Examiner Newspaper Group Publishing a local paper in tony River Oaks and West University presents special challenges. How do you entice readers who have The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal delivered to their doorsteps? Such was the challenge publisher George Boehme and editor Edwin Henry faced in 2001, when the pair launched the weekly West University Examiner. A slow, steady readership followed, hooked by Henry's authoritative, hard-news take on local stories. A River Oaks Examiner followed, and soon the papers were racking up statewide awards for journalistic and design excellence (including coveted Lone Star Awards). Now there's a third Examiner based in Memorial, making this impressive publishing entity one to watch in an era of declining newspaper readership.

Bailey Moore's State Farm Insurance Office The fab window displays at this insurance office often go unnoticed. The unassuming building under U.S. 59 on Montrose might not grab your attention unless you were walking past it or stuck next to it in traffic due to all the construction. And the displays aren't for the dim-witted or imagination-impaired. When the Clara Harris trial was unfolding, the display featured a toy car running over a doll. And during Pride Week, Dorothy's blue-and-white gingham dress and ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz hung in the window for a gay-friendly display. This time of year, catch the infamous pyramid of white shoes and a red crossed-out circle flashing in the window -- a reminder that white shoes are a no-no after Labor Day.

The Waterway at Woodlands Mall Only in the Houston area could you discover a pristine 1.25-mile water route steps away from a P.F. Chang's. But there it is, winding through the Woodlands Mall, featuring a water wall, fountains, pedestrian bridges and even water taxis. The taxis run every ten to 15 minutes from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day of the week. Group charters and dinner cruises are available, too. Take a break along the way to pop into Barnes & Noble or the Cheesecake Factory before becoming one with the water again. Part of the walkway is still under construction, but it's already worth a visit.

Vargo's This place is strictly old-school. Its location on eight acres of plush lakeside gardens means it's also strictly gorgeous. Private parties and functions are their specialty, and the old pros at Vargo's have helped hundreds of happy couples achieve nuptial nirvana, since they know how to accommodate any request. Not satisfied by the menu's country-club fare? They'll work with you. Want your wedding indoors? Outdoors? Lakeside? They'll work with you. After nearly 30 years of hosting, it's no wonder -- with service and scenery so nice -- there's still a generous waiting list.

Rice Addict When publishers Mike Tran and Jesse Choi set out to print a guide of Chinatown, they decided to go the extra mile with a bit of added flavor. Rice Addict features articles on all things Asian in Houston: cutting-edge style, culture and entertainment. Ad sales have been brisk enough to double the number of pages of the palm-sized bimonthly publication, which comes packaged in a tiny rice sack. The magazine now features gadget reviews, fashion spreads, recipes and music articles, and was recognized by the Asian Board of Commerce last year. Rice Addict is available for free at high-end retailers around the city.

Toyota Center
Toyota Center You have to pay admission to use these facilities. What's new? You have to buy a sandwich if you plan to drop a dook in Subway. While it's nothing special aesthetically, the Toyota Center Restroom Committee seemed to pay special attention to an issue many larger venues often forget: the sheer number of toilets. If an entire Rockets crowd decided to head to the head during halftime, they'd be covered. (Well, maybe not, but a Comets crowd for sure.) Another reason the Toyota Center deserves the Toilet Bowl Hall of Fame award: their ability to keep those white walls so graffiti-free.

The Riverside Clinic The Third Ward's only walk-in medical clinic closed in 2002 because of toxic mold and a dangerous roof that needed structural repairs, forcing hundreds of low-income and uninsured folks to seek care in crowded emergency rooms. Now, two years later (and after a bitter turf war at City Hall), the bigger, better and safer Riverside Clinic is set to open in January. The renovation remedied the mold problem and made the digs a lot nicer, but that's not all that's undergone a revamp. With federal funds now allocated to the clinic, Riverside will offer mental health care and preventive services along with primary and dental care. A state-of-the-art dialysis center (something desperately needed in the Houston area) will be completed later in the year.

Lawrence v. Texas You know the story: Two guys are bonking and a cop goes to the wrong house, walks in on them and arrests them because it's illegal in Texas to do the naughty that way, if you happen to have matching parts. Well, not anymore. Bonk away, Houston homos, because Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal wouldn't back down and took it all the way to the Supreme Court, where the justices passed the following decree: "Yeah, sure, it's okay, go ahead and bonk your eyes out." Problem is, Justice Antonin Scalia subsequently cried foul and is now convinced the entire homosexual agenda will be passed -- including same-sex marriage -- unless the U.S. Constitution is amended to prevent it. Lawrence v. Texas started a revolution that's nowhere near being won, but at least consensual sex between adults is legal now. And that alone is a landmark ruling for equal rights.

Burbridge Apartments It was a wonderful thing, like a huge cave formation that accreted over millions of years, the product of mineral-heavy water dripping and reshaping an ordinary rock into something marvelous. And then one day it was gone -- all that was left was shredded wood, broken glass and pages of gay porn strewn through the rubble. We're speaking of the Burbridge Apartments, that red, funky, three-and-a-half-story mutant garage apartment on 'roids that stood until this spring next to the Diamond Shamrock on Richmond. It kept getting bigger and bigger with very little addition to the absurdity of its appearance: That assuredness of appearance was its charm. Former Rice architecture professor Peter Papademetriou once called it a perfect allegory of Houston's growth. And now it's been demolished. A perfect allegory indeed.

Best Place to Take Out-of-Towners

The West End We'll start this driving tour a little outside our spotlight area, at the Starbucks at the corner of West Gray and Shepherd. Then we'll walk across the street and continue planning our itinerary at the other Starbucks at the corner of West Gray and Shepherd. That ought to impress them! Then we'll head west down Memorial to Otto's and casually mention that the elder George Bush eats his brisket there. Then we'll head north into the West End proper, and once there we'll take a gander at all those freaky houses. There's the Beer Can House, of course, at 222 Malone, and then all of those groundbreaking tin houses scattered hither and yon. But for us, the pièce de résistance is Frank Zeni's colossal Temple of Fun at 5420 Floyd Street. In a city with plenty of pretentious columns, Zeni's asymmetric Ionic pillars never fail to make us smile, and it's surely as awe-inspiring as the dueling Starbucks and George I's favorite brisket house.

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