Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
The well-culled celluloid offerings this year have included the gritty realism of Soviet filmmakers Stanislav Rostotsky and Yuri Ozerov, Japanese masters Kenji Mizoguchi and Akira Kurosawa, a 75th anniversary of The Maltese Falcon -- and yes, French New Wavers Jean-Luc Godard, Robert Bresson, Robert Aldric and Jacques Tati. If you didn't catch the screening of Tati's Playtime, you missed out. The film's exploration of Paris circa 1967 is a cacophony of motion and music; it tells the story of a man looking for an American official who gets caught up with a group of tourists. As any film worth its stock -- and most films screened at the museum -- will do, Playtime offers commentary on life's circus. Trying to figure it out for yourself? Spend an afternoon taking in a vintage flick at the MFAH.
This funky new watering hole in the Heights is the perfect hangout for hipsters, artists, slackers and the newly relocated yuppies who populate all the new town-home developments in the area. Located in the building that used to house Silky's, which was one of the grungier blues joints outside the Third and Fifth wards, Chaise Lounge represents the growth and renewal of our little strip of nightlife along Washington Avenue. The design is bold and diverse -- the classic black-and-white tile floor contrasts well with the modern couches and colorful tables throughout. And the drinks are no joke. While we lament the demise of yet another prime live music venue, we also celebrate the opening of this uber-chic, loungy little wine bar just outside downtown.
Readers' choice: Pub Fiction
Alice's Tall Texan Drive Inn
David Rozycki
Quite simply, nobody does it better than Alice and her crew at the Tall Texan. Located on the northern edge of the Heights in a residential area that's anything but hip, this little out-of-the-way watering hole attracts all kinds. From elderly barflies to middle-aged professionals to young movers and shakers, the clientele here generally comes for one thing: the beer. Funny thing is, they only sell two on tap, Lone Star and Shiner. But they're served in frosty, goldfish-bowl-size schooners that, at least for the first few sips, take two hands to lift. They come at a buck fifty a pop, making this about the best deal you're gonna find at a bar in Houston. Occasionally, you'll spot a regular ordering setups to accompany his own bottle of whiskey, but this no-frills juke joint is famous for the beer. Like all good dive bars, the Tall Texan is the place for intriguing, often political conversation. As you sip your beer, sit back and listen to the old codgers pontificate on the president while the TVs play whatever sport is in season and the paint on the walls continues to fade.
Since the 1940s, "fill'r up" has been a popular phrase at Washington and Yale. Nowadays, we aren't talking petrol. Housed in what once was a gas station, this classy, uber-chic bar has a rich sense of nostalgia. The bar still has original tile work from the gas-station era, and its richly colored, comfortable leather and vinyl furnishings are striking. The patio is one of the best in town, with a clear shot of the downtown skyline, as well as a Guinness World Record-holding Absolut bottle sculpture by the Art Guys behind the outside bar. If you want to capture the good times, step inside the color photo booth and record them for posterity.
The Tavern On Gray
At the Tavern, the shots keep coming. They happen when the Rockets are on TV, and when patrons down buttery nipples, but that's just the icebreaker. The main attraction here is the bar games. Tavern denizens can shoot pool at a dozen tables inside this spacious sports bar. On the patio, they can take a shot at foosball or air hockey. Video game aces can call their shots on the Golden Tee machine, and trivia buffs can fire off their brains with NTN Trivia. And of course, no serious gaming bar would be complete without a couple of dart boards. Best of all, a majority of these games are set away from the loud commotion in the main bar area. This gives you and your pals a private, clear playing field for some fierce one-on-one action that hopefully won't spill out into the parking lot.
From the title's love-hate relationship with our fair city to the songs themselves, this CD compilation of abrasive Houston rock bands captures the mood of a town just a-fixin' to explode. The skyline photo on the cover is particularly evocative: the twisted images reflected from what looks to be the curvature of the Enron Building mirrors both the beauty and evil that is Houston. It practically threatens to melt the jewel case itself, grafting it onto your hands with waves of prickly heat. It's an accurate representation of Houston's rock scene -- and climate -- both inside and out.
Jason Villegas is the Iron Chef of local artists. Put that man in a room with some random materials, and you can bet he'll walk out with something interesting in his hand. For his "Beast Taxidermy" show at Commerce Street Artists Warehouse, he used cardboard, felt and tape to create a surreal menagerie of animals, including a giant humpback whale and little birdies mounted on the wall like mammals. And his pieces at the last two installments of the "Buffalo Bayou ArtPark Xmas Tree Show" slouched below those of the other artists, but in a good way: Villegas removed the spines of fake trees, creating a lumpy mass of Christmas cheer. And that's just the beginning of this guy's output over the last few years. Now Villegas is on his way to Rutgers to get his master's degree. Let's just hope he comes back.
Readers' choice: Slim Thug
For a band to be the best in any given city, they should sound like that same city. Los Skarnales -- that fearsome agglomeration of ska, norteno, rockabilly, punk, surf and even zydeco -- sounds like Houston. Or at least the funky parts of town -- places like Magnolia Park, where beer-fragrant icehouses stand next to Mexican Pentecostal churches, and every house is on cinder blocks and has a wrought-iron fence. This year's Pachuco Boogie Sound System was Los Skarnales' best album yet, and their live shows are nonstop thrill rides. They may have been around a while, but they've never been better, and Houston's never had a better band.
Readers' choice: Dune*TX
Guava Lamp
We were big fans of Guava Lamp in its old location, tucked away over there at Shepherd and Richmond, but we like its digs on Waugh even better. The new circular bar, covered in copper-colored tiles, just makes it a lot easier to check out who's checking us out. The clientele seems to have remained pretty much the same, and local poet-comedian-cutie Todd Gresley is still hosting kick-ass karaoke on Wednesday nights. This place really is perfect for when you don't want to deal with the Pacific Street drama -- not that the regulars here don't have a little drama of their own.
Readers' choice: South Beach
West Alabama Ice House
No effing contest. Once again, West Alabama Ice House gets the prize. The beer, the bikers, the bands -- this place has it all. Where else can you dine on dogs, pitch shoes and take it to the hole, all in one place? In your own backyard, you say? Well, that's the point. This place has always been more of a family barbecue than a watering hole, albeit one where even your ne'er-do-well uncle can fit in. On any given day the party is populated by hippies, yuppies, kikkers and hipsters. At least a few of them have got to have something in common with your drunk unc. Bring him out, but make sure he stays clear of the horseshoe pit: A lot of these folks aren't the best when it comes to aiming.

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