Moviemaker Shawn Welling stumbled upon a fascinating group of "swamp men" during a bike ride on Bolivar Peninsula. Hunting for a public restroom, he stopped into Norbert's Bait Camp & Bar. (It was like stepping into the bar scene in Star Wars, he would later say.) Inside Norbert's, Welling met a group of men with varied pasts, some shadier than others, each more eccentric than the next (Back-up Bert, for example, drives all over the peninsula in reverse because it's the only gear that still works on his pickup). The next time he visited Norbert's, Welling brought a film crew with him and started the documentary about the bar's regular customers, The Messenger, 360 Days of Bolivar. He would save these lost, discarded men, Welling thought. He didn't know that the men were thinking the same thing about him. (Welling completed only 360 days of filming; the project was interrupted by a little storm called Hurricane Ike.)

We're not sure where Breakfast on Tour gets its travel budget, but we're a little jealous. The Houston-based music blog chronicles the cross-country travels of writers Eggs, Toast and Bacon, who don't miss too many music festivals — or much else. Recently, Breakfast readers have feasted on extensive reports, with lotsa photos and video, from Tennessee's Bonnaroo and Michigan's Rothbury festivals, but the site also contains much linkage and YouTubeage from whatever Eggs and Co. (somehow) managed to miss. Best of all, although Breakfast on Tour brings the world to Houston music fans, by not shying away from covering local events like the Buxton 7-inch release it also helps bring Houston music to the world.

You get a sense of poet Tony Hoagland's outlook from the titles of his books (What Narcissism Means to Me and Donkey Gospel) and poems ("Benevolence" and "The Replacement"). His commentary on contemporary life is straightforward, sans flourish. He seems to avoid appearing intellectual when being ironic will do just as well. The winner of the James Laughlin Award and currently an associate professor in the University of Houston's graduate writing program, Hoagland examines manners, morals and, as follows, sex. From "Mission": "This time it's her, and her face / takes on the troubled, is-this-pain- / or-pleasure? look that people wear / when the train they're waiting for / comes through the station wall in flames, / the long legs of the water tower break / and desire drowns in its own destination."

Experts call Scarface one of the premier rappers in the country, not just Houston. With new albums out the last three years running (the latest, Emeritus, is rumored to be his last), the 38-year-old South-sider has been going strong for a full two decades. He got his start by helping to make the legendary Geto Boys the first Houston act to hit it big, going a long way toward shaping Houston — and Southern — rap in the process. His smooth, cinematic, often macabre and impossibly cerebral flow has since made him one of the most respected artists in the industry — if not always by casual fans, as his relatively modest record sales suggest. Multi-platinum rappers from DMX and Ludacris to Nas and Jay-Z have emphatically placed him among the best in the business.

Houston Central Library

The Central branch of the Houston Public Library renovated more than just its building during its recent makeover. Its programming got a new face, too. Most impressive among the current offerings is the An Evening with... reading series. Over the last few months, Houston's own Katherine Center (Everyone Is Beautiful) and Gwendolyn Zepeda (Houston, We Have a Problema) joined a lineup that included such nationally acclaimed authors as James Rollins (The Doomsday Key) and Charlaine Harris (the Southern Vampire Mysteries series starring Sookie Stackhouse). Harris made just one appearance in support of the reissue of Living Dead in Dallas, and it was at the library's An Evening with...

Landmark River Oaks Theatre

Built in 1939, this historic jewel has so far escaped the clutches of townhouse development that first threatened to destroy it in 2006. The idea was blasphemy to preservationists and folks who just think it's a damn cool theater. And it is — both aesthetically, and by the selection of indie, foreign and "midnight movies" that don't make it to every hulking 500-screen multiplex. So next time you feel like going to the movies, check to see if the flick's playing at River Oaks, grab your popcorn money and go support a truly classic, and classy, theater.

Alamo Drafthouse Cinema-West Oaks

Okay, so a $3.50 Lone Star isn't exactly the best price, but you're not going to Alamo for a bargain; you're going to spoil yourself. You're going so you can kick back and watch the latest Harry Potter or Seth Rogen "comedy" while chowing down a burger, fish and chips, or perhaps the Kevin Bacon Lettuce & Tomato. Or maybe you'd fancy a nice Pinot grigio. The point is, this menu is overflowing with deliciousness, and the service is good enough that you won't have to wait until the third act before your food comes. It ain't the cheapest, but everyone deserves to treat themselves once in a while.

Station Museum of Contemporary Art

Before you step into the Station Museum of Contemporary Art, be forewarned — it ain't gonna be pretty. It's going to be glorious and challenging. It might even be life-changing, but it's definitely not going to be pretty. The Station Museum most often deals with social and political issues, which, while powerful and thought-provoking, don't usually lend themselves to serene landscapes or flattering portraits. Case in point: During a show from this year, Javier de Villota: "DeHumanization Echo," the artist re-created his tableau El Mercado de la Muerte, similar to the one he installed in the streets of Madrid in 1994, just days after the infamous attack on civilians in Sarajevo. The installation included figures of severely wounded victims, with detached body parts (both human and animal) among the wreckage.

Community Bar
Photo by HP Staff

Food, booze, music and good friends are really the only things one needs in this life. With all the turmoil going on around our little terrestrial mudball, sometimes it's imperative we have a place where we forget about the entire clamor of the world. That place has been Community Bar for us this past year, with owner/chef Bob Covington giving us bar food that drunks like us do not deserve. He once made us nachos topped with aged prime rib on the bar's epic Steak Night. Why we wanted a plate of chips and cheese instead of an expertly grilled steak, we still haven't soberly surmised. There's always good music coming out of the bar's computer and some random movie on the plasma screen in the middle of the bar. If anything, it's just fun to come in and chat with Dani, the spitfire bartender who never fails us with a story from her crazed little world.

Mango's

Like most music venues, Mango's isn't strictly new. Plenty of former Houston punks and hardcore kids have fond memories of the vegetarian restaurant's mid-'90s run as the Oven, and it's been a staple venue of the resurrected Westheimer Block Party for at least a couple of years. But when Free Press Houston editor/publisher Omar Afra and friends took over full-time earlier this year, Mango's shot to the top of the charts as the place to see both Houston's finest and occasional out-of-towners, like musical comedian Neil Hamburger and St. Louis's So Many Dynamos. Most weekend nights, and plenty of weekdays, Mango's is absolutely packed with young Houstonians checking out local favorites from B L A C K I E and Born Liars to Dead Roses and News on the March. It can get a little, well, oven-like in there when that happens, but the sweltering scene is just more evidence of Houston's almost unprecedented musical renaissance, a resurgence that couldn't have happened without venues like this.

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