Is that Rush Limbaugh in the corner? Probably not, but we figure if the neocon blowhard ever finds himself in Space City, it's a spot he'd frequent (well, it and Coco Loco, of course). Huge and luxurious mahogany tables with raised ashtrays dot the room around a statue of famed Brit Winston Churchill. Talk of all things England (10 Downing Street is the residence of the prime minister) can be heard over the inhaling of the finest stogies the city has to offer, kept in a state-of-the-art humidor. Ice tings in glasses of those sipping only the top-end 15-year-old Highland Scotch.
The Meridian
Though the Meridian has yet to hit its second birthday, it's become the tour-de-force venue for national and international touring acts. Everyone from punk laureate Patti Smith and industrial pioneers Ministry to sought-after DJs like RJD2 and Paul Oakenfold has graced the same gargantuan stage in the lofty Blue Room that can hold around a thousand live-music connoisseurs. When first entering the venue (which requires a little stair-climbing), you're greeted by the loungy Red Room, replete with comfortable and private booths for socializing, as well as a small stage where local bands and lesser-known national acts rock out from time to time. A centralized location, just across the freeway from Toyota Center, and the sound are the Meridian's best qualities. But what really makes the Meridian top-notch are the first-rate acts it continues to bring our way.
Forget the weekend. Houston's best dance night happens right smack-dab in the middle of the miserable workweek. Close to 400 kids in haute couture fill out 1415 Bar & Grille every hump day to sweat and stomp their feet to an eclectic mix spun by the Boys and Girls Club bunch: DJs Bobby, Damon and Fred. Expect to hear old-school rap mixed in with Joan Jett declaring her love for rock and roll. The latest, hottest mashups share speaker space as well. Look for special guest DJs (Keoki, Franz Ferdinand) to spin their favorites when in town. Wednesday is the new weekend.
He's the self-proclaimed No. 1 street DJ in the city, and no one will argue that fact. His club nights top out at over 1,000 people every Friday (Coco Loco), Saturday (Candy Shop at Max's) and Sunday (Club Konnections), partly because he's one of the few hip-hop DJs in town who really, deeply support the local scene. A force in Texas hip-hop since the early days of DJ Screw -- with whom he used to live and share equipment -- Chill caters to the underground Houston community that has suddenly, in the past year, gone mainstream. He toured with Lil' Flip and Tela in their formative days and now maintains a monthly residency in New York City as a part of the HoustonSoReal concert series. His radio show on KPFT's Damage Control has become the place to hear the newest sounds in Houston hip-hop before they break nationally.
Readers' choice: DJ Sun
Located on the campus of Rice University, Rice Gallery is off the beaten track of many gallerygoers. It shouldn't be. Under the directorship of Kim Davenport, Rice Gallery is "all installation art all the time," and it consistently brings in phenomenal shows from heavy hitters as well as newly emerging artists. Eve Sussman's high-definition video 89 Seconds at Alcazar used actors in period costume to create the moments before and after Goya's famous painting Las Meninas. It was one of the standouts of the 2004 Whitney Biennial, and Rice Gallery brought it to Houston. Meanwhile, thirtysomething artist Jacob Hashimoto's installation Superabundant Atmosphere filled the gallery with 9,000 tiny silk kites suspended from the ceiling. Hashimoto created an ethereal, cloudlike environment that swayed with visitors' movements. Rice Gallery's exhibition program is always varied, always fascinating.
Readers' choice: Menil Collection
Red Cat Jazz Cafe
Houston is no Harlem, New Orleans or Chicago, but we still have a robust jazz following, especially in the urban smooth jazz markets. You can find these suave sound followers downtown at the Red Cat Jazz Cafe, where jazz happens not just on weekends, but every day of the week. Even those who need to score a fix of traditional jazz trios, quartets and vocalists can find it here. Summertime brings national acts to the Red Cat every weekend for Summer Jazz Nights, showcasing the hottest guitar lickers and sax tooters in the country.
Sandra (not her real name) just kicked her two-timing renegade Romeo to the curb and is on the prowl for a "real" man who can satisfy her materially, emotionally and -- yes, she was getting to that -- physically. But this working woman can't get anything spicy cooking. So let's open up the lines, Wash. We have a few interested male listeners with something to say about this much-repeated complaint that there aren't any more good, single black men left in this dating jungle. With the skill of a radio ringmaster á la Jerry Springer and the soothing delivery of Billie Dee Williams, Wash works his lines deftly on the two-hour weekday radio show Confessions, managing with finesse the stimulating -- and occasionally slightly raw -- topics under discussion. But he also thoughtfully raises the field of battle to larger social issues, drawing on callers to dig a little deeper. What begins in the bedroom as a titillating he-said, she-said often evolves into a hearts-and-minds discussion on such topics as birth control, the role of fathers and economic justice. We love you, Wash. Keep on keepin' on.
Sure, weed jokes are old. Most of them stopped being funny not long after Cheech and Chong busted out of the hippie underground. But this one works, because it tells you a lot about the band you're gonna hear. That "Valley Boys" bit is the key -- it tells you you're in for some serious old-school country. And the Reefer and Resin parts oughta let you know that there's gonna be more than a whiff of the psychedelic to the proceedings. That's just what you get with these guys.
Readers' choice: Pasty White Boys
Nikki Texas, a.k.a. NTX, a.k.a. Tex Kerschen, was important to Houston's independent music scene. But he's gone and left us for the (less intense) sun and surf of Los Angeles, a move that makes perfect sense for him. After the demise of his early combo, the synth-fueled rock band Japanic, the former front man made waves in the art and music scenes with his harder-edged band Swarm of Angels, and the primarily synthesized material he created with his wife, Erica Thrasher, in the band Indian Jewelry. Pity he couldn't see fit to make it happen here. Good luck, Nikki.
Warren's Inn
While flashier and hipper bars have come and gone in downtown Houston, rock-steady Warren's Inn remains a bar for people who go to bars to drink, not to mingle or self-advertise. The decor is dark and wooden, with a mishmash of tables and a single turret-style elevated booth (the best place to sit). The joint's packed on weekend nights, the service is fast, and the drinks are pretty cheap. Warren's die-hard regulars mix well with the hoppers, and a genuinely friendly vibe fills the air. Bonus: Warren's has an excellent jukebox, with an eclectic mix of classic country, rock, zydeco, oldies and more. The bar's Market Square location puts it in spitting distance of several other watering holes, but it's Warren's classic pink neon sign that truly anchors the area.
Readers' choice: Absinthe Brasserie

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