Photo by Craig Hlavaty
No one would have thought, while they watched Agora engulfed in flames on Halloween Eve of last year, that the coffee and wine hangout would be back on its feet within mere months, just in time for the spring and great patio weather. The beloved Montrose location looked like a lost cause after the fire, which began at the antique store just next door, but the owners went into action as soon as the smoke cleared. Now the bar is back to normal, there is always a food truck out front, there is a giant phoenix painted on the side of the bar and people are back to throwing back bottles of wine and espresso as if last October 30 never happened.
Approaching from the east, Liberty Station is one of Washington Avenue's last outposts of sanity before you hit the horror, the horror of the hardcore strip. Liberty Station is usually immune to the Ed Hardy afflictions of the rest of Washington; the converted old-timey gas station has an authentically bohemian, relaxed vibe. The bar pledges that it has "no crap on tap" and means it, and their specialty drinks often sport fresh herbs and fruit. It's dog- and bike-friendly, and the patio offers up bar sports like Cornhole and Jenga. A rotation of some of Houston's finest food trucks post up out front nightly. This is a place to chill and sip Gulf Coast-style. Those of you who want to get your JWOWW on can just keep a-steppin'.
This spot at the intersection at Montrose and Hawthorne is called "headquarters" by the gay community, and it's the top non-club place to refuel, flirt and ogle potential suitors. Visit the Montrose neighborhood hang on any given day during business hours and you'll find gay men peeking over their shoulders or from just above their laptop screens (which are usually dialed into Facebook or to evaluate the just-arrived customers that queue in front of the register. Sundays are especially the time to be seen because that's when Berryhill Baja Grill, which is located in the same strip mall, turns into "the" hot spot in the Montrose.
For a while, local punk rockers stayed away from the longstanding Mango's because the at-the-time management wasn't into booking such acts. However, that flipped once again when a more left-of-field-minded crew took over the space at Westheimer and Taft. Now, nearly every Wednesday features a free show that includes the occasional touring band as well as local weirdos such as Fun Boys, Keno Sims, Rivers, Escatones, Rapeworm, White Crime and Cop Warmth. Additionally, the punk ante is sky-high with the bar's $2 canned Pabst Blue Ribbon and $1 well specials.
Well-known arts advocate and director of the literary group Inprint, Rich Levy is also among Houston's poetic elite. Work from his book Why Me: Poems, released in 2009, established him as a singular voice among the many clamoring to speak for the middle-aged, middle-class American male. The longing, the loneliness, the diminishing hope for a bright, shining life, are all captured with breathtaking detail, originality and, more often than not, humor. Observing the minutiae of everyday life, some of it excruciatingly important, some of it so minor in its meaning it defines nothingness, Levy sees it all and eloquently relays it to his readers.
When Downtown's Angelika Film Center closed under cover of night one August weekend last year, it felt like the final nail in the coffin of both the increasingly vacant Bayou Place and the indie film scene in Houston, leaving us just River Oaks Theatre and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, for screenings. But in swept leading man Robert Redford, who even in his seventies is still playing the knight in shining armor. His Sundance Cinemas announced this spring that the former Angelika would mark the company's third theater location, reviving Bayou Place's potential as an entertainment district. Following renovations, the new theater is scheduled to open November 1.
Pianist Jade Simmons has added yet another credit to her already impressive résumé — international arts ambassador. A first runner-up at the Miss America competition in 2000 with a masters degree from Rice University, Simmons long ago proved that she is beautiful and smart. A recording artist for E1 (formerly Koch Classics) and one of only a handful of female African-American concert pianists, she is unquestionably very talented. And as the founder of the Impulse Artists Series, she is a generous mentor and guide to young, emerging musicians from around the world. In 2009, Simmons hosted the first-ever Webcast for the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition; this June she went off to Russia for two weeks to host the Webcast for the XIV International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow and Saint Petersburg. She represented the United States before an international audience of an estimated million-plus viewers (and looked gorgeous while she did it). Simmons has become more than an advocate for Houston's arts scene; she's our arts ambassador to the world.
"Curmudgeon" may not be quite the right word for Don Walsh. The Rusted Shut front man can be effusive and quite friendly, especially when we run into him at a show or in his random, rambling phone calls to our office that always seem to happen on Friday afternoons. Put him onstage with his long-running heavy-metal noise-rock band, though, and suddenly Walsh is as surly as they come. Rusted Shut's genre, as listed on the band's Facebook Page, is "FUCK YOU." Trust us, it fits — out of the dozens of acts we saw at this year's Free Press Summer Fest, the best time we had all weekend was watching Walsh flog his guitar and scream "Kill! Kill! Kill!" for several minutes. Now if that's not curmudgeonly, we don't know what is.
Sometime over the past year, plus-size singer and previous Best of Houston® winner YouGenious either decided that he was no longer content merely to be Houston's "Misfit of R&B," or that although Shakespeare may have said all the world's a stage, it was up to ­YouGenious to prove it. So he and some friends founded GoREALah soul, "Houston's only professional party crashers." Combining trespassing with high-spirited performance art, YouGenious and his posse — which usually includes a cameraman (of course) and DJ Juan 1, clad in a bear costume and toting a boom box hooked up to an amplifier — have shown up unannounced to events ranging from public-access TV studios and art openings to Free Press Summer Fest, to hilarious effect. Like their YouTube commercial says, "We go hard or we go home...and as you can see, we ain't at the crib." Hire them to crash your next party at
Photo by Mai Pham
The old Tony Mandola's space that abuts River Oaks experienced a dramatic makeover when Charles Clark and Grant Cooper birthed Brasserie 19 in a whirl of glossy whites, sparkling brass, modern fixtures and old-school charm. It's everything an updated brasserie space should be, with an impossibly long, marble bar and casual seating that almost belies its elegant menu. The food is so good, in fact, that preening, polished River Oaks ladies willingly endure the heat and humidity at a patio table for the Brasserie's mussels in Belgian ale and pan-roasted duck.

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