The Menil Collection is admired not only for its outstanding assemblage of art but also for its impressive building; the Renzo Piano design inspires a sense of awe and serenity. Da Camera of Houston has helped the Menil make the most of that intimate setting with its series of live concerts. This year's lineup includes the Brentano String Quartet, the Juilliard String Quartet and the Enso String Quartet. Discussions with the artists precede each performance. The season also includes "Art, Music and the Politics of Race," a panel discussion with jazz pianist Jason Moran, Da Camera artistic director Sarah Rothenberg and various members of the Houston visual arts community.
Although Javajazz sounds like it might be a cozy, bohemian hangout, it's anything but. The spacious Spring-area venue has two full-size stages (the Javajazz stage and the Rockville stage) where they throw two shows a night, four days a week. And we're talking six to seven bands per concert -- more than a dozen bands a night! Many of the bands are local high school-age emo/screamo/punk/alternative rock bands that are still developing their sound and are eager to build an audience. Since Javajazz opened in 2000, countless bands have debuted there and are now booked at the club regularly -- which makes the owners glow with pride.
Warehouse Live
When Warehouse Live opened earlier this year, we were skeptical. Live music in a midsize club usually means shitty sound, long bar lines, smokiness and an aesthetic that can only be described as filthy. But after dozens of shows, we can think of just one word to describe the club: perfect. From Bun B to Arctic Monkeys and DJ Diplo, Warehouse Live has established itself as the best club in town and the place where top acts play. With two rooms -- one that holds 1,200 people and another a comfy 300 -- the venue is great for a band of any level. It's got ample bar space, a high ceiling that helps ease the smoke, sound and heat, and it's actually pretty damn clean. Unlike most places, you don't mind hanging out and lounging on the furniture. And because it's in the Warehouse District, Chinese restaurants await when the shows let out. It's Mu Shu Rock heaven.
Some hoity-toity critics contend that David Adickes's sculptures -- which include the enormous statue of Sam Houston set along Interstate 45 -- are more roadside kitsch than art. Love him or loathe him, the parking lot to his studio represents the city's best, and most surreal, public arts project (in progress). Amid warehouses and rail lines, with the downtown skyline as its backdrop, the lot contains dozens of 20-foot-tall concrete statues of American presidents. These comprise his third set of presidential busts, which are bound for Florida. The others are displayed in parks in Williamsburg, Virginia, and near Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. We suggest you check them out before they disappear. Last time we were there, a young Austinite scampered up to George W. Bush, dropped his drawers and flashed a full moon while his gal snapped a picture. If that isn't art, what is?
A little girl sings to her father "You Are My Sunshine." A mother pleads for her son to drink plenty of water after laboring in the fields. A wife chokes on her tears, promising her husband, "My sweet love, I love you, I'll try to see you soon." The forum for all this pathos could only be The Prison Show, a 25-year-old program in which (for the most part) women and children call in on Friday nights to console loved ones holed up in jails throughout southeast Texas. Ray Hill, a convicted burglar-turned-jailhouse attorney-turned-talk show host, somehow keeps this inherently melancholic program upbeat, nudging it along while never cutting off or hurrying a caller. Most messages are mundane. Like classic country songs, you hear the same refrains. And like classic country songs, those refrains never lose their power.
You don't need to lug a camera around anymore to capture moments from your nightly escapades, thanks to the recent rash of photographers who've been canvassing the hottest nightlife spots and snapping shots of regular folks as if they were celebrities. Many of these photographers, including OneOctoberNight.com's Matthew Marand, put the photos online, while other photogs' pics can be found within the pages of Envy, 002 and Barstool. The fact that some stranger wants to take their photo makes clubgoers feel special. And they can enjoy themselves without worrying about anyone trying to swipe their camera gear.
Pool is the drinking man's game of choice, for good reason: The more you drink, the better you play. And there's no better place to get a rack-chalk-and-break game on than Cue & Cushion. Though it's smaller than some pool halls around town, it boasts 16 pristine pro-size Brunswick tables, cue sticks of all lengths and weights, chalk for your hands, a well-stocked bar and a friendly staff that's not shy about pouring a heavy drink. Best of all is the price: Ten bucks gets you an hour's worth of play on a lush six-pocket green, and there's an outstanding happy hour from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. that won't break the bank as you're breaking the balls.
Many clubs open and close within a matter of a few years, but Rich's has been going strong for two decades. Despite being located, for many years, in a desolate area of town between downtown, Montrose and the Third Ward -- long before Midtown became a nightlife hotspot -- the two-story, warehouselike club has consistently drawn huge weekend crowds. Not only does it boast a stellar imported sound system, five bars, a large dance floor and a huge spiked disco ball, it continually brings in top-rated circuit DJs from around the globe. Then there's the crowd, where gender, sexual orientation and race are never an issue. Rich's is a Houston nightlife institution.
The Mink
When The Mink and its neighboring Backroom opened last summer, Montrosian hipsters finally had a good reason to hit up the burgeoning Main Street strip in between Wilbern and West Alabama. The Mink is housed in what once was Drink Bar, but owner/nightlife entrepreneur Tim Murrah gave the slender space a face-lift, bringing in a touch of class with lipstick-pink walls, strange artwork, a flower mural, dimly lit chandeliers, vintage couches and a small selection of wines. Then there's the Backroom, a minimal two-story lounge/dance club beyond the back patio. The first floor holds two bars and is drenched in dark brown and natural wood. Like The Mink, it serves as the perfect rendezvous point for friends, who can later shake it on the dance floor upstairs. Whether you're in the mood for low-key or something a little more upbeat, this coupled bar concept has it.
Before setting foot in Rowdy's Roadhouse, all we knew was it had a mechanical bull. We had to assume that its patrons were rednecks and/or refinery workers. We didn't know just how rural the surrounding area is (you can actually see the stars in the big Texas sky), and we didn't know that we'd meet the coolest bar owner around (Rowdy) and his absolutely charming wife, Kim. Aside from the fact that Kim is an ideal MILF, she makes every bar patron feel right at home. And it's Kim who'll give you the confidence to ride the bull. She gets our vote for the definitive bar mom not just because she's a wonderful host, but because her equally cute daughter sometimes slings the drinks.

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