Rudyard's

Rudyard's has captured countless Best of Houston® awards, including Best Veggie Burger, Best Burger, Best Bar Food and Best Neighborhood Bar. It's really about time it was recognized for being everything patrons love about a bar. The jukebox is usually off, but the staff's eclectic preference for everything from jazz classics to the latest in rock never draws complaints, and upstairs there's a regular rotation of local and national live music and comedy. The British pub also has most every other bar activity covered, including pool and darts. There's plenty of inside and outside seating, and a menu that will make you wish you hadn't grabbed something to eat before a night of barhopping.

Whether you're looking to make eyes with a cutie at the end of the bar, shoot pool with friends in a hunter's lodge or listen to a piano man in a room of gorgeous wood paneling and fancy mirrors, Leon's Lounge is your place. Just off the McGowen stop on the METRORail, it's the bar you've always wondered about, thanks to the red London-style phone booth just outside the door. Once inside, you'll be greeted by bartenders as happy as they are honest. (One friend was told he didn't want a whiskey sour and that they don't take Sacagaweas.) The details give Leon's the character and charm that keep customers coming back to sit at the long wooden bar that stretches across the first room. A second bar is surrounded by comfy leather seating, and the pool room is complete with dead heads — no, not Jerry's — we're talking deer and goats, people. Completing the appeal is a well-stocked jukebox of new and old hipster favorites. Oh, and they have a shuffleboard table, too.

Pearl Lounge

Montrose-area bar patrons have been delighted to have this man pouring their hooch for years now. Many claim he makes the meanest margaritas this city has to offer. Others claim that his famous Bloody Marys have the healing powers of black magic. Whether that's true or not, Moore will greet you with a smile, remember your name and most likely remember your drink of choice, just as you like it. These days you can find him at Pearl Bar, where he'd love to talk with you over a beer about old local bands and his undying devotion to the Astros.

JR's Bar & Grill

Our selection for Best Bingo Night this year is JR's Bar and Grill's Drag Queen Bingo. Now, bingo played à la JR's has some special rules. For one thing, the opening instructions include "Pay attention to your drag queens!" For another, every time the number "O-69" is called, everyone has to swoon, "Ohhhh, sixty-nine!" and the bar offers dollar shot specials for the next five minutes. Led by drag queens Cher and Craven (the current Miss Merry Christmas), Drag Queen Bingo is a fund-raiser for local HIV/AIDS charities. There are the usual free giveaways and prizes — well, kind of. These giveaways are gift certificates to adult video stores and T-shirts with bare bottoms or beautiful men on them. Oh, and there's one more rule you should know about: If you call out a false "Bingo!" you become Cher's slave for three minutes (kind of a gay version of the hockey penalty box).

The Big Easy Social and Pleasure Club

The Big Easy is big fun. Nowhere else in Houston can you find live blues six nights a week. The venue features music legends like Guitar Shorty (Jimi Hendrix was a fan) one night and local favorites like Tony Vega or Earl Gilliam the next. They take turns keeping the dance floor crowded. And as if being the best blues club in town isn't enough, The Big Easy plays host to a Zydeco show every Sunday.

The Jimmy Buffet-meets-Larry Flynt style of Seabrook Beach Club definitively answers the age-old question that we all ponder at some point in our lives: "What do people at NASA do when they get fucked up?" The answer, of course, is body shots off of hot women in bikinis, which also happens to be the official uniform of Seabrook's wait staff. If you had no idea one could imbibe alcohol by way of a woman's nearly bare breasts, you've obviously never done shots with rocket scientists. Go. Enjoy the salt.

In 1836, America was in the throes of a national frenzy of Manifest Destiny. In support of their brethren fighting Santa Anna in Texas, the citizens of Cincinnati forged two small cannons. The guns were shipped on steamboats down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers and then out of New Orleans to Galveston, where they were officially presented to the Texian army by twins Elizabeth and Eleanor Rice. Thereafter the cannons were known as the Twin Sisters. The guns served the Texans well at San Jacinto and were fired again to celebrate Sam Houston's swearing-in as the first president of the Republic of Texas. When Texas became a state in 1845, the guns were ceded to the federal government, which placed them in a Baton Rouge arsenal for 15 years. Just after the election of Abraham Lincoln and the secessions of Louisiana and Texas, the guns were returned to Texas. They were next employed against the Federal army at the Battle of Galveston on New Year's Day in 1863, but after that, nobody knows what happened to the Twin Sisters. An occupying soldier in the Federal army claimed, 44-years after the war ended, to have seen the guns near the Kennedy building, where he was lodging in August of 1865. Just after that, the story goes, a cabal of Confederates took the guns in order to stop them from falling into the hands of the Federal government, and buried them in a field near Harrisburg, where they remain to this day.

Long a resident of San Antonio, Texas honky-tonk titan Johnny Bush turned his attention this year to the city of his birth and raising. In collaboration with former Chronicle music critic Rick Mitchell, Bush both authored his memoirs (Whiskey River [Take My Mind]: The True Story of Texas Honky-Tonk) and a Bayou City-themed album called Kashmere Gardens Mud. Neither Bush nor his hometown emerges from these works unscathed. The singer is frank about his sexcapades and addictions in his book, and he doesn't sugarcoat his childhood in the Kashmere Gardens 'hood on the CD's title track either. "The southern wind blows through Kashmere Gardens," opens Bush in his leathery baritone, "With the smell of Pasadena in the air / Nothing good ever grew in Kashmere Gardens / Only bitter weeds and flowers of despair." Elsewhere, Bush does celebrate his hometown's music — the album ranges from hard country to Cajun music to blues to mariachi to gospel to country-folk — and it features works by area players and songwriters such as Calvin Owens, Jesse Dayton, Brian Thomas, Dale Watson, Townes Van Zandt and onetime Houstonian Willie Nelson, who also sings. In the end, Kashmere Gardens Mud stands as one of the finest warts-and-all portrayals this city has ever spawned.

A true jazzman on the mike, Devin is a master of meter, intonation and rhyme. His down-to-earth words are full of wit and humor, and man, those relaxing, blessed-out beats — they make you exhale like you just slid into a hot whirlpool bath after toting the rock 32 times against the Chicago Bears D. "Almighty Dollar," the album's first single and a rare example of "inflation rap," is textbook Devin — the Dude always finds the funniest, wisest way to say what we're all thinking. Over a spacey, plinky beat that strikes just the right dismal note, Devin raps thusly: "The almighty dollar / It ain't what it used to be / Hobos used to ask you for a dollar / Now the muthafuckas ask you for three." Elsewhere, a new maturity creeps in — Devin takes mid-life stock on "Hope I Don't Get Sick-a-This" and on the Snoop Dogg-Andre 3000 collabo "What a Job," but don't expect him to be heading for a monk's life anytime soon.

Downing Street

Come September 1, the city's new smoking ordinance goes into effect, banning smoke in just about every building imaginable. One of the few exemptions will be cigar bars, thanks pretty much to Downing Street Pub. What saved Downing Street? Was it the 400-square-foot humidor in the center of the dark bar, stuffed with high-end cigars and Dunhill cigarettes? The single-malt Scotch, the comfy couches and clubby atmosphere? Or maybe the Whitehall pub sandwiches and the free wi-fi? Nah, it likely was all the city council members, lobbyists and hotshot attorneys who hang there.

Best Of Houston®

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