Poetry has a new platform in Houston, and it's a welcome one: the Public Poetry reading series. Started in the spring of this year by Fran Sanders in partnership with Houston Public Library and held in various public library locations around town, the series features four poets and a celebrity reader per session. Mayor Annise Parker and Dominic Walsh appeared as guest readers during the first two installations, while poets Rich Levy, Martha Serpas, John Gorman and Carol Munn each took turns at the microphone. The open forum lets the poets share their favorite works, covering topics from family life, to environmental issues, to romantic relationships, to societal decay, to intercultural exchange (and, for some odd reason, a lot of poems about the moon).

(An earlier version of this item incorrectly mentioned Stanton Welch as one of the guest readers instead of Dominic Walsh, and failed to note that the Public Poetry reading series had been started in partnership with Houston Public Library. The Houston Press regrets the errors.)

The scrappy kids in Rogue Improv have been making Houston laugh on Thursday nights upstairs at AvantGarden and Rudyard's for a little more than a year now with their brand of long-form improv. The team, lead by a core of eight players, men and women, plus assorted students of the craft, has made us spew beer out of our nose just a couple of times, but it's cool, because it wasn't expensive beer anyway. Admission is set at $5, which is roughly the cost of four double cheeseburgers from McDonald's, so you know it's a good deal. The group also invites troupes from around the state to throw down with them from time to time, including the New Movement from Austin. And yes, their group logo is supposed to be an elephant. Or something perverted.
Justin Cronin's bestselling novel The Passage was released in paperback earlier this summer, winning the Rice University professor a new legion of fans. The book, inspired by his daughter's suggestion for a story about a girl who saves the world, earned Cronin some $5.5 million in film and domestic publishing rights — before it was even finished. Obviously he's über-talented, but he's also über-smart because, from day one of his whirlwind dance with big publishing, he understood the difference between literature, which is what he used to write, and popular fiction, which is what he's writing now: one is appreciated, the other is sold.
The Menil Collection
Kurt Schwitters's early 20th-century collages were packed with the detritus of urban German life, and those collages were the focus of this stunning show, "Kurt Schwitters: Color and Collage." Schwitters turned things like bus tickets, cigarette packs and chocolate wrappers into evocative gems that would influence artists for generations to come — including Texans like Robert Rauschenberg. In addition to the collages and small sculptures, the Menil brought in a painstaking replica of Schwitters's most famous work, the Merzbau. Created before WWI, the epic Merzbau filled the artist's studio; it wasn't a sculpture, it was a sculptural environment. Schwitters, who is considered by many to be the father of installation art, didn't even have a word to describe the work. The original Merzbau was destroyed by Allied bombers in 1943, and the replica was created for the Sprengel Museum in Hanover, making it a kind of pilgrimage for art lovers. "Kurt Schwitters: Color and Collage" was the first time the Merzbau was shown in the United States.
Fitzgerald's
There are a lot of things to like about the "new" Fitzgerald's: better sound, better bookings, not feeling like the floor upstairs could give way at any minute. Oddly, though, one of the things we like best is something the Heights club's new owners haven't changed at all. Walk into Fitz's downstairs men's room and it's like Emo's in Austin or the late CBGB in New York — you know you're in a real rock club, and you can feel every bit of Fitz's three-decade-plus history in the chipped paint, utilitarian fixtures and scattered graffiti, even if most of that history is probably better left unsaid. But the toilets work, and you usually don't have to wade through puddles of piss and puke. This bathroom offers no reason whatsoever to linger, so you can take care of business and get back out to the show.
Blaffer Art Museum
Members of the local art community are frequently saying that Claudia Schmuckli needs to get more love for Blaffer Art Museum's top-notch exhibitions. In January 2009, Schmuckli became Blaffer's director and chief curator following a nine-month nationwide search (which, by the way, wasn't really necessary since Schmuckli has been under Blaffer's nose, in varying capacities, since 2004). Since then, the former Museum of Modern Art assistant curator has pumped more left-of-field life into the venue, including the "Museum of Broken Relationships" show, which featured symbols of failed partnerships from the Broken Relationships' permanent collection. Beginning early next year, her curatorial work will shine even more when Blaffer's $2 million renovation is unveiled.
Fitzgerald's
What makes Pegstar an "innovative" promoter? A few years ago, founder Jagi Katial didn't buy into the conventional wisdom that Houston was a terrible town for indie-rock, and has reaped the benefits ever since. Katial kept making offer after offer to bands whose first instinct may have been to bypass Houston in favor of Dallas, Austin or New Orleans, and enough accepted that now a different kind of word of mouth is going around — that Houston had some of the most enthusiastic crowds on their tours. Things really went into overdrive when Pegstar partnered with Free Press Houston to start Free Press Summer Fest and then take over Fitzgerald's. This year Summer Fest was stacked with headliners like Weezer, Ween and Cut Copy who weren't even on tour — flown in specially for the festival — and Fitz's rarely if ever has an off night, with capacity crowds upstairs and down. Another promising trend Pegstar is bringing to Houston is that several recent shows have been free for patrons 21 and up.
Royal Oak Bar & Grill
Royal Oak came on the scene towards the end of 2010, a newly minted addition to the Montrose bar scene and the next venture from the owners of the hipster-Valhalla watering hole Boondocks just a block away. Royal Oak is shinier and brighter than Boons, and it has one killer food and appetizer menu that can go up against any of the so-called gastropubs in town. Start with a pint of Fireman's #4 and a plate of truffle fries, soaked to perfection in truffle oil, Parmesan cheese and fresh-cut herbs. Bring a friend, because unless you haven't eaten in a few days or you just ran a marathon, you will not be seeing the bottom of the pile on your own. As for entrées, you can't go wrong with a burger or the Gulf shrimp & grits. More than likely, Royal Oak will be the only stop on your nightly crawl once you have seen the menu. Food comas aren't a joke, kid.
The Rice University Boniuk Center for Religious Studies and Tolerance turned to the Museum of Cultural Arts Houston (a past Houston Press MasterMinds Award winner) to add a visual arts aspect to the 2011 Sacred Sites Quests program. The program hosts high school students on an annual tour of churches, temples, mosques and other places of worship. This year, the students visited 16 sites, after which they designed and created a four-piece mural reflecting both the unity and diversity among the various traditions they observed. The four panels, which include a tree topped by a globe instead of leaves and a couple staring at a star-shaped sun, were installed on the Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston headquarters in May, becoming the first public art project of its kind.
A couple of things need to be on point for a juke joint to be dubbed as such. For one, it can't boast any mainstream online presence (e.g., Facebook, Twitter or even a business Web site) whatsoever. For two, absolutely, under no circumstances, can the place be an ironic sort of hang that's all hipster'd out. Third Ward BYOB bar Farrah's Pub passes both criteria and instead showcases, without even trying, an authentic juke-joint experience. (If there was any question, try ordering a Lone Star or Pabst Blue Ribbon and see what type of look you get in return.) Pay $2 on a Monday night, gaze at the palm frond decor reminiscent of an African chop bar (Motherland slang for a cheap roadside bar), bring a decanter of your favorite liquor and kick back to the sounds of the house band playing a mixture of some of the best soul jams, blues joints and love dusties ever created.

Best Of Houston®

Best Of