Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
Most of Houston knows Ronnie Renfrow from the Ronnie Renfrow Big Band. But bandleader Renfrow turned radio host a while back and has been spinning jazz and big-band tunes on the Swinging 650 -- Classic Cool show on 650 AM for more than a year now. He's on air seven days a week with partner Tom Richards (weekdays from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. and weekends from 1 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.). This is swinging music, bound not by era or genre but by quality, and he plays everything from Frank Sinatra to Norah Jones. Renfrow knows all about each song and singer, the backstories, the gossip and the official line. Funny, smart and on the inside, the show is the coolest spot on the AM dial. And they take requests; listeners can call in to 713-965-0650.
We've heard plenty about the problems Katrina washed onto our shores, but we can't forget those magical months right after the storm when our city was flooded (yeah, we said it) with the sounds of the Big Easy. Kermit Ruffins, Lil' Wayne, Glen David Andrews, Corey Henry, Dr. Michael White and several members of the Rebirth Brass Band were but a handful of the folks who blew their horns and banged their drums around town in the days after the storm. The influx was bitter, bitter, bittersweet, and we're not sure how to reconcile that. But, hey, we've got to be honest: For a few months, this town was alive.
If years and years of practice have taught us anything, it's that happy hours end pretty badly unless you get some food in your stomach before things really get going. Otherwise, you forget to eat altogether (and we all know how that turns out) or you end up snacking later in the evening and get a severe case of the yawns. And that's why we love Cafe Adobe. The drinks might not be the cheapest in town, but the $5.50 super fajita nachos and $3.25 mini chimichangas do a great job of greasing up our stomachs for the long slog ahead. Next to the cheap grub, all the other perks -- the discounted margaritas, the hip clientele, the view of Shepherd -- are nothing but gravy.
We love Francesca Fuchs's breasts. We especially love that she had the balls (so to speak) to devote an entire show, "MOM," to them at Texas Gallery. All six paintings were different shots of a breast-feeding baby, seen from above, through the mother's eyes. But this wasn't a foray into maternal sentimentality: The works were clean, muted, formal. Of course, not everyone agrees with our assessment, as was evident by the whining that went down on the Glasstire.com message board after Fuchs scored the $50,000 Hunting Prize earlier this year. But we think that, for once, a group of corporate grant-slingers got it right.
Last year was a paint-splattered banner for I Love You Baby. The collective -- consisting primarily of Will Bentsen, Andrea Chin, Rodney Elliott, Mark Flood, Paul Kremer, Chris Olivier and Dale Stewart, but involving whoever the hell shows up on any given Wednesday night -- showed pieces at DiverseWorks and the gallery formerly known as Mixture. But what really got us going was the group's crazy-ass musical performance at Rudyard's and its drunken office Christmas party at Commerce Street Artists Studio. So when we heard the boys (and girl) had decided to take some time off at the beginning of the year, we worried that the group was about to go the way of the Beatles. Thank goodness we were wrong. Come May, they got back to splattering paint and beer all over each other once a week, and all we can say is, We love you, baby.
A stone's throw from Memorial Park sits a ramshackle house with a roof that appears to be caving in under the weight of two enormous satellite dishes. Inside Bubba's Sports Bar & Grill, flat-screen TVs fill every corner. With its worn wood floors and stone fireplace, this neighborhood favorite has retained its homey atmosphere since being converted from a residence more than a quarter-century ago. The friendly waitstaff serves up cheap beers and the best chili and burgers of any sports bar in the city. Whether it's the Astros, the Rockets or the Texans on the tube, Bubba's packs it in with families who go to chow down and root for the home team.
The bartender, a whip-smart kid with a shaved head, is about to enter the police academy. He's excited about it, even counting down the days. "Cops are like flies," spits a shaggy-haired patron, pausing to make sure the kid is listening. He adds, triumphantly, "They eat shit and pester people." The Shady Tavern, in the Heights, is a neighborhood joint where everybody seems to know everybody and nobody seems to get offended by anything. Going to this 70-year-old icehouse -- a simple, single-story A-frame structure with a side yard for barbecues and a small stage for bands -- is a lot like visiting your best pal. You're gonna get ribbed. And you're gonna get drunk. And, chances are, you'll be back the next day.
Christopher Columbus stands at the south end of Bell Park pointing an index finger toward some trees as if he has made some big discovery. The six-foot sculpture ought to be rotated 90 degrees so Chris can point the way to a place that's really worth discovering, if you haven't already: Ernie's on Banks, which boasts the city's best patio. At first glance, the second-story space, which opens late in the day, isn't anything to crow about: just a few metal tables, plastic chairs and folding umbrellas. But the view of the park -- a quaint, well-shaded square of wooden bridges and running fountains -- imbues it with an irresistible charm and makes it the perfect place to catch a beer and a breeze.
The bar located just off the lobby at the Four Seasons Hotel is a throwback to an earlier era, when love-struck couples donned their best duds for a night on the town. Spare in its details -- cushy chairs, a few framed artworks and lamp-lit tables that emit a hazy orange glow -- the room springs to life every evening as a jazz pianist plays standards from the corner. There are no televisions, no fluorescent beer signs, no patrons staring dumbly into the bottoms of their martini glasses. The joint has class. The bartenders are efficient, gracious and knowing, serving up tips on how to score Astros tickets at playoff time along with complimentary bowls of wasabi peas, cashews and almonds. Though the hotel sits in a prime spot adjacent to the ballpark, convention center and several concert venues, it's easy to while away an entire evening without ever leaving.
The "Sky's the Limit" mural on the side of the Sand Dollar Thrift Store isn't there just to beautify the shop's exterior -- it's also there to remind the hundreds of kids who walk past it every day on their way to school that there's no limit to their potential. Coordinated by Reginald Adams, co founder of ArtworkZ, and sponsored by Keep Houston Beautiful and DiverseWorks, the Dal-style mural shows a typical neighborhood street scene. Typical, that is, except for the four giant heads floating in the clouds. Thirteen students from nearby Jefferson Davis High School helped plan and paint the mural.
The Press conducted a lot of research for this category (see "Free Booze," December 1), and we've got to hand it to the freewheelin' spirits at the Art Car Museum for running away with the prize. Of course, they don't really serve up cocktails per se; rather, a couple of kegs are tapped and bottles of wine are just left out on the table. No gatekeeper. No drink tickets. No little plastic cups. Just tons of booze and plenty of good times. It's like you're at a house party, but the artwork on the walls (and in the driveway) is a lot more interesting than anything you'd ever find at your buddy's house.
Maybe it's because the Angelika seems to be the only Houston theater where there aren't any assholes answering cell-phone calls throughout the entire movie. Maybe it's the cinematic selection, a mixture of art-house indie and mainstream indulgence. Whatever the reason, the Angelika provides a downright pleasant moviegoing experience, while the megaplexes leave you wishing you'd stayed home, gotten a root canal -- done anything but pay $10 to watch someone get his head sawed off while an audience of impromptu movie critics tries to talk over the movie.