Alamo Drafthouse Cinema-West Oaks
The Alamo Drafthouse at West Oaks Mall has been perfecting the art of the communal living room for years now. The movie theater, which has a full bar and menu, aims to pull people off their couches and their NetFlix queues to experience film and television events with other people. Along with the usual first-run feature fare, the Alamo also has been getting into more adventuresome offerings, like showing anime on the big screen and dishing out those hokey Lifetime movies that we all end up getting glued to while hungover. Just remember: You can't push Pause, take your pants off or fart during the movie.
National Museum of Funeral History
Yeah, we love Picasso and dinosaur bones and all the traditional museum fare, but there's something particularly awesome about a museum whose slogan is "Any Day Above Ground Is a Good One." Since 1992, the NMFH has given us a glimpse into a world that most of us who haven't crossed over into the Great Beyond are unfamiliar with. The museum is currently featuring exhibits on Civil War embalming, fantasy coffins, the Day of the Dead and other deathly delights. And the folks behind the museum know their stiffs: As the Web site points out, "We have professional advisers who are prominent leaders in the funeral, cemetery, cremation and funeral supply industry, all available to assist with your every need." These folks have consulted for Six Feet Under, Kill Bill: Vol. 1 and Gangs of New York, among others. You owe it to yourself to check out this unique Houston treasure.
The Petrol Station
The epicenter of the craft beer movement in Houston is here at Petrol Station, where beer nerds assemble nightly in their efforts to take beer to the next level. But whether you're a connoisseur or a newcomer to the world of beer, Petrol Station has something for you. Interesting and extraordinary kegs and casks are brought in daily, so you never know what you'll find. And if you drink something you just can't live without, Petrol Station will let you take a growler of the stuff home for later consumption.
If you have anything more than a passing interest in the history and/or soul of Houston, you owe it to yourself to pick up this book. Former Press staff writer (and occasional theater critic) David Theis has done yeoman's work in rounding up this anthology of writings about Houston, ranging from Cabeza de Vaca's accounts of miserable wanderings here through the first Anglo settlement and on down, to the boom/bust years of the late 20th century and Houston's inauspicious entry into the 21st, with an excerpt from Mimi Swartz and Sharron Watkins's account of the Enron meltdown. It's not all nonfiction, either: Theis also features fiction and poetry from natives like Donald Barthelme and Vassar Miller and temporary Houstonians such as Larry McMurtry and Mary Gaitskill. Until now, these writings have been as scattered as the city that inspired them. No more. Theis has slapped together much of the best into one 2.4-pound package.
F Bar
Freshly opened F Bar is the new favorite hangout of the fabulous, gay Montrose set. Crystal chandeliers preside over an elegant black interior dotted with white marble columns. Mirrored accents lend F Bar an upscale brasserie air. But with drag shows, karaoke nights and happy hours galore, this is still a place to let your hair down. When the dance floor reaches saturation, an outdoor patio with a fire pit and bar are a breath of fresh air. Though the F doesn't mean anything official, it certainly doesn't stand for "frumpy," so dress to impress.
As a part of the Whiskey Brothers comedy troupe, John Wessling covers a mighty amount of ground. He's ubiquitous on the Houston comedy scene as the leader of the Houston Comedy Union, popping in at open-mike nights around town and rapping about our local sports teams, whose poor records and ways also give him and his comrades more than enough ammunition over on ESPN 97.5 FM The Ticket. On top of all this, you can find him on Twitter almost 24 hours a day, taking on all manner of current events and helping warp your home time-line ever so gently. He's also a family man, and he makes sure that his audiences get to share in his adventures as a father and a husband.
Blaffer Art Museum
This sprawling, video-packed show brought the work of Belgian artist Johan Grimonprez to Houston. The standout was the artist's stellar film essay, Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y. Collaged from the likes of archival news footage, Hollywood films and television commercials, the film presented the evolution of hijacking into a political and media tool. Smart, entertaining and darkly comedic, Grimonprez makes insightful and effective social and political points free of humorless harangue. The exhibition was organized by the Blaffer Art Museum's director and chief curator Claudia Schmuckli, and was accompanied by a reader that was one of the most engaging exhibition catalogues around. Filled with fascinating — and readable — writing about everything from the history of channel changing to stories about hijackers to an essay about ethnography, it was the kind of thing that even people who would never crack open an exhibition catalog would read. In the same way, Grimonprez's films are the kind of work that even people who hate artist films like.
For a while there, it seemed like every concert review we ran on the Houston Press's Rocks Off music blog contained some complaint about how the audience apparently found their own conversation much more interesting than whatever was happening onstage. It wasn't just us, either; we were at several shows where the performers admonished the crowd to lower their voices with varying degrees of sarcasm and disgust. Over the past year, local crowds may not have turned into church mice, but reviews where we've had to call them on it have grown few and far between. So we'd like to thank these audiences for (finally) realizing there are better places to catch up with their friends than at a concert, and thank them on the artists' behalf as well. That said, now we'll just shut up and watch the show.
Alley Theatre
We know, we know, not that grande dame downtown, not Big Sis; the Alley doesn't need another accolade! Oh, yes they do, especially after this past season. Most definitely, it was the best time overall in Houston theater (as long as you conveniently forget Wonderland, which went bye-bye on Broadway faster than Moose Murders). There was Martin McDonagh's mordant black comedy A Behanding in Spokane; the truly lighter-than-air rendition of J.M. Barrie's classic Peter Pan; Yasmina Reza's hilarious sitcom God of Carnage; Tracy Letts's Pulitzer Prize- and Tony-winning tale of family dysfunction August: Osage County; Peter Shaffer's hallucinogen about Mozart, Amadeus; Rajiv Joseph's world premiere Monster at the Door; and a champagne production of G.B. Shaw's sparkling Pygmalion. The entire season was produced with class and elegance to spare, acted to perfection and fulfilled theater's prime premise: Entertain us. The Alley outdid itself.
Sherlock's Baker St. Pub River Oaks
Houston was the proving ground for some of stand-up's most renowned — and groundbreaking — names. We're talking folks like Bill Hicks and Sam Kinison. Others, like Mitch Hedberg and Joe Rogan, recorded albums in H-town comedy clubs. Bob Newhart recorded his legendary debut album here — it was the first comedy platter to top the Billboard charts. Our point is, there's a rich comic history here (perhaps something in the bayou water?) and part of the excitement of going to Sherlock's open-mike Mondays is that you'll catch the next big name. Or, if not, you're still guaranteed to laugh your ass off. You probably have no idea how many talented, hardworking amateur comics there are in town, and you're doing yourself a disservice by not going at least once. (Hey — there's no cover, and they have $2 to $4 drink specials; that's enough to make you smile right there.) Get out and support local comedy. What else do you have to do on a Monday night?

Sherlock's is now closed, and the Houston Comedy Union's new home is Baker Street Pub in Rice Village.

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