The Big Easy Social and Pleasure Club
At first glance, the Big Easy's vicelike grip on the category seems too easily clinched. For a city like Houston, with a sizable amount of blues history, there's a surprising paucity of clubs devoted to the genre. The Dead Club Scythe has killed off the little joints (Miss Ann's Playpen, Silky's) and more upscale venues (Billy Blues, Cactus Moon) with equal vengeance. But no one beats the Big Easy for sheer down-home, roadhouse (albeit on Kirby Drive) funkiness. This no-frills venue boasts a dependable list of local blues and blues-rock regulars (Luther & the Healers, Jeremiah Johnson, Rick Lee, the Mighty Orq) as well as Sunday nights reserved for zydeco. Under the auspices of owner and genuine blues fan/harpist Tom McClendon, the large living-room-size club appeals to the chair listeners and the dance-floor bump-and-grinders equally. Plus, most nights have no cover charge -- which leaves you all the more money to spend at the bar, or on the peerless jukebox.
Readers' choice: The Big Easy
Agora
Photo by Craig Hlavaty
Thanks to prefab Starbucks stores on every block, independent coffeehouses are on the decline. Located in a beautiful two-story house in the heart of Montrose, Agora defies all corporate definitions of an exceptional coffeehouse. Six different brews, including organic and exotic roasts and a great Texas pecan, make up the daily selection. Also available: perfectly pulled shots of espresso, foamy cappuccinos and frozen granitas, which are sure to satisfy during the most extreme summer months. The interior's as warm as a log cabin, with an upper mezzanine that's quiet enough for reading or studying, and offers enough action below for those with a wandering eye. There's plenty of literature, magazines and newspapers scattered around for folks to read. And the terrific jukebox is stocked with jazz, international music and good ol' rock and roll.
Readers' choice: Starbucks
Houston Metropolitan Dance Company
The Houston Met is constantly expanding its repertoire toward ever edgier contemporary jazz dance, and innovative dances full of kinetic thrills. You can count on a Met concert being both engaging and wildly entertaining. Director Michelle Smith has been savvy in selecting choreographers; the rep includes works by Robert Battle, Kevin Wynn, Fred Benjamin and Eddie Ocampo. The dancers, mostly young and full of energy, just keep getting stronger. Resident choreographers/dancers Joe Celej, Marlana Walsh and Kiki Lucas also show promise. Their snazzy fusion style should appeal to anyone interested in dance.
Under the guidance of Euripides, one of the oldest playwrights in Western civilization, Charlie Scott, with Infernal Bridegroom Productions, became a directorial force to be reckoned with last season. His mercurial imagination and thrilling intellect shimmered in every aspect of his astonishing adaptation of Euripides's Medea. Scott, who has been an IBP company member since the troupe's inception, has spent most of his time acting for the company. But his dangerously delicious Medea revealed that he's a whole lot more than another pretty face. His fearless production of the tragedy allowed for moments of outrageous humor and heart-twisting pain to reside side by side on a dark stage filled with the strange and the beautiful. It captured the very soul of Euripides's tragedy and made us see once again why those ancient Greeks are so damned important.
Happy hour is a salvation after sitting in a cubicle staring blankly at a computer screen all week. Six Degrees has the medicine to cure your work-weary woes. The lounge hosts the longest happy hour downtown, running from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, which may not spare you a hangover, but will spare your wallet. Get $2 domestics, $3 wells and a dollar off everything else in an environment that mixes the classical features of a 70-year-old building with a modern, swanky facade. And if you're looking to eye some pretty patrons, Six Degrees won't disappoint.
Readers' choice: Azteca's
Montrose has always been a good place to rubberneck, what with the punks, the goths, the trannies and the street kids (most of which are punks, goths or trannies). But the Art League Houston upped the brake-slamming quotient big-time with Inversion, Dan Havel and Dean Ruck's magically surrealist installation in the organization's former digs. Havel and Ruck stripped the building's outside of its wood and then made a burgeoning tunnel on the inside; it grew from about two feet wide in the back to around 30 in the front. The public response to this work was astounding, and nary a day went by that dozens of people couldn't be seen snapping pictures and crawling through it. Call it middlebrow art: the perfect synthesis of fine-art sensibility and "Gee, that's cool."
When Yolanda Gibbs takes the stage, watch out. She dances like she owns the place, gobbling up space with her downright generous style. Gibbs possesses a rare quality in a dancer, in which her technique serves her artistry. Her pure, natural grace is evident in everything she does. With long limbs and an uber-flexible body, Gibbs elongates movements to the max, appearing to stretch space to its limits. Every move looks larger than life, and her keen sense of rhythm and timing enlivens any choreographer's work. Some dancers wear movement; Gibbs inhabits it. She joined the Sandra Organ Dance Company in 2001, where she is now a full company member.
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema-West Oaks
If you're going to be bombarded by yet another Hollywood blockbuster with computer-generated effects and a lame plot, there's no better way to do it than with a couple of beers and a burger at Alamo Drafthouse. The setup is comfortable, the service is fast and friendly, and the burgers and sandwiches are sure bets. There's also an impressive wine list (heavy on Francis Ford Coppola's label, of course), and the desserts are great. The Drafthouse also often indulges in goofiness. Before the movie starts, you might see a vintage Spider-Man or Batman cartoon, or get treated to some terrific vintage ads for beer.
Readers' choice: Angelika Film Center
Neighborhood joints don't get very much more down-to-earth than this spacious, unpretentious quasi-shitkicker sports bar located on a lonely stretch of two-lane road in Highlands near Baytown. The staff is friendly, the TV screens are viewable from anywhere in the place, and the jukebox is great. The place is such a rarity in the area that the clientele all behave as if they've just crawled into a wonderful dream and they're afraid to disturb anything for fear of waking up.
Cadillac Bar
Photo by HP Staff
There's no equivalent to this place in heaven or on earth. Graffiti on every wall, chairs attached to the ceiling, zero regard for personal space. If the Cadillac Bar didn't exist already, somebody'd have to invent it. They've got liveried waiters in the dining area, taciturn bartenders in the tightly packed "lounge" and hordes of regulars ready to induct you into their secret society. Think Cheers as directed by Tod Browning. "One of us, one of us."

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