Best New Development (If the Artist's Renderings Are True)

West Ave

The corner of Kirby and Westheimer has always seemed undeveloped, but that's about to change big-time. Gone are the Shell station and, more sadly, Jalapeño's Restaurant. So should we expect yet another dull strip mall, maybe livened up with a few allegedly classy architectural touches? Not this time. If the artist's renderings that line the protective fences around the site are to be believed (and if you can't trust an artist's rendering, what can you trust?), this is going to be one hell of an addition to the area. Apartments will be built over two floors of retail shops, restaurants and bars in what looks like an eminently walkable couple of blocks. We don't want to think just right now about what traffic will look like when this and several nearby projects are finished; right now we're just happy we're not getting another strip mall.

No new local laws have stirred up such attention and made the dividing line so clear between those who support and those who oppose the law. Drinking smokers despise the ban, which has forced their nicotine-loving habit outdoors. Nonsmokers and bar employees rejoice in its passage, because they will now smell only of cheap booze once they leave the bar, instead of like an ashtray. No more burning red eyes from bars filled with more smoke than a chimney. No more being burned when some drunken dude accidentally bumps into you with his cigarette. The only downside is you will realize just how bad everyone else at the bar really smells without all that smoke to cover it up.

When His Royal Highness of Funk, George Clinton, is your parade's grand marshall, it's a safe bet that you have the coolest parade in town. And such was the case with the Orange Show's 20th annual Art Car Parade. The 282 entries this year included a few Lord of the Rings-inspired rides, and a sort of serial-killer-with-the-munchies-themed Classic Toaster Van — a van with two giant Pop Tarts jutting out of the roof. The Art Car Parade seems to be the one event everyone can agree on, drawing spectators of all ages and races. So why exactly is the sight of hundreds of geniuses/freaks tricking out their cars so alluring? You'll have to go next year and find out for yourself.

Sometime before the Texas Revolution, James Campbell settled on a point near Galveston Bay in what is now Texas City and took to farming — with a little sideline in smuggling. His past was murky — some called him a privateer, while others said he was a pirate. It all depended on what you thought of his boss — Jean Lafitte. Among his possessions was a spyglass, and he passed it down to his son, and on and on, until it was donated to the Moore Memorial Library about 20 years ago. A legend had blossomed around it — supposedly, Lafitte had given the spyglass to Campbell, his trusted lieutenant. Four years ago, the PBS show The History Detectives investigated the spyglass and determined that it could not have belonged to Lafitte — it had been made in Liverpool after Campbell and Lafitte had parted ways. Still, it did belong to Campbell, and he was a pirate himself. In our book, that's plenty cool enough. If that spyglass could talk, just imagine the tales it could tell.

First of all, it's important to note that Dumpster diving does not actually entail climbing inside and rummaging around one of those giant metal bins. It's more like yard-sale shopping, except nobody has taken the time to set up poster-board signs and sit outside collecting quarters for old flannels and ashtrays. Some call it alley-shopping, since essentially what you're doing is surveying curb trash for treasures. Whatever you call it, here's the skinny: Go to Tanglewood. After all, it only makes sense that Houston's richest neighborhood will turn up the best finds.

The Harp

A single, female friend of ours describes this place as "the yuppie Rudyard's," and we have to agree. Here, just as at any bar, you'll find tons of dudes drinking away and looking for love. But the crop at this Irish-tinged pub is a little creamier, if you know what we mean. Nothing attracts future yupsters like a clean bar with a wide variety of Euro beers on tap, and this place delivers. You can snag yourself a future doctor or lawyer before he gets all rich and full of himself — not that a little confidence is a bad thing.

Whole Foods

Here's the trick: Just walk in, grab a cart, stroll over to the book aisle and pick a diet, any diet. Let's say you go with the Master Cleanse. Fill up your cart with all the ingredients except one, like, say, maple syrup. Walk up to the first hottie you see — and there should be plenty to choose from — and ask her if she knows where the syrup is. She'll no doubt look down at your cart and recognize the diet you're on, since she's done them all. And voilà, you're instantly in the middle of a conversation, discussing the merits of wheat grass or some other hippie concoction. Closing the deal is up to you. But if you succeed, you can rest assured she's flexible from all that yoga.

Where can you see Houstonians from every race, age and walk of life: Zulu warriors in full tribal regalia, Australian aborigines, Chinese kung fu experts, Indian fakirs, Kazakh belly dancers, Tuareg musicians, Japanese drummers, Greek dancers, Rastafarian CD salesmen, Irish bagpipers and Caribbean brass bands with a full complement of dancing hotties in sequins and spangles? The Houston International Festival, that's where, the one event where Houston's status as a first-tier world city is not in doubt. It's the people-watching that makes I-Fest every bit the feast for the eyes that it also is for the ears and taste buds.

McGovern-Stella Link Neighborhood Library
So many libraries are stale, stiff, silent. Theyre more like mortuaries than hubs of active study and learning. Not so McGovern-Stella Link, located in a modern glass and brick building with sleek furniture, efficient computers, a buzzing snack area and loads of natural light. With a line that forms outside on most mornings, it passes the most important test for any great library: People use it.

Okay, so the best duo in local radio is really a trio: Roula, Ryan and their sidekick engineer, Eric. Roula's vivacious and impassioned; Ryan's hunky and impassioned; and Eric sounds all nerdy (yet impassioned). They're not the usual radio schlubs: They're telegenic enough for a career in TV, but they'd have to lose a lotta IQ points. The Texas trio seems more intelligent than most on radio. While they have the silly patter you'd expect sandwiched between endless replays of Fergie and Justin Timberlake, they also spent an hour recently interviewing the father of a murder victim. The show airs weekday mornings from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. We're serious about lovin' the creativity, wit, brainpower and nurturing all in one unlikely place: pop radio.

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