Solange Knowles With her debut record, Solo Star, and a role in the major motion picture Johnson Family Vacation, Houston's other Knowles -- Solange -- is busy punching her way out from big sis Beyoncé's shadow. Her recent appearances on Today and Sharon Osbourne, along with her performances on Soul Train and On Air with Ryan Seacrest, suggest the newly married Solange is closer to breaking the big-time barrier than Ashlee Simpson, Aaron Carter and all the other sibling suck-ups combined. Learning from the best has its privileges. Something tells us that by this time next year, the entire country will be crazy in love with this 18-year-old Bayou City triple threat.

Sig Byrd's Houston In the '50s and '60s, Sig Byrd was a columnist for the old daily Houston Press and later the Houston Chronicle, and his beat was the human tragicomedy. Byrd was irresistibly drawn to the city's lowlife; in his words, the "curious assortment of hard-bitten merchants, working men and women, wineheads, goofball addicts, [and] desiccated trollops" that congregated in the "scrounging retail stores, flophouses, brothels, and honky-tonks" along the skid rows that were Preston and Congress streets. Though Byrd's Houston existed 50 years ago, it might as well have been the Middle Ages. Who today remembers that the entire 400 block of Milam was once a den of sin called Catfish Reef, or that in the '50s there were still blacksmiths beating on red-hot metal in a place near the Preston Street Bridge called Vinegar Hill? Who recalls when people would say something was "lagoo-oon" when they wanted to call something cool? While virtually every other book about Houston concerns the deeds of great men -- Sam Houston, Jesse Jones, Roy Hofheinz and the like -- Byrd explored the deeds of the forgotten souls who lived on the fringes or did the grunt work, and in doing so, he wrote the finest book about Houston and one of the best ever works of Texan nonfiction. It's a tragedy that it's out of print, but you can almost always pick up a copy online. It's well worth the hunt.

Hard Times and Misery Saloon A couple of blocks west of Jack Johnson Boulevard squats this neighborhood bar, which rivals a Mexican cantina called El Higado No Existe ("The Liver Doesn't Exist") and a rough pub in Lancashire called Dr. Syntax as the very best bar name we've ever come across in a couple of decades of spending time in the cursed joints. Remember -- it's not just Hard Times you can escape from at this saloon; it's Hard Times and Misery. Tennessee Williams couldn't name a bar any better than that.

Best Place to Pretend You're in the Hill Country

Blanco's Bar & Grill
Blanco's Living inside the Loop, it's easy to forget you're in Texas. In parts of Midtown, it's easier to trick yourself into thinking you're in Saigon; in parts of the Second and Sixth wards it's easy to believe you're in Puebla or Matamoros. But what about Texas? For that, you'll have to swim the country music-echoing sea of Shiner, Stetsons and Wranglers over at Blanco's, which feels like more of a piece of its namesake town, New Braunfels -- or maybe even Marble Falls -- than East Texas.

The Boulder For a garage apartment that really rocks, look no further than this one in a Southampton alley. It is, simply put, a giant gray boulder with windows. And it's on Wrox-ton Street, so we suspect a pun. In a city with no zoning, all too often we end up with giant McMansions looming over postage-stamp lots; in this case, somebody has finally taken that freedom and done something fun instead of grotesque.

The Norman Now here's a place we can see Mr. Ralph Furley holding court. It's the perfect backdrop for Jack tripping, Chrissy bouncing and Janet, well, doing whatever the hell it is Janet does. With its palm trees and mustard-yellow detailing, the Norman looks like it's been transported through a time machine. (Could the name be a veiled tribute to Three's Company actor Norman Fell, who played Mr. Roper?) In an area of town that screams character, this swingin' Montrose pad blends into the mishmash perfectly, without compromising any of its disco charm. Fittingly, the final n in "Norman" dips down in a display of almost intentional kitsch. We don't know how much it costs to rent at this eight-unit complex, but we definitely want to come and knock on the door.

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.

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