George's Country Sports Bar

Billed as "Your Country Sports Bar," George is still, well, gay, so you're as likely to see the occasional drag queen as much as a nice Stetson. Either way, the minute you walk into this laid-back neighborhood joint, you'll feel welcome. And while we enjoy the darts, pool, the juke, the flat-screen TVs and the somewhat-cramped patio out back, it's the courteous bartenders who really set the place apart for us. You're not just another customer/tip at George, you're part of the family. With great prices even outside of the extra-long happy hours, a relaxed atmosphere and a down-home feel, George is destined to become one of your favorite neighborhood haunts — no matter where you live.

Screenwriter Johnette Duff was at a film industry conference when someone told her a secret: Keep your costs low by shooting at just one location. Duff took an elevator down to her next meeting, and by the time the elevator doors opened a minute or so later, she had the concept for Up & Down, a movie that takes place inside a hotel elevator. Shot in Houston with an almost entirely Texan cast and crew, Up & Down follows the exploits of a hotel assistant through the course of a year as he chases the girl of his dreams, copes with drunk conventioneers and deals with his boss's wayward daughter. The film had a premiere at the River Oaks Theatre a few months ago and is currently making the rounds on the festival circuit.

When ranking gentlemen's clubs, there are many factors to consider: How much is the cover charge? Is there a free buffet? What are the boobs like? How many boobs are there at any given time? Are these the kind of boobs I can't see anywhere else? Michael's International has astonishingly positive answers to all those questions: The cover ranges from $4 to $8, the buffet is free, expansive and quite tasty, and there are at least three stages featuring some of the best-looking adult entertainers in Houston. (We're not sure of the exact number of stages, as we got whiplash last time we were there, and it made surveying the entire huge place impossible). There's ample parking, and you don't have to deal with the traffic that comes with hitting the strip clubs in the Galleria area. It's off the beaten path, but it's well worth it.

Pearl Fincher Museum of Fine Arts

Bigger is usually better, but not when it comes to this year's Best Museum winner. The Pearl Fincher Museum of Fine Arts, the only fine arts museum in the area that's located outside of the museum district, might be small, but it's having a big, big impact. Recent exhibits include "Here & Now: The Runge/Howard Collection," which featured several works by Houston artists such as James Surls, as well as internationally recognized painters such as Joan Miró and Max Ernst. Another well-received exhibit was "A Sense of Place: Selections from the Bobbie and John Nau Collection of Texas Art," which featured works by important Texas artists from the 1850s to 1990s. In addition to touring exhibits, the Pearl has also made good use of the private holdings of collectors in the region, often bringing rarely seen works into the public spotlight.

Lola's Depot
By Bill Olive

When you need a break from glittery lights and electro DJs spinning New Order jams and just want to drink your Jack Daniel's in peace, you go to Lola's. Housed in a dark building just off Montrose, Lola's Depot has been a haven for smokers and swillers for years now. It's our favorite spot to fall into after a hard week, day or month. The shadowy outpost boasts grimy walls littered with more than a decade's worth of band art and has a big back patio that's an oasis in a part of town that is steadily growing sadly pedestrian, infiltrated by amateur drinkers. With Mary's now gone on to the big dive in the sky, Lola's is one of the last bastions for the true, affable Montrose drunks.

Super Happy Fun Land
Photo by Altamese Osborne

Super Happy Fun Land is home to truly strange and innovative music-makers — noise, punk and freak-folkers. Located inside an old warehouse off Polk near the train tracks, Super Happy has art installations, graffiti murals, a newly installed back patio and a larger-than-average stage where traveling bands and locals do their thing. There is a community at Super Happy made up of artists who patronize each other's creations, and they're doing some of the most unique and irreverent work in the city. At last fall's Monotonix gig, the band played inside the venue's restroom, next to the tracks, on a Dumpster outside and finally onstage proper. Happily, that kind of chaos is welcomed at Super Happy. Try doing that at Jones Hall.

Vine Street Studios

When it comes to size, no one beats FotoFest. During the 2010 event, one thousand photographers showed their work in dozens of official and unofficial venues throughout the city, and 250,000 viewers from 32 countries visited the exhibits. And when it comes to quality, FotoFest again stands alone. Each of the biannual shows features a theme — it was China in 2008, and violence in 2006, for example. Curators literally scour the world looking not only for well-established talents who can interpret the theme in a new way but also for practically unknown photographers who are also pushing the boundaries of the medium.

Big Star Bar

In the upper Heights sits Big Star, one of the city's most lively alcoholic redoubts. You can disappear at Big Star in a dark corner, or you can hold court with your drinking team on the dark back patio. The place has become a popular after-work hang for Houston chefs. This spring, if you stopped by on the right night, you could scarf oysters or tacos with your Lone Star. Fridays and Saturdays, curious interlopers from the clean and pressed Cedar Creek around the corner come by to mingle with Houston's indie-rock self-appointed elite.

Warehouse Live

In our minds, Warehouse Live is the best venue for mid-level acts visiting Houston. Now that the Meridian or whatever it is called has dried up, live music is nearly dead in East Downtown, save the random warehouse party. Luckily we still have this venue up and running, with its two stages and separate lounge space. It's not a bad place to begin or end your night, either, with a wine bar across the street and Lucky's Pub next door for pre- or aftershow grub going until right before last call. The prices at Warehouse Live aren't ridiculous, and most spots in the ballroom and studio rooms offer excellent vantage points, especially the raised section in the main hall.

Landmark River Oaks Theatre

The midnight film series at the Landmark River Oaks edged out the competition for Best Film Series earlier this year with a screening of the horror film The Human Centipede, First Sequence, a delightfully horrific and gruesome tale by writer/director Tom Six. (We won't go into the details here, but suffice it to say, potential viewers always say, "Oh, that is sick!" followed by a quick, "When's the next showing?") Regular midnight screenings run the gamut, with action flicks, classics, thrillers and the ever-popular The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

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