Cezanne Jazz Club

With its ivy-covered walls, Cezanne seems more suited to some leafy university town in the Northeast than to the sprawling, swampy Bayou City. But those willing to seek out its cozy quarters above the Black Labrador Pub near Richmond and Montrose will find a cozy spot for a date night, a superb listening room to appreciate the occult art of acoustic jazz — somewhat underground these days, but very much alive — or both. For more than 20 years, Cezanne has hosted top regional names and occasional national ringers (Joshua Redman, Randy Brecker) for two sets a night with excellent acoustics and a minimum of electricity and conversation. It's also an important workshop for local jazz players such as Pamela York, Sebastian Whittaker, Woody Witt, manager Mike Wheeler and alumni of the nationally renowned HSPVA jazz program just blocks away. Open Friday and Saturday only; limited bites are available from the Black Lab menu.

Arena Theatre

With a capacity of about 2,750, Arena Theatre is the redheaded stepchild of Houston music venues. The part of Houston that doesn't use the Southwest Freeway as their major commuter artery tends to forget it's even over there by Sharpstown Mall, but it's been there — albeit not continually operating — since 1965. (The office towers adjoining the theater were built in the early '80s.) But even with all the competition it has these days, the Arena manages to keep the lights on most nights out of the month. Its calendar this past summer was crowded with music across a wide variety of styles, including R&B, blues, country, rap, Latin and rock, plus comedy, boxing and MMA fighting. The seats are comfortable, the concessions are reasonable (even the cocktails), the sound is clean, the rotating stage never ceases to be a novelty and the gallery of posters for past shows in the walkway leading from the parking garage is second to none. Fun fact: Late comedian Bob Hope was one of the Arena's original investors.

Blanco's Bar & Grill

Equally friendly to tourists wanting to see "Texas" and locals jonesing for some two-step, Blanco's has been hooking up folks with a pretty darn authentic country and western experience for 30 years. Along with a $10 bucket-of-beer happy-hour special, Blanco's serves wings, burgers and Tex-Mex classics for lunch and supper. At night, acts like Mike Stinson, The Hollisters and Dale Watson bang out rollicking sets so that Lone Star-swilling ladies and gentlemen can get down on the healthy-size dance floor. If there's one thing you probably shouldn't do, it's wear man sandals or Chuck Taylors, so ditch the sissy stuff for a pair of cowboy boots or a boot-like shoe.

Art Palace

Nearly three years later, Arturo Palacios's ballsy decision continues to pay off. In early 2010, the gallerist relocated Art Palace from Austin to a ground-floor space of Midtown's Isabella Court. Today, the gallery that represents some of Houston's best contemporary artists like Seth Alverson and Elaine Bradford also presents repeat-visit-worthy shows on a monthly basis, including "A View From There," an abstract landscape painting exhibit by Nina Rizzo, Sonya Berg and Carrie Cook, as well as "Freq Out," which showcased Mike Beradino's acrylics that he painstakingly generated via the use of Commodore 64 code. Additionally, the space has hosted sonic events such as the experimental music No Idea Festival and presented a number of pop-up exhibits and film shindigs around town.

F Bar

This hip "boutique clubbing" joint that hugs the Midtown/Montrose border pretty much has it all. From the marvelous drag shows on Tuesdays to Thursday-night karaoke to the friendly bartenders and "Life on the Patio" Sundays on the beautiful outdoor hang, Irwin Palchick and Aike Jamal's 4,200-square-foot venue has become a destination spot that caters to F Bar newbies and diehards. Be sure to give it a go on the healthy-size dance floor, which fills up nicely during the DJ shindigs on Friday and Saturday nights.

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.

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