Meca

The massive circa-1912 brick building that used to house Dow Elementary School is impressive from the outside. On the inside, the activities and tutelage that MECA puts on are pretty much in the blow-you-away department. From Mexican Ballet Folklórico classes to Día De Los Muertos presentations, the community-centric, nonprofit organization has been hooking up at-risk and underserved individuals with robust art classes. MECA is also the classroom home for 2011 Houston Press MasterMinds award winner Nameless Sound, which teaches improvised music workshops to young folks and adults and presents the occasional avant-garde concert at MECA's cozy auditorium.

Fuad's
Jeff Balke

The first thing you need in a great piano bar is a piano, and a master behind it, and Fuad's has one in the form of Geoff Allen, an unstumpable maestro on the keys. The second thing you need is great atmosphere, and Fuad's vaults that bar with gold-medal ease. There's the ambience: plush, red-leather booths and candlelight. And then there are the people. In the words of one fan, "It's a neighborhood bar where everyone is a regular after one visit," a place where "you never know if the guy sitting next to you buying your drinks is an oil baron worth a billion, a guy out on bail for a Ponzi scheme, a famed attorney or some hardworking oil-field worker." And then there's the food: There's never a menu, but where else in Houston can you get a rack of lamb, a ridiculously crustacean-filled bowl of lobster bisque or an expertly seared filet mignon after midnight? Nowhere else but Fuad's, where everyone is made to feel like J. Howard Marshall, and Anna Nicole, too.

Line & Lariat

Once you see the Line and Lariat's central bar tower while walking through the recently remodeled lobby of the Hotel Icon, you're going to want to sit down at the bar. The soft glow will coax you to order a drink, then you'll probably order another because chit-chatting with the swift and friendly bartenders is just too much fun to stop. Once you get a food foundation in your belly from the bulletproof modern Texas grub (which can be enjoyed at the bar or in the spectacular dining room), you might flag down a bartender for a third glass of wine or a cocktail from Line and Lariat's "Iconic Manhattan" series. Afterward — whether you're from out of town or Houston proper — you'll be talking about this place for a long time.

Even though outgoing McClain Gallery director Scott Peveto debuted his Peveto Gallery in March, the space — located in the old New Gallery building near the intersection of Kirby Drive and Richmond Avenue — has already been lauded by some locals as a heavy-hitting addition to the potent arts scene. In March, Peveto's "...Game On :)" opening salvo featured sculpture, photography and works on paper by folks like Alejandro Diaz, Renée Lotenero and Jason Villegas, while the gallery's inaugural foray into solo exhibitions showcased ink drawings and mixed-media works on paper by the late Hans Hoffman. Along with rotating exhibits, Peveto is also a "fine art resource management company" that focuses on acquiring art as well as doling out art-collection advice to individuals and corporations. The space is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays.

The Fountainhead

Some of the best establishments in fast-growing Houston are situated in quickly slapped-together-looking strip malls, including The Fountainhead, located off of Farm to Market Road 1960. The tavern-like hole in the wall makes it worth trekking Interstate 45 past Beltway 8 to feel the right-at-home goodness that will probably include a spirited conversation with a regular over a stiff drink and/or a game of pool. If you're short on smokes or feel like making friends through the power of cigarettes, walk across the street to the Sound Revolution smoke shop (which also boasts an impressive collection of used and new LPs and CDs) and pick up a pack of fags for you and your new buddies at this welcoming neighborhood dive.

Notsuoh
David Rozycki

An anarchist punk, a woman in a sexy dress, a musician who plays the guitar strings with pieces of yellow and red chalk, some chess players and a homeless man walk into a bar. That bar is Notsuoh, which is connected to the equally curious Dean's. It's a sleepy Tuesday night — not even a bustling weekend evening — and these folks have found themselves inside this gritty downtown hang housed in one of Houston's oldest commercial buildings. On weekends, add in some metal bands, alt-thinkers and tourists who have ventured over from Hotel Icon, and you're all set for amazing people-watching.

Joystix Classic Games-Pinball

Joystix is the kind of arcade you have to plan your month around. The rest of the time it's a retailer of all sorts of tabletop amusements available for sale and rental: billiard and air-hockey tables, photo booths, etc. But the first and last Fridays of every month, after 9 p.m. the showroom near Minute Maid Park becomes a wonderland of power-ups and extra balls known as "Pac-Man Fever." Accompanied by a period-appropriate soundtrack, Joystix sets its more than 200 machines to free play and lets patrons go crazy. With everything from the good old Pac-Man and Mortal Kombat you remember from the 7-11s of your youth all the way up to a hulking monstrosity with a 42-inch LED screen based on the movie Terminator: Salvation — plus row after row of pinball machines and racing simulators and a full bar via neighboring Eighteen Twenty Lounge — Joystix is everything you can ask for in a man cave except perhaps strippers or porn.

NJ's

The patron saint of NJ's is Miss Norma Jeane Baker, the pinup model who became film icon Marilyn Monroe. Her glorious image is plastered all over the front room of this Oak Forest neighborhood haunt just off the Northwest Freeway. From the street, NJ's looks a lot smaller than it is once you get inside, with a pool hall and gaming room in the back adding more drinking space. The covered smoking area out front feels more like a cozy garage than the forbidding zones where most bars throw their smokers.

Valhalla

You want cheap? Even today, the most economical beer selections on the menu at Rice's venerable student pub are available for less than a buck, and the wine is just as good a deal, relatively speaking. (And we're talking Lone Star and Ziegenbock, not Schaefer and Texas Pride. Volunteer bar staff keep the price down; your tips go toward communal semi-yearly parties for them all.) You and your beau or belle will hear some great conversational mots from the assorted rapscallions and ne'er-do-wells who frequent the dominion below Rice's old chemistry building, and if it all gets too much, you can get your bevvies to go and either relax on the Saint Augustine outside or stroll amid the live oaks and magnificent edifices on the campus. And all this can be yours for $15 or less.

Earlier this year, Japanese artist Yasuaki Onishi filled the Rice Art Gallery with what seemed to be a floating mountain. Onishi, who uses a process he calls "casting the invisible," created the installation over a three-week period. He and an assistant first draped plastic sheeting over stacked cardboard boxes, then glued the sheets in place with black hot-glue, which was dripped down thousands of plastic lines hung from the ceiling. Onishi removed the boxes to leave a void. The effect was mesmerizing. Under the sheets was empty space; above the space was a torrent of what seemed to be black rain. Visitors walked around and through the room-size installation, marveling at the weightlessness of it and at the painstaking process that created it.

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