The Menil Collection

Franklin Sirmans left New York for Houston, and NY's loss is Houston's gain. With his exhibition, "NeoHooDoo: Art for a Forgotten Faith," Sirmans, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at The Menil Collection, has brought the de Menils' legacy of spirituality in art into the 21st century. No staid, meditative Rothko Chapel experience, "NeoHooDoo" was diverse, funky and polytheistic. It also had a lot of women in it. (The late Mrs. de Menil, for all her progressive stances in politics, art and civil rights, was quite dismissive of her own sex and all but ignored work by women artists.) Sirmans is also reinvigorating the permanent collection. His "Everyday People," an exhibition of photographs drawn from The Menil Collection, was a nod to "The Family of Man" exhibition that originally inspired the de Menils to begin collecting photography. But whereas "The Family of Man" was humanistic in a simplistic, idealistic and hokey manner, Sirmans's selections of images presented a blunt, quirky, realistic and nonetheless moving view of the world.

This Italian hunk with smoldering matinee looks is one tall drink of water. We knew he had great form and a brooding presence and that he could pull off princely ballet moves and blend seamlessly into contemporary choreography. But in Dominic Walsh Dance Theater's Sleeping Beauty, he showed great comedic talent too. As the geeky, modern-day prince, he was an office nerd, miming typing and smoking a cig, but when the big moves came, he took his lanky frame across the stage like a young Nureyev. Classicism, comedy and contemporary blend in this guy, and he makes it look all so easy.

Mark Adams is not one of the glittering directors who amazes his audiences with flash-in-the-pan pyrotechnics. His work is most striking for the fact that it is quiet, strong and practically invisible. All the work and rehearsals disappear in his shows and allow the actors and the script to take center stage, which is exactly where they should be. That was especially true of his production of Gore Vidal's timely political piece The Best Man, about a presidential campaign that looked creepily current, even though the script was written in the '60s. The most amazing part of Adams's direction, aside from the pitch-perfect cast he put together, was the ferocious undercurrent of energy he managed to infuse into what could have been a very dull play about politics. As it was, The Best Man became one of the most memorable productions of the season, thanks to its smart and very savvy director.

Crowe Bar

The drinks are cold and cheap, the jukebox will make you weep, and the shuffleboard is slick and true at this strip-mall tavern just off South Post Oak. The owner — Ms. Crowe herself—is a former Chronicle printer and has a lifetime of stories to tell, and occasional stragglers from the African-American strip club across the street enliven the clientele. In a city rapidly filling with sleek lounges, wine bars and oontz-oontz douche-a-toriums, the Crowe Bar is a sweet reminder of days gone by.

Way too few DJs manage to do anything original; many just seem to play the same records and never dare to venture outside the box. There's no room for mediocrity in a good DJ, and we're glad Squincy Jones figured this one out. As co-founder of the genre-splitting night Speakerboxx at The Backroom with his partner Dayta, he's pushed as many boundaries and/or genres as he can find into one DJ set. From guilty pleasure '80s to the latest in electro or local hip-hop, he's throwing it all in a pot and cooking a big kick-ass stew of "I don't give a fuck and I'm going to make you dance your ass off."

Kofi is a perennial favorite, and winner, of Best of Houston®. In fact, you might think there's not another drag queen in town, but Tuesday nights at JR's Bar & Grill prove differently. The show starts at 11 p.m. as Kofi dances and lip-synchs to songs from the diva collection. Beforehand, at 9 p.m., the bar hosts Drag Queen Bingo, which is pretty much bingo with drag queens. Kara and Sofanda are regular number callers. (Proceeds from the event are donated to charity.) Still, Kofi manages to steal the show. Even if drag queens aren't your thing, check her out.

Alley Theatre

The Alley Theatre's production of Theresa Rebeck's The Scene was one of the most deliciously disturbing productions of the season. Focusing on an out-of-work actor who spirals out of control, the story managed to make many wonderfully wry observations about the current human condition. Everything from television to overeating to vapid sex got a moment to shine in all its glorious hideousness. But the script, for all its cleverness, would not have been worth much without the great cast that director Jeremy B. Cohen put together. Each of the four actors in the show seemed born for their parts. Jeffrey Bean raged with brilliant craziness as broken Charlie; Elizabeth Bunch was equally terrific as beautiful bitch Clea; Liam Craig was yummy as quiet and kicked-about sidekick Lewis; and the only thing wrong with Elizabeth Rich as the much-abused Stella was that we didn't get to see more of her. Put them all together, and the four actors plus their director made theatrical dynamite.

The Bayou City Art Festival isn't just the best in Houston — it's among the best events of its kind in the country, frequently ranking among the top five festivals in Sunshine Artist magazine, the result of a vote by participating artists. BCAF is actually two festivals, or rather one festival that happens twice a year, once downtown and once in Memorial Park. Both are juried fine-art events that attract more than 300 artists working in 19 different media, including glass, photography, sculpture and painting. There are plenty of performing artists as well, with two stages that have a full ­schedule of dance and music. There's also a Creative Zone where budding Rembrandts can try their hands at making masks, wax hand sculptures and painted rocks. While it's a lot of fun, BCAF is also serious business. During the past 37 years, the festival has raised more than $2.5 million for local charities.

Deborah Colton Gallery

Michael Somoroff (the mastermind behind the Rothko Chapel installation Illumination I) took more than two dozen photographs from legendary German photographer August Sander's collection "People of the Twentieth Century" and removed the people. His meticulous touch-ups made it look as if they were never there: In Pharmacist, all that was left was a tall bush next to a brick wall; in Blind Children, two open books on a table; and in Working Class Family, an empty chair. Somoroff spent more than two years reworking Sander's pieces, and even went as far as to animate some of the images so that leaves and books' pages subtly rustle in the wind, furthering the emptiness of each piece. Somoroff's process made these more than just ordinary scenes; the absence of the subject, as it were, put everything into a context that induced goose bumps and our appreciation of patience.

Maxwell's Carwash

There may be some high-dollar underground poker rooms in the city, but Maxwell's Carwash ain't one of them. Located on the far north side of Houston, in a bright blue, wood-paneled building, the car wash isn't a large-scale operation, but there's an open lot and cleaning supplies out front. And there are some serious bones being thrown here. The domino games get pretty intense, so don't try to sit in if you don't know your game. A card game pops up from time to time, but the old-timers pretty much stick to dominos. Cold beer served from a cooler is a bonus.

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