La Carafe

Since the nicotine-loving set has been literally kicked to the curb, those who also enjoy a tipple with their tobacco have been on the lookout for prime public spots in which to indulge their twin vices. While many bars have simply roped off a couple of cheap picnic tables in their parking lot, venerable La Carafe fully cashes in on its prime location. The handful of tables out front offer a prime view of the skyline, and an outside speaker bathes patrons in sweet sounds of the bar's award-winning jukebox. You can scope out the action in Market Square across the street, or just ponder the street you are on — Congress, in late Houston Post columnist Sig Byrd's words, that "old, crowded, tired avenue once so proud, so bright with gaslight and hearty laughter. Sam Houston walked this avenue. So did Mirabeau Lamar, Gail Borden, Audubon, Dick Dowling, and other great ones."

Best Places to Score an Eight-Ball

Jeez, there are so many, and while we don't wanna just spell this one out for you, we will give it to you tabloid blind item style. So here we go — four of the best places to find bat food inside the Loop:

1. Puff Daddy would like to shepherd his buddies to this 24-7 joint.

2. Ray Davies just might like to sip a Coca-Cola here.

3. It ain't The Jungle Book, but it is close.

4. Lounge lizards now skulk where real lizards once dwelled.

Cue & Cushion is a laid-back place to shoot some pool and have a drink, or watch some serious players shoot. Finding an open table usually isn't a problem, and word is, the tables are the best in town. Cue & Cushion also caters heavily to the "industry" crowd, so the place fills up later in the night. If you're looking to waste a weekday, or are really into pool, $6 will pay for a table from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. There's free pool on Tuesdays after 7 p.m., and no charge on Saturdays from 7 to 9 p.m. The ladies get free tables on Wednesdays. These deals come with the condition that you buy some alcohol, but that shouldn't be a problem.

Robbie's Lounge

Contrary to our image in the national mind's eye, the redneck seems to be something of an endangered species in inside-the-Beltway Houston. But they didn't get that memo at Robbie's Lounge. At this Spring Branch-area strip mall bar, a Confederate flag hangs in one window, while a sign nailed to one wall reads, "Sexual harassment is tolerated here. However, it will be graded." Best of all, behind the bar, plastic statuettes of Hank Jr. and Waylon Jennings stand guard over bottles of Jack and Budweiser taps. The South may not ever do it again in Houston, but it's still doing it every blessed night at Robbie's.

"See the Chinese meditatin' / smell the Dietrich's coffee percolatin' / hear the train whistle blow down at Main Street Station / when it's springtime / down in the 'Trose." So runs our favorite verse of this lovely little Dixieland ditty. Too often, songs that mention Houston do so only in passing, and the city comes across as generic as our detractors claim it to be. But here, Kinsey, one of the frontmen of local old-time/punk/bluegrass ensemble Sideshow Tramps, conjures Montrose magic with a keen eye for telling details like the ones mentioned above and the "bells of St. Thomas," picnics in Menil park and "ladies fine as dandelion wine." And it's all set to a sweetly melancholy fiddle, guitar, banjo and clarinet melody. Not since Juke Boy Bonner's evocations of Fifth Ward misery has any one neighborhood been so specifically evoked in song.

We'll tell you right here off the bat, this isn't some giant spot with 10,000 TVs where you can watch the Romanian Curling Championships. This, ladies and gentlemen, is a locally owned neighborhood sports bar. Chain sports bars are like McDonalds for sports fans. Jonny's is the spot with the kick-ass chicken-fried steak you wouldn't know about unless some local took you there first. If you want to watch the Astros, Texans or Rockets and want a relaxing place to do it with friends, this is your spot. They also play all the big UFC pay-per-view fights, making it a good place to watch those sans meatheads.

Under The Volcano

Sometimes it seems like there are as many steak nights around Houston as potholes, and they'll all fill your belly up real good. But Under the Volcano gets the nod, because the Bissonnet shrine to Malcolm Lowry's novel (and all things tropicalia) has the good sense to have its steak night on Mondays, and it's always a good idea to start out the week with a good, solid meal. Actually, make that several meals: With a giant rib eye or strip, tasty mound of garlic mashed potatoes and salad for the eminently reasonable price of $12, sometimes we're living off steak night until Wednesday or Thursday. Drinks sold separately, though.

Treasures

Most people think strip clubs are all the same: parasitic businesses featuring emotionally damaged young women with fake boobs and daddy issues, clinically gyrating for the prurient pleasure of sad, gold-chain-wearing chodes whose frigid wives and fears of intimacy are enough to make them buy shockingly overpriced watered-down booze and pretend that the vacant-eyed vixens are actually interested in what they have to say. And, well, people are right. But, see, the difference between a bad strip club and a good one is that the latter really minimizes the inherent Pathetic Factor, so your soul doesn't feel dirty during the whole ordeal. A good strip club emphasizes the "it's all in good fun" and the "these girls aren't forced to be here, you know" ethos. And Treasures does that in spades. So go have fun — the icky feeling won't hit you until the next day, we promise!

Colorado Bar & Grill
Photos courtesy of The Colorado

Angelic is the best stripper in Houston because she's smoking hot. She dances at The Colorado Bar & Grill, but she doesn't blow fire or do back flips or twist her body into crazy stripper positions. Simply. Smoking. Hot. Brutha. "When I first started, I would just shake my ass like I was at the club," Angelic says. "Now I dance slower. Guys don't care if you can shake your ass. And smile. Guys hate it when you don't smile onstage." Angelic started dancing when she was 18, but it didn't take. So she got married and landed a job at Enron. Both of those flopped, and Angelic returned to The Colorado. She's branched out a bit, recently starring in a music video for West Coast rapper Young iLego. She's been offered another spot in a rock video, but she doesn't aspire to be a video star. She wants to focus on her business career. At 27, Angelic says that younger dancers can be intimidating, but her bosses say that her personality keeps her regular customers coming back. "I'm more ­sensual. I don't just rub my ass on a guy's crotch. I touch my body," Angelic says. "I've learned to seduce a man."

Texas Tattoo

What do you get when a Vietnamese kid is raised and steeped in all things Texas while growing up in Pearland? An Asian tattoo artist with a serious Southern drawl who has an interest in tat'in kick-ass skulls and naked chicks onto your skin — and who can do it better than most. Antoine has patiently honed his skills with the tattoo gun, slowly earning recognition and respect from his fellow artists and other enthusiasts. Get your work done now while you can still book time with him. Demand is going up, so don't blow your chance to get a permanent Picasso on your body.

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