Bubba's Sports Bar & Grill
Photo by HP Staff
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.
Shady Tavern Ice House
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.
Four Seasons Hotel Houston
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.
Art Car Museum
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.
Somewhere on the dial, among the Blue October and Laura Ingraham, there's a little college radio station pumping out 50,000 watts of pure uncommercialized goodness. From the excellent MK Ultra DJ sets every Friday night to the generally upbeat morning drive, Rice University's KTRU gives Houston the very thing most other radio stations lack: quality. The kids cutting their teeth on indie rock, hip-hop and electro manage to pull off a better radio station than Clear Channel could ever dream up.
There's really no competition in this category. While many other radio stations have "news departments" or an assortment of programs, KTRH remains the gold standard. With a mixture of original local reports, locally based talk show hosts (Sam Malone, Deborah Duncan, Chris Baker) and selected national programs, KTRH's coverage of Houston is deep and well rounded. KTRH is the first (and only) place on the dial to go for Astros coverage and weather emergencies, proving particularly valuable and informative during Hurricane Rita. Finally, its morning team of Lana Hughes and J.P. Pritchard has an amazing chemistry and vocal cadence, delivering a brisk summation of the day's top stories during the all-important morning commute hours.
Whether Cynthia's dishing out some delicious Malibu punch or it's Big Bass serving up some funk-dafied bass thump, we're in love with the Gallant Knight. A gem in the middle of Medical Center dullness, the Gallant Knight has been helping kids and doctors get their blues on for more than 35 years. Go there on a Saturday night, and even if you're totally white-bread, you'll immediately forget all your honky troubles and start to feel a little rhythm in your feet. But don't get too carried away there, bud. Don't want to mess up the loafers.

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