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.

Rodney Yarbrough, a.k.a. Lil Brough, has been on the Houston scene for more than 15 years. He's toured nationally and was invited to perform at the Houston stop of Dave Chappelle's Block Party Tour a couple of years back. He makes regular appearances at local venues like The Improv and the Laff Stop, but is also known to frequent open-mike nights at the Proletariat and Mike's Ultimate Bar. His subject matter has him classified under "raw and urban," but Lil Brough can wax comical on subjects that range from big-girl lovers to how weed brings the world together — "I don't care if you're white, black, Latino, Asian, everybody got high and thought Phil Collins's 'In the Air Tonight' was the jamming-est song you ever heard" — in a way that will have everyone's sides hurting. You should see him soon, before he blows up and out of H-town.

We'll probably get some threatening letters from the folks at Doomsday Wrestling for calling them a "Comedy Show," but rest assured, it's in good fun. It's hard to believe either the wrestlers or producers don't see the humor in their events. Especially considering Doomsday's roster, which includes Precious Jewels, a guy who wears a silver spandex S&M costume and gets fouled for humping the referee; a masked woman in a wedding dress who spits blood and goes by "The Plague"; a tag team known as The Stormin' Mormons whose signature move includes running over opponents with a bicycle; and Dirty Sanchez, a manager from south of the border (he's actually contributing Press writer Erik A. T. Dieckman), who at a recent match challenged announcer Tex Lonestar to a "stare-down." It may not be the most well-choreographed brawling you've ever seen, but chances are you'll be too busy booing, hissing and throwing cheese balls at the least-popular wrestler (read: bad guy) to notice.

Kim Davenport has made Rice Gallery a treasure trove of installation art in the middle of the Rice University campus, an institution far better known for engineering than for visual art. This past year, Davenport brought in two particularly outstanding installations. The first, "Rip Curl Canyon" by the young collaborative team of Benjamin Ball and Gaston Nogues, completely transformed the space into a roiling landscape made of cardboard. Davenport is always on the lookout for new artists, and Ball-Nogues were two young architects whose work had just come on the scene. But she isn't just spotting and bagging young talent — she's showcasing legends like Judy Pfaff. Pfaff, the doyenne of installation art, took over the gallery and created "....all of the above." The phenomenal installation looked like a three-dimensional drawing made with assistance from Dr. Seuss and provided a rare opportunity for Houstonians to see Pfaff's work.

Graceful and strong at the same time, with a style that masks the difficulty of the dance, Houston Ballet principal dancer Randy Herrera glides effortlessly from role to role (his favorite is Basilio in Don Quixote). Herrera is both smooth and explosive in his performances, with effortless jumps and pirouettes. The Acapulco-born Herrera was with the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago before he joined the Houston Ballet as a soloist in 2001. He was promoted to first soloist in 2006, and then became a principal dancer earlier this year. Herrera, who has won several international awards and most recently represented the Houston Ballet in the 2006 International Ballet Competition, sparkled during Houston Ballet's last season, playing the lead in the company's performances of Velocity and Wild Life.

The Cozy Corner

Stepping into this dark, friendly cavern of a tatterdemalion strip mall bar near the ruins of Westbury Square is like entering a portal back to 1980, with a difference. Yes, it's got the requisite low ceiling, cheap drinks, smoky ambience, early opening time (11 a.m.) and friendly, take-no-shit service you expect from any old-school dive worth its salty peanuts. And yep, there's not much on the jukebox to thrill the ears of trendoid Hot Chip and Lightning Bolt fans — we're talking stuff like Wet Willie, Hank Sr. and .38 Special. But this isn't your average suburban strip mall dive by a long shot, as any trip to the Cozy's Friday and Saturday night karaoke extravaganzas will prove. Let's just say Westbury more than lives up to its "Little Montrose" nickname during Cozy Corner karaoke night.

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