The Mink

While a never-ending parade of Houston's best indie-rockers, punks and DJs, plus out-of-town acts of all shapes and sizes (many on their first-ever tour, or playing Houston for the first time), shuffle through The Mink's aptly-named adjacent Backroom, up front is one of the city's coziest, least assuming saloons. The dim lights and comfy seating (especially the couches up front) make The Mink an ideal date spot; we suspect many a spark has been kindled over a $10 bottle of wine on Tuesday nights. The drinks are cheap and plentiful, and the friendly bartenders keep the atmosphere buzzing with a bottomless iTunes playlist that breezes from AC/DC to Arcade Fire to Merle Haggard. (Also on Tuesdays, the preponderance of vintage country music makes The Mink the Inner Loop's unlikeliest honky-tonk.) Whether you're just killing time between bands out back or bellied up for a quiet evening of Lone Star and conversation, The Mink won't steer you wrong.

D&W Lounge

This clapboard East End beer joint might not look like much from the outside, but a surprise awaits those who venture in. A golden Buddha squats in one corner, while paintings of Frida Kahlo and Marilyn Monroe take pride of place on two walls, where they compete with several specimens of the fine art of taxidermy. On the bar, there's a golden iron candelabra, and looking down from above the bar is a silver robot man fashioned by a regular out of tin cans. A mix of Tejano, classic rock and country billows from the jukebox as neighbors, workers at the nearby Maxwell House coffee plant and homicide detectives and DAs relax over Lone Star and Bud Light. The D&D is a blue-collar bar, make no mistake about that, but a blue-collar bar with panache and grace. Even the smoking porch is all done up in potted plants and colored lights.

The Mink

What we love about the bathrooms at the Backroom at The Mink is that upon our last count, there were about four of them. One for men, one for women, one for "whatever" and another mystery head with no designation. It's fun because when you encounter these signs, depending on your level of inebriation, you may have an existential meltdown. In the meantime, be careful not to end up pissing your poor self and become the laughingstock of the indie-rock kids.

Marquis II

For freedom-loving Americans, the day the fascists on Houston's City Council passed the smoking ban in bars was a shot to the heart. Sure, sometimes stale nicotine-filled air can be a bummer, but what's even more of a bummer is when you have a crappy day and just want to go knock back some liquid poison and chase it with smoky poison. Or when you and your friends get into a deep philosophical conversation about why John Bonham was vastly superior to Neil Peart – you don't want to have to interrupt a key point by stepping outside to smoke. It's a real big pain in the ass. Fortunately, the Marquis resides in West University, outside of the totalitarian regime's reach, so you can sit there in the orange 1970s garage-sale chairs and drink and smoke to your heart's content, while listening to tunes on the stellar jukebox. We're pretty sure this is what heaven's like.

No static CD could ever match the intensity of one of Little Joe Washington's live shows, which are one part gospel revival and one part juke-joint boogaloo breakdown, but Texas Fire Line sure comes close. Recorded live in the studio (that sure helps), Fire Line is a frenzied tour de force from one of Houston's biggest musical treasures and free-spirited local icons. Full of Washington's Gulf Coast guitar-slinging and suffused with Memphis soul (trumpeter Al Gomez and saxman Mark Kazanoff shine on every song), Fire Line climaxes on the blustery, bitter blues of "Ike," which proves even a mighty hurricane is no match for Little Joe's singular guitar alchemy.

Eli Sebastian Brumbaugh seems like the go-to guy for illustrating Houston's burgeoning "H-pop" scene. The twentysomething artist and graphic designer, who has also done posters for News on the March and Free Press Houston's Summerfest, puts the same sort of vivid, vibrant oddness in his artwork as bands like Young Mammals and Wild Moccasins do in their music. His cover for the Moccasins' Microscopic Metronomes EP is as contrast-heavy and color-saturated as the band's eclectic, effervescent songs, and the cute but bizarre animals adorning the Young Mammals' Carrots effectively capture the almost childlike whimsy of the music contained within. Whenever Houston's rising crop of talented young bands needs an album cover, flyer or any other artwork, it's nice to know Brumbaugh has them in capable, creative hands.

Downing Street

Downing Street was a little slice of paradise for both cigar aficionados and part-time stogie-smokers even before the fascists on City Council banned smoking in bars; but after that anti-Texan, anti-American chokehold went into effect, Downing Street became even more important. It's great to have a place like Downing Street, where a grown-up can unwind at the end of a long day with a single-malt and a Davidoff. Or if that's not your style, just check out the exquisite selection in the pub's 400-square-foot humidor, where a knowledgeable and courteous assistant will offer suggestions and a light. Then you can retire to one of the cozy booths or plush leather chairs or couches and thank the stars that, at least for now, such an elegant, classy refuge hasn't been forced out of business by the compassionate nanny-politicians who think they know what's best for you. In fact, let's have a Chivas and Fuente in their honor.

Aperture Coffee & Wine Bar

Whether it's Tweeting its fool head off or hosting a "Geek Gathering," Coffee Groundz is one damn fine coffeehouse. Ridiculously great coffee, free whiplash Wi-Fi and a wide selection of beer — all CG really needs is a bank of showers and a few cots to fully cover all the needs of the modern man. Its location in the heart of the ever-evolving Midtown district also makes it an ideal date spot, if only to separate the wheat from the proverbial chaff.

They say write what you know, and John Gard is a dork from Houston, so he jokes about Star Wars and the ever-present thick Texas accent of his hecklers. His unique perspective allows him to find an inappropriate angle for any situation, such as why it's not the best idea to engage in sexual role-play with a trained method actor, and he never shies away from his material. It's outsider comedy from an outsider, and usually winds up being very, very funny. We aren't the only ones who have noticed, either — Gard was also named Houston's Funniest Person 2009 at the annual Laff Stop competition.

Continental Club

If they even offer food at all, most Houston music venues couldn't care less about how that food actually tastes. And true, most people who need something to snack on while watching a band are more interested in soaking up all that booze than in any kind of fine-dining experience. But anyone who's sampled the fare at Adam and Lena Fisher's barbecue stand in the Continental Club knows the two need not be mutually exclusive. Always on weekends, and usually during the Continental's bigger weekday shows, the Fishers' array of tender brisket, spicy links, rib-sticking red beans and rice and scrumptious hot dogs has headed off many a hangover, and deliciously so, for not much more than the price of a drink. Since the Continental opened its Pachinko Room patio bar this spring, the Fishers have also been serving it up every Saturday afternoon.

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