Picking Houston's best museum wasn't easy: Lawndale Art Center is the herald of the local scene. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston thinks outside the box, bringing in Colombian artifacts and quilts from Alabama. Even the Orange Show has an underdog charm. But, in the end, we had to give it up for the Menil Collection. Yes, it's uncool to toast the leisure activity of two rich old white people, but Dominique and John de Menil brought to Houston works by true greats of the 20th century, including Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, Pablo Picasso, Robert Rauschenberg, Man Ray, Cy Twombly and Andy Warhol, as well as artifacts from ancient Africa, early Mediterranean civilizations and the Byzantine empire. The Menil Collection is the one most likely to house something from your art history textbook. It's more than a great local art institution -- it's a world-class museum.
Old punkers fondly recall The Axiom, the semi-decrepit club in the Warehouse District east of the George R. Brown Convention Center. Since 2001, though, the facility has been best known as the home of Infernal Bridegroom Productions. Even though IBP has added the luxury of working bathrooms, the club still maintains its raffish, low-rent charm. It's a remarkably flexible place, with a 99-seat theater that comfortably contains all that IBP's creative staff can imagine, plus a bar area with a smaller stage perfect for more intimate shows or live music. The outdoor deck offers the fresh air that used to come courtesy of the punk club's hole-ridden roof. The entire space is edgy enough to provide a frisson for slumming suburbanites and just renovated enough for old punkers tired of stepping over urine puddles. And, of course, it has IBP.
The Gay Men's Chorus of Houston (formerly the Montrose Singers) was founded in 1979, and over the past 25 years it has flourished and grown into one of the finest choirs -- and assemblages of talent -- in town. And through all of its political ups and downs, the chorus has been a constant source of pride for Houston's gay community. More than 100 performers are supported by a 40-member volunteer staff, plus accompanist Joe Tate and artistic/managing director James Knapp. The GMCH's three-program, five-concert 2006-2007 season, "Homeward Bound," will include "Home for the Holidays," "House of Hope" and "There's No Place Like Home." (And, yes, you can expect a few fabulous Judy Garland tunes in the latter one.)
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.
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.

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