you drink. If you're a regular, he knows where you live and who you live with. Heck, he probably even knows your shoe size. This one you can trust to order for you and tell you whether the queso's any good today. Tip heavily. Now that he's got his college degree, he may get a day job.
Chicken Supremo Burrito
Photo by Joanna O'Leary
Chicken Supremo Burrito
Chris Wolfe has been at the original Berryhill Hot Tamales for the last four and a half years. New patrons hear his singsong "Hi, I'm Chris, what can I get you?" then are amazed as the sandy-haired, all-American boy rattles off instructions in Spanish to the kitchen staff while filling a drink order a regular hasn't even asked for yet. He makes juggling the tiny bar and Mexican eatery look easy, even on a clear night when 50 or 60 folks fill the outdoor tables and line up for takeout. If you've been in more than twice, Chris knows your name and what you drink. If you're a regular, he knows where you live and who you live with. Heck, he probably even knows your shoe size. This one you can trust to order for you and tell you whether the queso's any good today. Tip heavily. Now that he's got his college degree, he may get a day job.
Like the city it came from, Jug o' Lightnin' is zoning-free. You can't peg its blues-rock-bluegrass-country sound with a few pithy words -- it has shades of all but is none of the above. What it is is moss-draped, gutbucket, raw and in-the-pocket. When Aaron Loesch, Chris King and "Mopar" Mike Sinclair are rolling through one of their bayou-style trash-can symphonies, they create a vacuumlike suction that draws you inexorably to the heart of the groove. Roots bands with unique aesthetics are about as hard to find as it is to catch lightning in a bottle, and as their name states, Jug o' Lightnin' has pulled it off. Thank God for this rare instance of 100 percent unmitigated truth in advertising.

Like the city it came from, Jug o' Lightnin' is zoning-free. You can't peg its blues-rock-bluegrass-country sound with a few pithy words -- it has shades of all but is none of the above. What it is is moss-draped, gutbucket, raw and in-the-pocket. When Aaron Loesch, Chris King and "Mopar" Mike Sinclair are rolling through one of their bayou-style trash-can symphonies, they create a vacuumlike suction that draws you inexorably to the heart of the groove. Roots bands with unique aesthetics are about as hard to find as it is to catch lightning in a bottle, and as their name states, Jug o' Lightnin' has pulled it off. Thank God for this rare instance of 100 percent unmitigated truth in advertising.

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