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.

John Wayne Gacy. That spider-clown from It. The dude from Capturing the Friedmans. For generations, clowns have held a special place in our hearts. They camouflage their faces and speak like castrati, and we let them near our children. We do this because the painted man-child lets children revel in their natural schadenfreude, before the world beats them down and tells them that laughing at freaks must be done behind closed doors. It takes a special person to be a clown, and you can learn all the ins and outs at Houston's premiere amusement academy. Kibbey's has the cred and the clout. They take their clowning seriously — it's no laughing matter. Or is it?

Super Happy Fun Land
Photo by Altamese Osborne

A band would be hard-pressed to get turned away from Super Happy Fun Land, whether their shtick is playing traditional style (using instruments as they were meant to be used) or hitting a mayonnaise jar with a rubber chicken. The lack of standards gives many a green musician a chance to play in front of an audience. And for music fans willing to brave the odds, it's anybody's guess when an upcoming sensation is going to grace the stage and you'll be able to say you saw them before anybody cared. Plus, who can beat a donation-only bar? A $1 Shiner or glass of wine? Yes, sir, don't mind if we do.

Warehouse Live

Imagine Corinne Bailey Rae in an intimate setting, with just you and 300 of your closest friends. Maybe you'd prefer Stephen Marley or James Hunter. From neo-soul up-and-comers to blues legends, everyone stops by Warehouse Live. The club, a converted 1920s warehouse, has made its reputation by having a diverse lineup in a low-key, but comfortable setting. The two rooms, the ballroom and smaller studio, are cozy enough that everyone has a close-up view but large enough to hold a good-size crowd. Upcoming shows include Rilo Kiley, Spoon and Brand New.

Onion Creek

Onion Creek first sprang to the owners' minds while they were tubing in the Hill Country, and was birthed while the Heights was recovering from Tropical Storm Allison. Since, it has attracted a loyal, eclectic following: Bikers find it a place a tad nicer than most, gays and lesbians feel right at home, yuppies feel hip and happenin' by dint of the other, eclectic patrons, and all enjoy generous portions of not-too-shabby food and excellent Katz's coffee. The yuppie contingent tends to raise the bar for the rest of us: On a recent visit, one of the friendly baristas asked a stay-at-home mom how the kids were, and she took the opportunity to regale him about little Caleb's latest antics. Then, grateful for being able to talk to another adult about her favorite topic, she placed a $5 tip on the bar with a flourish. The barista seemed nonchalant: When we left, with the smoothest, richest lattes this side of Portland, Oregon, the fin was still on the bar.

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