Houston Dance Factory

We don't know what we want to learn first — swing? Salsa? Bachata? Ballroom? A bunch of others? Well, whenever we decide, we're going to bachata over to the Houston Dance Factory, whose top-notch instructors teach everyone from toddlers to seniors. They offer private and group classes, and they can also help even the most uncoordinated klutz with a wedding first dance, quinceañera, sweet 16 or whatever other special events might be coming your way. If we see you there, don't be surprised if we ask if we can have the next dance.

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston - Brown Auditorium Theater

Like the New York Yankees, the only word to really describe the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston is "powerhouse." True, it has the kind of deep-pocketed endowment that attracts top-dollar traveling exhibits like the recent "Tutankhamun: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs," but it concurrently showed its annual collection of Third Ward photography taken by Jack Yates High School students. Besides the two architectural marvels of the Caroline Wiess Law and Audrey Jones Beck buildings, the other buildings scattered around the MFAH campus are themselves models of styles ranging from neoclassical to Southern antebellum to postmodern contemporary. Their contents are equally spectacular, with permanent collections of art and artifacts from every continent except Antarctica and rotating exhibits that could include war photography, Dutch masters or Scandinavian design. MFAH also conducts a renowned art-education program through the Glassell School, contains one of the area's few true art-house movie theaters and includes works by Rodin and Matisse in the sculpture garden out back. It's a lot to take in.

The Usual

Since the demise of Lower Westheimer mainstay Chances, the Usual has been Houston's only lesbian bar, so luckily it's a good one. Not exclusively for ladies who love ladies, the Usual sports an inviting front porch with a sweet view of some nearby train tracks, great deals on wine, and frequent raucous karaoke nights. After an evening so close and yet so far from the Usual, in the vast valet-bedeviled douchatoria of the Washington Avenue strip, the Usual's laid-back neighborhood vibe will restore your faith in the human race.

Fresh Arts

The Fresh Arts Coalition-Spacetaker merger is a solid illustration of one team being stronger than two individuals. In April, the ten-year-old Fresh Arts Coalition (a marketer for select art presenters) and the nine-year-old Spacetaker (an established support system for creative types) made the tying of the knot official. Headed by Jenni Rebecca Stephenson, a longtime arts advocate and Spacetaker's executive director since 2009, the new organization has continued to present sweet events such as Cultured Cocktails, artist talks and workshops.

Down House

With the perfect mix of fancy and casual, this eatery/drinkery in the Heights is a dynamic spot to take a first date for caffeine, a kickback lunch or a romantic dinner. Open daily from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m., the coffee/restaurant/bar — decked out in Victorian decor in some spots, modern industrial hip in others — delivers with amazing coffee, salads and grass-fed Texas beef burgers, lots of local beers on tap and a no-joke cocktail list that includes barrel-aged Manhattans and bourbon Mai Tais. Predictably, it's often busy on weekend nights, but not enough of a zoo to make you change your plans. Plus, the spot is a good launching pad for the next bar, a movie or a show at nearby Fitzgerald's.

DiverseWorks

After making an international name for himself as a graffiti artist and leader of Aerosol Warfare, GONZO247 branched out into new territory and began curating shows for other walls. Most notable was this year's "Grandalism" series at DiverseWorks, a program of commissioned works by individual artists who, in turn, each showed oversize works outside the DW building. This summer, Article (Phillip Orlando Perez) was in the spotlight. His work included the colorful Mayan Day of the Dead, a stylized version of the traditional Mexican Día de los Muertos skull with glowing orange eyes, wearing a green and turquoise headdress and flanked by lush red roses. In case you're wondering, the series takes its title from the combination of the words "grand" and "vandalism," both words sometimes used to describe the work of the artists involved in the series.

TC's Show Bar

The favorite drag bar of a certain member of the Houston talk-radio community, TC's in Montrose is the first drag haunt that many curious Houstonians will find themselves in once they get bitten by the fabulous bug. The club features full-on shows five nights a week. Leave your inhibitions at the door and sit back and enjoy a 300-pound man singing "Bad Romance."

Buffalo Wild Wings
Photo by Houston Press Staff

We're of the mind that if you aren't going to do something right, you might as well not do it at all. That's why we prefer to watch our UFC matches off Washington Avenue, that drunken and amorous avenue full of men with shaved arms and the women who love them, at least for this weekend. The sport of ultimate fighting is like catnip to them, and watching them cheer for blood and gore in their natural habitat is worth nearly getting run over in the bar parking lot. Once the match is over, drown your sorrows in one of the bars a few blocks away.

PJ's Sports Bar

If karaoke makes you queasy — that is, if you don't relish the thought of standing onstage with a giant room full of strangers staring you down while you butcher "Rollin' in the Deep" — then what you need to do is gather ten of your closest friends and head to PJ's for karaoke, which starts promptly at 9 p.m. every Friday. Your pals can sit on the old couch in front of the stage and cheer you on, and they'll probably take up about half the space in the bar's intimate upstairs area, leaving less room for strangers who are surely judging you. Just kidding, but PJ's does get packed, so get there early, like 8:30 p.m. That'll give you enough time to stock up on liquid courage, too.

Jones Hall For the Performing Arts

The 66-foot-high ceiling in the Jones Hall lobby is home to this year's Best Public Art winner, Gemini II. Commissioned by the Houston Endowment in 1966, Gemini II was created by Richard Lippold. The hanging sculpture looks like a flash of light swooshing overhead. But while it seems fluid, it's actually made up of several thousand pieces of polished aluminum rods suspended by gold-plated piano wires. Thousands of audience members have passed under Gemini II on their way to the concert hall over the last 46 years, all of them impressed with the work — and most of them asking, "How did they do that?" (Hanging the piece must have been a monumental task.) You can see Gemini II through the Jones Hall lobby doors so you can enjoy the piece from outside the hall, but a better perspective is from the building's top-floor lobby, where you can enjoy an up-close view of Lippold's master creation.

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