For ten years, the City of Houston has been in federal and state courts defending its ordinances against so-called "gentlemen's clubs," places where gentlemen ogle women who are (depending on who you talk to) either a) single-mom grad students working towards their MBAs, or b) cokeheads. Earlier this year, U.S. District Judge Nancy Atlas upheld large parts of the ordinance, meaning the city can get to work enforcing it. Which means all the hypocrisy and self-righteousness that this issue tends to bring out, on both sides, will once again be in full display. City officials will try to pretend that Houston is known, among convention-goers, for something other than strip clubs (we're guessing there are more attendees of the Offshore Technology Conference spending time at Rick's than taking tours of NASA). Lawyers will get rich defending the right for businessmen to be idiots. And best of all, the "three-foot rule" and other aspects of the law will once again inspire the brightest minds in the stripping business to find loopholes. Let's get it on!

You're a Democratic state senator. The Republicans have proposed a bill that you think strikes right at the heart of the democratic process. It'll pass without your vote against it. The trouble is, you've just had a liver transplant and are pretty damn sick. What do you do? If you're Austin veteran Mario Gallegos, you bring a hospital bed into the Capitol and don't give up until the bill dies. That's what happened with the dramatic struggle this session over the Voter ID bill, which would have required anyone wishing to vote to produce a driver's license or state-issued identity card. Gallegos has been a bit of a hack during his tenure, but he definitely had his one shining moment this year.

Houston is a city hell-bent on tearing down every building that is the slightest bit old. Sometimes that can be a good thing: A year ago we were finally able to see the death throes of the Houston school district's Stalinesque headquarters. As the booms crashed into the walls, you could almost see the wisps of bureaucratic ghosts flying away (unfortunately, probably a few miles north to the new headquarters). Never again would parents or advocates have to risk getting forever lost in the maze-like setup that could only have been designed by a sadist. No longer would speeches in the lobby be lost to the atrocious acoustics. The new HISD headquarters is an anonymous office-park mediocrity, but it still beats the old building. Good riddance to bad rubbish, as the Limeys say.

Sure, most people think this award should go to some city official or corporate PR person, but you'd be surprised how hard it is to find a good publicist in the art world. Our entertainment desk is thankful there are folks like Jimmy Castillo of Lawndale Art Center, who is always quick to return a phone call and send over the information needed to finish a story immediately. We're sure Castillo has plenty of people at Lawndale to thank for making him such a valuable PR tool (especially because his official title is assistant director), but hey, somebody has to take the credit.

Agora
Photo by Craig Hlavaty

This Greek-themed coffee shop and wine bar is like a posh library during the day. Students quietly type away on laptops while sipping on assorted coffee drinks. The large two-story building houses all sorts of Greek relics among the scattered tables and couches. And if you feel like a quiet evening alone surfing the singles on MySpace, well, you can just come in here after dark and do that while sipping on some wine and nibbling on the cheese plate. Most importantly, nobody is going to bug you to leave or to buy another cup of coffee.

Scream World
In a haunted house, youre worried about a lot of things jumping out at you, but a car is not usually one of them. This is how ScreamWorld caught our attention. (Read: made us pee our pants.) The haunters teamed with Scion to set up actual vehicles that come to a screeching halt right in front of whoever dares brave the halls. But its not all headlights and horns at this monster-filled monstrosity; every corner yields something new, and youll definitely feel like the ticket price and wait in line were worth it. Owners Jim Fetterly and Mike Darling have been in the business for more than ten years and have mastered every aspect of it, from the wait in line to the girl with the dead baby in one hand and the machete in the other. Seriously, rehydrate yourself after you leave.

"I love you!" That's how Karen Jennings, homeless liaison for all of Fort Bend ISD for a dozen years, always greets her overworked underlings. It's her way of acknowledging up-front all the good deeds they perform each day, keeping teens in school and out of trouble. This year Jennings took her efforts to help at-risk kids to the broader community, helping prompt plans to build a first-of-its-kind emergency shelter for suburban youths. Now what's not to love about that?

This Southwest Houston neighborhood has had a bit of a bad rap, some of it connected to relocated Katrina victims. But, despite the catfight at Westbury High last year, a lot of that involved the victims as victims, not as perpetrators. Other émigrés in this neighborhood, chock-full of 50-year-old, easily rehabilitated ranch homes, have for the past few years been gay couples. (We've heard Westbury is the new Montrose; we're hoping they mean the "old" version, not the new corporate and condo enclave.) Whether this has to do with transgender lawyer Phyllis Frye, arguably one of Westbury's more famous residents and who works hard on the Westbury Civic Club, is not known. Regardless, Westbury residents are working to make their homes fabulous. Quick access to major highways; great shopping and decent food nearby — the constant traffic on West Bellfort is nothing but white noise to Westbury residents in their little Garden of Eden.

Sure, it isn't as grand as Trevi or as recognizable as Buckingham, but Mecom Fountain hands-down wins the title of Houston's best landmark. The elegant 1960s fountain serves as a gateway to the museum district, the Medical Center, Hermann Park and Rice University. Its Roman-style colonnades and 12-foot-tall water jets provide European flair to our decidedly un-European city.

Outrageous and provocative, the local blog Call of Da Wild offers original reporting and commentary on scandal-plagued Texas Southern University in a voice that is both insanely pissed-off and fall-down hilarious. Be warned: it's filled with race- and sex-baiting, often reducing the school's woes to a steamy, very non-PC daytime soap opera whose major and minor players engage in booze-fueled orgies and unscrupulous backdoor deals. It's written by a veteran TSU employee who goes by the alias Deray Jenkins and describes himself as "the arbiter of truth at a school full of lies." Sadly, Jenkins has been AWOL for the last couple months. We eagerly await his return to writing Houston's best blog.

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