Buffalo Wild Wings
Photo by Houston Press Staff

These days, mixed martial arts might be more popular than baseball and hockey combined, but in Texas, football is still king. And there's no better place to post up and watch a game than Buffalo Wild Wings near Rice Village. The food is better here than at most sports bars in town, and even the boneless wings, which usually are a letdown, hit the mark. The set-up at Buffalo Wild Wings is what makes it great, though. The big-screen TVs on top of the long tables are the perfect way to view a game outside of your living room. And if the Texans aren't your team, you're bound to run into some like-minded fans making fun of the locals.

Under The Volcano

In this city of carnivores, choosing a steak night — by which we mean, a pre-designated night a local tavern fires up the grill outside, not a trip to Fleming's or Texas Land & Cattle — is as easy as choosing which night of the week you want to eat steak. Some places even do it twice a week. And although Griff's and Cedar Creek have their supporters, Bissonnet tropical oasis Under the Volcano is still Houston's grade-A choice prime cut to us. Every Monday night, the Volcano crew grills up succulent strips or robust ribeyes for about a third of what similar cuts would cost in a steakhouse. Volcano's signature condiment is the pungent chimichurri (a sort of Argentine pesto), but the steaks are so well-seasoned we usually don't even need it, and the drippings make a fine gravy for the extra-garlicky side of mashed potatoes. Wash it down with one of the bar's homemade cocktails or one of its many specialty beers — our hearts will always be true to locally brewed Saint Arnold's Amber, at least in summertime — and don't forget to ask for a to-go box. You'll need it.

The Men's Club of Houston

The strippers at The Men's Club are about as sexy as can be desired. But forget about them and head to the amazing all-you-can-eat lunch buffet — for just the $12 cover, it might be the best dining deal in town. A guy in a chef's hat doles out choice cuts of prime rib; another makes stir-fries to order. Gourmet takes on everything from chicken and salmon to jambalaya and enchiladas fill the many silver platters; there's also a salad bar and killer desserts. Like the food, the venue itself is both manly and classy, with smoking-room-worthy armchairs and flat-screens tuned to ESPN. The $1.50 cocktails and domestics (and another buffet) make happy hour similarly enticing. Worried your significant other might not buy such excuses for all that time at the strip club? The sound-proof phone booth near the bathrooms says you can be wherever you like.

Treasures

Julie is not saving money for school. She strips 'cuz she likes it, and it pays the bills. "I'll keep stripping until there's a ring on this finger," she says. At the notoriously rambunctious Treasures, where, as the deejay announced on a recent Thursday night, "It's harder to get a stripper to the stage than it is to get the manager laid," Julie's no-nonsense style is a nice change of pace, if a little intimidating. Fit, compact and impossibly enticing, she's also aggressive as hell. If she plants herself on your lap, you'll probably end up with a $20 dance, whether you like it or not. (Trust us, though, you'll like it.)

Vine Street Studios

FotoFest likes to start them young — as photographers and as fans. Its student art program FotoFence, a Literacy Through Photography project, had 2,500 kids in 22 Houston-area schools producing some surprising results. Working with professional photographers and arts educators, students from fifth through twelfth grades wrote essays and created posters, photo-blogs, self-portraits, collages and mixed-media artwork. The assignment? "Reflect the world around you." The students responded with work that revealed their secrets and dreams, such as having a chronic disease ("My scar has been a speed bump...") or becoming an engineer ("I am a math expert"). Others were a little more fanciful ("I am the king of Neptune!!" and "When I'm crazy I'm a Rabbit with no fur wearing a bikini"). An exhibit at the FotoFest gallery, where 500 students displayed artwork and read their writings to a seriously impressed public (plus a few proud moms and dads, we're sure), closed out the project for the year. Now, back to that bikini-wearing rabbit...

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Good things come in small packages — that's the lesson to take from the short season, only three shows long, produced in 2008-2009 by Catastrophic Theatre Company. Last fall, the company produced two plays by Mickle Maher: The Strangerer, a disturbing story about the bizarre lies and theatricality of political debates, and Spirits to Enforce, an astonishing ensemble piece that haunted the city with a brilliant synthesis of emotionally moving and intellectually puzzling avant-garde energy. In the spring, Artistic Director Jason Nodler and his group gave us what was probably the funniest and deadliest show mounted anywhere in the city this season with Peter Sinn Nachtrieb's Hunter Gatherers, about a dinner party that goes terribly wrong in all the right ways. Three for three, them ain't bad odds. We can only hope that next season, the company will offer us more to savor.

13 Celsius Wine Bar
Photo by Kaitlin Steinberg

For amateurs and oenophiles alike, 13 Celsius is a little slice of heaven. And don't let the Midtown address scare you off; this cozy establishment is thankfully free of the douchiness that plagues many of the area's bars and clubs. No one will laugh at you if you can barely tell the difference between Pinots Grigio and Noir; this is a place to relax and enjoy a ginormous wine selection (not to mention meats and cheeses), not one that draws those who simply want to seem sophisticated. There is plenty of seating inside the Mediterranean-style building, and the courtyard seating is delightful as well. Whether you're with a date or a small group of friends, if you want to sit and talk and indulge, this place is hard to beat.

Alice's Tall Texan Drive Inn
David Rozycki

Real Texans drink from goblets, it seems, or maybe the massive glassware at this homey watering hole-in-the-wall is just the only option for holding all that beer. It's $1.25 for a goblet of Lone Star and 25 cents more for one of Shiner, and two or three should see you well on your way to a hangover. You might end up thankful that the place closes down at midnight. Any other beer will come in a bottle, as will the wine (an airplane bottle, in fact), so don't waste your money. Those extra quarters will come in handy at the all-country jukebox in back.

Best Bar Atmosphere/Decor

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.

One of the key figures behind the "Dirty South" movement that has taken hold of mainstream rap is an unheralded white guy with a country western background. Mike Dean has helped to craft some of the most unique sounds in rap — from Houston's Scarface to L.A.'s Kurupt — while serving as in-house producer for local titan Rap-A-Lot Records. He brought along a deep stable of Houston rappers; he worked with Tupac; he produced the latest offerings from Kanye West and The Game. Dean's style is eclectic and effusive, and hard to generalize, except by his wide-ranging and continuous success.

Stages Repertory Theatre

A musical about two old cat ladies bitching at each other endlessly in annoying accents? Doesn't sound like a great idea. Even if you toss in the facts that it's based on a true story, the two eccentric recluses were related to Jackie O, and one dated Joe Kennedy, Jr. But Stages' production of Grey Gardens was the marvel of the season, and audiences couldn't get enough of it. Nancy Johnston and Susan O. Koozin nailed their roles, and director Kenn McLaughlin somehow made you forget just how claustrophobic the area he had to work with was. Stages extended the production's run, added as many shows as it could, and still attracted sellout crowds.

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