Warren's Inn
Carolyn Wenglar Okay, since we're talking about Warren's, we'd better make this one "best bar moms." The bartending babes -- young and old -- of this venerable downtown watering hole are all delightfully skilled in the stuff of drinks. They can mix virtually anything with flair and flavor; and they can most certainly mix it up with the eclectic blend of patrons drawn to this Market Square institution. When namesake Warren Trousdale died about 15 years ago, there were fears that the place would go with him. But sister Carolyn Wenglar took over and took Warren's to new heights. She and her crew survived the near-death of downtown, the regrettable passing of master bartender Jose Serna and stiff competition from newcomer nightspots. Credit more than a little motherly love from this wonderful cast: Mom's the word when talk turns to Warren's.

Gulf Coast Reading Series Born from the Creative Writing Program at the University of Houston, the Gulf Coast Reading Series offers any hungry bibliophile a can't-miss opportunity to witness up-and-coming literati before they hit the big time. Organized by (and featuring) graduate students from the UH program, the Gulf Coast series has introduced many young writers -- including poet Cate Marvin and fiction writer Vikram Chandr -- who've gone on to publish award-winning work in books and in such publications as The New Yorker and The Paris Review. Unlike many chain-store-style readings, where the author tries to carry on amidst noisy and indifferent passersby, these readings are usually held on Friday evenings after Brazos Bookstore has closed its doors. They're intimate sit-down affairs where readers can really get into the tone, the pace and the subject matter of the writing, and audiences can enjoy words that may someday make Houston proud.

Gulf Coast Reading Series Born from the Creative Writing Program at the University of Houston, the Gulf Coast Reading Series offers any hungry bibliophile a can't-miss opportunity to witness up-and-coming literati before they hit the big time. Organized by (and featuring) graduate students from the UH program, the Gulf Coast series has introduced many young writers -- including poet Cate Marvin and fiction writer Vikram Chandr -- who've gone on to publish award-winning work in books and in such publications as The New Yorker and The Paris Review. Unlike many chain-store-style readings, where the author tries to carry on amidst noisy and indifferent passersby, these readings are usually held on Friday evenings after Brazos Bookstore has closed its doors. They're intimate sit-down affairs where readers can really get into the tone, the pace and the subject matter of the writing, and audiences can enjoy words that may someday make Houston proud.

La Strada Perched above one of the noisiest areas of Westheimer, the second-floor patio at the newly remodeled La Strada is classy, casual and deliciously above it all. It offers a roof to shield patrons from the sun, track lighting to cut the darkness, and piped-in air conditioning and ceiling fans to keep the breeze moving. You can barely glimpse the signs for body piercing and tattoos over the boxes of pink bougainvilleas lining the railing. Yet for all the care given to protecting its patrons from Houston's sun, heat and chaos, the patio still manages to feel airy. It's the perfected execution of alfresco dining for a city that prefers the indoors.

La Strada
La Strada Perched above one of the noisiest areas of Westheimer, the second-floor patio at the newly remodeled La Strada is classy, casual and deliciously above it all. It offers a roof to shield patrons from the sun, track lighting to cut the darkness, and piped-in air conditioning and ceiling fans to keep the breeze moving. You can barely glimpse the signs for body piercing and tattoos over the boxes of pink bougainvilleas lining the railing. Yet for all the care given to protecting its patrons from Houston's sun, heat and chaos, the patio still manages to feel airy. It's the perfected execution of alfresco dining for a city that prefers the indoors.

Shay McElroy's Irish Pub Consumption of spirits in a relaxing downtown locale always comes easy, thanks to the McElroy clan. They started with the comfortable beachhead pub in Shepherd Plaza, stepped up to the stylish setting of the State Bar & Lounge at the Rice Lofts, and have balanced that beautifully with the quietly cordial Shay McElroy's on the Main Street side of the Rice Hotel. Let the newly arrived drinking establishments downtown jack up the decibels and try to outdazzle and disco one another to death. As with the venerable La Carafe and Warren's, Shay is content to do what counts most: offer up quality drinks at reasonable prices, in the clean, cozy confines of a small neighborhood bar. In the bedlam of a downtown scene that's just beginning to find its true self, Shay McElroy's is as authentic as they come. The McElroys have managed to make their newest place look and feel as if it has been there since the beginning. May it last forever.

Shay McElroy's Irish Pub Consumption of spirits in a relaxing downtown locale always comes easy, thanks to the McElroy clan. They started with the comfortable beachhead pub in Shepherd Plaza, stepped up to the stylish setting of the State Bar & Lounge at the Rice Lofts, and have balanced that beautifully with the quietly cordial Shay McElroy's on the Main Street side of the Rice Hotel. Let the newly arrived drinking establishments downtown jack up the decibels and try to outdazzle and disco one another to death. As with the venerable La Carafe and Warren's, Shay is content to do what counts most: offer up quality drinks at reasonable prices, in the clean, cozy confines of a small neighborhood bar. In the bedlam of a downtown scene that's just beginning to find its true self, Shay McElroy's is as authentic as they come. The McElroys have managed to make their newest place look and feel as if it has been there since the beginning. May it last forever.

Freedom Sold From the funky whiteys and their rap-rock hybrids, to the experimental East Coasters and their off-kilter patterns, to the crunk pioneers of the Southeast with their ultra-aggro approach to the art, it's hard to say just what hip-hop is these days. It's gone way past two turntables and a microphone, but Houston's Freedom Sold knew that eight years ago. Incorporating noisy, Sonic Youth/Pussy Galore-style guitars, out-of-this-world turntablism, chaotic beats and sometimes scary samples, the duo of rapper-guitarist Kwame Anderson and DJ Space Ghost create their own distinct sound that stretches the boundaries of hip-hop without venturing too far from its basic aesthetic. And it works. Their live show is a barrage of political-speak and feedback, layered with deft scratches, pumping beats and more energy than any Houston rapper has ever displayed. Not for the syrup-sippin' set, these guys are more for the intellectual, dope-smoking, coffee-drinking crowd.

Freedom Sold From the funky whiteys and their rap-rock hybrids, to the experimental East Coasters and their off-kilter patterns, to the crunk pioneers of the Southeast with their ultra-aggro approach to the art, it's hard to say just what hip-hop is these days. It's gone way past two turntables and a microphone, but Houston's Freedom Sold knew that eight years ago. Incorporating noisy, Sonic Youth/Pussy Galore-style guitars, out-of-this-world turntablism, chaotic beats and sometimes scary samples, the duo of rapper-guitarist Kwame Anderson and DJ Space Ghost create their own distinct sound that stretches the boundaries of hip-hop without venturing too far from its basic aesthetic. And it works. Their live show is a barrage of political-speak and feedback, layered with deft scratches, pumping beats and more energy than any Houston rapper has ever displayed. Not for the syrup-sippin' set, these guys are more for the intellectual, dope-smoking, coffee-drinking crowd.

Best Of Houston®

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