Alley Theatre Most regional theaters would be delirious with a season that included just one recent Pulitzer Prize-winning play. But the Alley Theatre's artistic director, Gregory Boyd, is not your typical AD. Last season he proved it by filling up his stages with some wonderfully controversial shows, including two Pulitzer-winners. David Auburn's renowned Proof and Suzan-Lori Parks's Topdog/Underdog ran back to back, sandwiched between several other productions that were every bit as wonderful. There was a soaring production of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night and a biting rendition of Adly Guigis's Our Lady of 121st Street. And for the first time ever, the Alley produced a musical: Steven Sondheim's A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, featuring its very own company of actors, who proved their musical stature when the show was extended several weeks.

The Meridian
The Meridian Sure, this pagoda-studded hulk may look like the Chinese seafood warehouse that it once was, and yeah, it might be pretty hard to find the door to the place, but the Meridian is bringing in a lot of acts, from the remnants of the MC5 to Gavin DeGraw. The divan-dotted, haremlike antechamber is a nice touch, and the skyline view is pretty awesome, and what's more, they're still building over there. Plans are in the works to install a massive pub on another floor, and for a rooftop party place, possibly with a pool.

The Meridian Sure, this pagoda-studded hulk may look like the Chinese seafood warehouse that it once was, and yeah, it might be pretty hard to find the door to the place, but the Meridian is bringing in a lot of acts, from the remnants of the MC5 to Gavin DeGraw. The divan-dotted, haremlike antechamber is a nice touch, and the skyline view is pretty awesome, and what's more, they're still building over there. Plans are in the works to install a massive pub on another floor, and for a rooftop party place, possibly with a pool.

The John Sparrow Mod rockers the John Sparrow have the sort of appeal that spans generations. If you're a teenager or a twentysomething, they sound superhip. If you're in your thirties or forties, they remind you of the Jam, and singer Kevin Richardson is fast becoming the American Paul Weller. If you're an old fart that still likes to rock, the John Sparrow will remind you of the Kinks and the Who, especially madman drummer Mikey DeLeon, who is well on his way to becoming the American Keith Moon. (On stage at least; let's hope he doesn't have that guy's appetite for prescriptions.) The John Sparrow is signed to L.A.'s Bomp Records, the historic garage rock/punk/power-pop label that helped launch the Plimsouls, the Romantics and Iggy Pop's solo career; an album is coming soon.

The John Sparrow Mod rockers the John Sparrow have the sort of appeal that spans generations. If you're a teenager or a twentysomething, they sound superhip. If you're in your thirties or forties, they remind you of the Jam, and singer Kevin Richardson is fast becoming the American Paul Weller. If you're an old fart that still likes to rock, the John Sparrow will remind you of the Kinks and the Who, especially madman drummer Mikey DeLeon, who is well on his way to becoming the American Keith Moon. (On stage at least; let's hope he doesn't have that guy's appetite for prescriptions.) The John Sparrow is signed to L.A.'s Bomp Records, the historic garage rock/punk/power-pop label that helped launch the Plimsouls, the Romantics and Iggy Pop's solo career; an album is coming soon.

The Next Door Bar
The Next Door The jukebox at Rudyard's -- next door to the Next Door, as it were -- is no slouch, with its selection of alt-country, cool local tunes, classic jazz and rock and blues, but the one at this art gallery/bar has it beat. Though the art on the walls is often top-notch, the jukebox is the real masterpiece here. Black Sabbath and Portishead, Led Zeppelin and the Cure, De La Soul and Dr. Dre, Prince and Johnny Cash all coexist within the bowels of this wonderfully stocked sound system -- there isn't a duffer in the bunch. It's a shame the transmissions from it aren't broadcast all over town -- it would easily be Houston's best radio station.

The Next Door The jukebox at Rudyard's -- next door to the Next Door, as it were -- is no slouch, with its selection of alt-country, cool local tunes, classic jazz and rock and blues, but the one at this art gallery/bar has it beat. Though the art on the walls is often top-notch, the jukebox is the real masterpiece here. Black Sabbath and Portishead, Led Zeppelin and the Cure, De La Soul and Dr. Dre, Prince and Johnny Cash all coexist within the bowels of this wonderfully stocked sound system -- there isn't a duffer in the bunch. It's a shame the transmissions from it aren't broadcast all over town -- it would easily be Houston's best radio station.

Barbara Bears and Andrew Murphy What a way to bounce back after a baby. Barbara Bears returned to Houston Ballet's stage this season after a two-year hiatus, and she's looking stronger than ever, and her dancing is consequently more expressive. For fans who thought they had seen the last of Bears, her comeback has been a blessing, as has the Aussie influence at the company. New head honcho Stanton Welch has brought with him some wonderful boy dancers, in particular the strapping Andrew Murphy. This lad looks as good in Balanchine as he does Petipa. Please, Mr. Welch, give us more pairings of these principals; they are the dynamic dancing duo.

Barbara Bears and Andrew Murphy What a way to bounce back after a baby. Barbara Bears returned to Houston Ballet's stage this season after a two-year hiatus, and she's looking stronger than ever, and her dancing is consequently more expressive. For fans who thought they had seen the last of Bears, her comeback has been a blessing, as has the Aussie influence at the company. New head honcho Stanton Welch has brought with him some wonderful boy dancers, in particular the strapping Andrew Murphy. This lad looks as good in Balanchine as he does Petipa. Please, Mr. Welch, give us more pairings of these principals; they are the dynamic dancing duo.

Ruthie's Place Don't let the modernist tin exterior fool you -- inside the red door of this funky joint there beats the heart of a real dive. Amusements are minimal -- sure, there's a large-screen TV, a well-stocked jukebox and a pool table, but the main attraction is the unpretentious (read: "heavy on the cheap domestic") beer, which is dished out from the circular bar that dominates the room. The walls in the men's room are festooned with pinups from Maxim and other lad mags. But none of that is what makes this the best dive bar in town. That would be the conversation. On a recent visit, one crusty old regular was regaling all who would listen about the much younger lady he had picked up earlier that week: the one who rolled him while he slept off a bender. Now that's dive-bar fodder if we've ever heard it.

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