Best Place to Meet People with Large Discretionary Incomes

The Houstonian Hotel, Club and Spa Need some funding for your new nonprofit group? Common sense dictates that you not hit up your would-be benefactor during the week. But don't bug him at the office either; that's what everyone does. Better to chat him up during a leisurely game of tennis, say, at the Houstonian. If you're looking for a benefactor, investor, monied client or, hell, a sugar daddy or mama, this is your place. Old-money types hang with up-and-comers at the sauna, tennis courts, poolside or, in the case of Mayor Bill White, at the basketball court. Star-starved? This fabled Houston hideaway is a popular choice for visiting celebs and politicos -- try your luck at Olivette, the in-house bar and restaurant. Just don't go pushing your idea for a John Kerry biopic. After all, this is Bush Sr.'s turf.

James D. Squier, 312th District Court Family courtroom legal brawls can be especially vicious. But Judge James Squier, who got his start coaching in Pasadena's school district, has seen it all. He's paid his dues during a solid decade on the bench, along with 20 years of practice as an attorney (six of them as an associate judge). Squier came aboard in the most embattled of times for family courts; his patient, common-sense approach, good humor and -- above all --fairness deserve much of the credit for restoring credibility to Houston family courts. His added duties as administrative judge speak volumes about the respect Squier has earned, from both colleagues and those appearing before him in court. There's no doubt about it: This ex-coach has excelled in the toughest of leagues.

Kimberly Caldwell Kimberly Caldwell sure looked like a winner in the ad campaign for American Idol II, as she fetchingly waved an arm in the air and effortlessly belted out Stevie Ray Vaughan's "Superstition." And she did go quite far, making it all the way to the final 12 and infuriating fans and fellow contestants along the way. During her long run, Internet chat rooms percolated with "I hate Kimberly" posts. She was Omarosa and Alexis Carrington all rolled into one. There was the divalike spat with fellow contestant Julie De Mato and many, many more suspicious crying fits. Her stage mom from hell and brassy blond looks likewise won her few friends, and many women were furious when this villainess hooked up with hunky presidential descendant and fellow contestant J.D. Adams. And then one day it was all over -- Kimberly fell in the path of rotund juggernaut Ruben Studdard, and her Idol days came to an end. Today, you can find her on the decidedly less glamorous TV Guide Channel, where she interviews current contestants of the show that made her briefly famous.

Japhet Say the words "Fifth Ward" to most Houstonians, and they'll think crime, poverty and desperation. The neighborhood is infamous in song -- everyone from bluesmen like Juke Boy Bonner to rappers like the Geto Boys has made music about the Bloody Fifth and its perils. The tiny pocket called Japhet may be in the Fifth Ward, but it's not in that Fifth Ward. Train tracks, warehouses, junglelike vegetation and Japhet Creek hem in Japhet's four-square-block haven of ramshackle old wood-frame houses. It's more like a village than anything else -- fragrant organic gardens are everywhere, bursting with vegetables, fruits and flowers, and the whole neighborhood comes together for a big party every full moon.

Ensemble/HCC Keep your fancy downtown fountains. Forget about the convenience of the Medical Center stops, which allow you to forgo the horror of trying to park there. The best station along Metro's light rail line is, hands down, the Ensemble/HCC stop. The "HCC" stands for Houston Community College, an often-overlooked bastion of cultural happenings. But look what else the stop offers within a block or two: highbrow entertainment at the Ensemble Theatre, the city's finest African-American dramatic company; sweaty-browed thrills at the Continental Club, home of the blues, with great local and touring acts; the city's best new hipper-than-thou restaurant, Monica Pope's T'afia; and one of the city's best places for morning eats, the Breakfast Klub. Also, on Saturday mornings, the parking lot at T'afia hosts a gourmet farmers' market for all you hard-to-please foodies. All in all, there are plenty of reasons to get off the train, and isn't that what makes a stop special?

The Astrodome The cavernous old stadium once billed as the "Eighth Wonder of the World" is still embedded in the heads of out-of-towners as a symbol of Houston. So what if it's mostly used for monster-truck demos and high school football games? It's 5,000 metric tons of history in a city with its feet planted firmly in the present. And surely it's better for Houston to be remembered as the home of the first indoor baseball stadium than the home of Enron.

The Galleria At last count, there were approximately 1.8 million stores in this sprawling monument to consumerism. The Galleria is an economic magnet that sucks folks from all kinds of places into its grip. This, combined with the sheer volume of retail outlets, makes the Galleria the prime spot in the region for people-watching. Witness smooching love birds mingling alongside wide-eyed out-of-towners, while uptown fashionistas forage in their native habitat for $500 shoes. With ice-skating couples, stroller-pushing moms and packs of hormone-riddled teens thrown in, there's barely time to blink. But even if you get bored on one floor, hey, there's, like, 150 more!

Best Place to Pretend You're in Blade Runner

Reliant Energy Plaza Houston might not look as futuristic as Tokyo, but that's why we get goose bumps when we wander down to the corner of Lamar and Main. This 783,000-square-foot skyscraper provides a peephole into the future -- a sleek, chic architectural tomorrow, well worth the reported $150 million price of admission. Hypnotic rods of light twinkle up top like a 36-story-tall Vegas slot machine. Down below, at street level, two open shafts cycle through the same gorgeous cascades of color. The light rail is even out in front! It makes you dream of the day when you step out of your ultramodern office pod and inspect a Houston subway map (probably a tangled knot of multicolored lines stretching from Katy to Clear Lake) -- that is, if you don't take the flying car home.

Best Place to Meet Raging Singles

Harris County Civil Courts Building A single woman in Houston is hard to find. At places like Skybar, Dean's and Club Vision, that lonely-looking hottie at the bar is probably waiting for her husband to come back from the bathroom. It's a painful fact for bachelors: Nearly 50 percent of dating-aged women in Houston are married -- a higher portion than in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. But compared to women in these cities, Houstonians are also more likely to be divorced. And fortunately, meeting these fine ladies is a snap in the comfortable, air-conditioned and well-guarded waiting lounge next to the divorce desk in the Harris County Civil Courts Building. As far as courting goes, this building offers major advantages: It's not too smoky, there's no cover charge, and the competition from guys without criminal records is weak at best. So forget clubbing and lend an ear to the fed-up and heartsick, because the just-unmarried life is a single guy's best friend.

Joan Gundermann Making vegetables grow in Houston's clay soil, pest-riddled humidity and searing heat is tough. Doing it without any pesticides or artificial fertilizers is even tougher. So, to the increasing number of people in this city who want locally grown, organic produce, Joan Gundermann is quickly becoming a celebrity. Her 70-acre farm in Wharton County is the only certified-organic outfit in the region, and for 20 years it has consistently grown some of the best-tasting, most unique fruits and vegetables available anywhere. Her freshly picked peaches and tomatoes can't be beat for flavor. Or try one of her more bizarre offerings, such as bright red carrots, purple cauliflower and heirloom kale. You'll find her wares at Central Market or through one of the city's numerous food co-ops. But to catch a fig at its freshest, meet Gundermann in person every Saturday at 3106 White Oak Drive, at the Houston Farmers' Market.

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