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.

Pianist Jade Simmons has just one mission in life — to give classical music a new reputation. She's out to replace the image of a stuffy, staid collection of dead guys in white wigs with fresh, young, cutting-edge artists (herself included). While she'll say she's had plenty of help in creating the Impulse! Artist Series, a weeklong event featuring concerts and workshops, the truth is, it's her baby. Simmons brings in pianists from around the world, presents each in a solo concert and organizes one group performance, with music ranging from works written 500 years ago to five days ago.

Main Street Theater

It might seem that life is just too busy to be polite anymore. But don't tell that to the folks at Main Street Theater, where Steve Garfinkel, along with the Emmy-nominated band Trout Fishing in America, has developed Ps and Qs: The ABCs of Manners. Shaped like a radio show along the lines of A Prairie Home Companion, the charming family musical follows what takes place one night both on and off the air of a radio broadcast while it tells us all about what happens to those of us who are perpetually late (just look at the poor "Late Great Nate MacTate"). And the Manners Police are always on hand to round up any soul naughty enough to take out her cell phone during the production. The musical features such silliness as a quiz called "Rude or Not Rude," and it even delivers a history of table manners, starting with cave times. And it reminds us that the most important rule of all is the golden one. Follow it and your manners will be impeccable.

Cedar Creek
Photo by Kevin Shalin

Rasquachismo is a Mexican term (of Nahuatl origin) that roughly translates to "creating the most from the least." With regards to our flat, relatively featureless natural environment, Houstonians are forced to adopt the principles of rasquachismo, and no place does it better than the Cedar Creek Bar & Grill. Sited on a grassy parcel of Heights-area land, one side of Cedar Creek spills out toward a steep-sided, glorified drainage ditch that slices through a succession of little mounds. While it's not quite like dining on the banks of the Seine — or even Austin's Waller Creek, from which the restaurant draws some of its inspiration — by Houston standards it's positively Edenic. If there's a better place to quaff a brew al fresco in this city, we've yet to see it.

Documentary photographer Ben Tecumseh DeSoto spent 25 years as a photojournalist for the Houston Chronicle. He shot tragedies, historic moments, everyday people and famous faces. These days, photography is still his medium, but his message has changed a bit. Now the award-winning artist is focused on not just capturing the world around him but changing it as well. His Understanding Poverty Project, a series of photographs of men and women caught in the cycle of homelessness and institutionalization, is meant to educate and sensitize the public to the difficult lives of Houston's less fortunate.

Slick Willie's Family Pool Hall

There aren't too many places competing for the Best Pool Hall in town, but among the few, none match up to Slick Willie's. Houston has about a dozen locations, but our favorite is no doubt the one in the heart of Montrose, where there are more than 20 big, solid and clean tables. If you're just an every-now-and-again player used to shooting on that wobbly little thing at your favorite dive bar, the game at Slick Willie's will take some adjustment. On Wednesdays, it costs $5 for a wristband that allows unlimited play all day long, and even though some other halls offer free pool for a couple hours, this deal has them beat.

The Catastrophic Theatre's production of the comedy/drama Hunter Gatherers won a rave from our reviewer, but Lee Williams failed to mention Greg Dean's incredible hard-on, waving around for all to see in the intimate Stages setting. Dean, playing a disturbed ex-jock, had been off-stage for a while before making his dramatic blood-engorged re-entrance, so we imagined him backstage furiously reading Hustlers and Penthouses in order to get ready. Alas, someone sitting closer to the actor than us reports that — unlike Teri Hatcher's breasts in Seinfeld – while it was fabulous, it was not real.

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