Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
The Big Top's circus-themed decor always makes it seem a little like a Fellini movie. First of all, it's dark enough that you almost need to strike a match to see your drink, like every great lounge should be. There's also something a little surreal about nursing a cold one or cocktail surrounded by multiple Elvis portraits, Christmas lights, tabletop video games, an ancient beer-can collection, an old shoeshine stand (once used by the late Shoeshine Charley himself) and all kinds of other kitschy memorabilia. But besides the decor — yes, and the drinks — the Big Top is also home to some of the coolest recurring musical events in town, from the Reverberation and Fistful of Soul DJ nights to Gulf Coast soul quartet Umbrella Man's Thursday-night residency.
Since Free Press Summer Fest's Omar Afra and Jagi Katial bought Fitzgerald's in July 2010, the old Heights dance hall's transformation has been remarkable. Already one of Houston's most historic venues (Elvis and James Brown played the building), Fitz has upgraded its sound, raised the floor in the big upstairs room and begun attracting the kind of talent that used to laugh out loud at the idea of playing Houston until the packed houses they saw staring back at them shut them up real quick. Now with shows both upstairs and down most nights of the week, Fitz is just as accommodating to Houston's local music community. It's also been an outspoken opponent of Houston's ridiculous new noise ordinance, and a cornerstone of the burgeoning bar/restaurant corridor on White Oak.
Head down to the little house at Westheimer and Taft any night of the week and you'll likely hear live music by a local band, ranging from a new ensemble that's playing for the first time to an established outfit honing its set. The venue never discriminates against genres, meaning that in a span of a few days (and sometimes even a few hours), you'll be exposed to anarchist punk, sludge metal, fragmentary singer-songwriter and high-on-the-decibels bizarro. Bring cash if you want to purchase some merch from the dark alcove, and earplugs if you want to keep your hearing.
Think of the John C. Freeman Weather Museum as the little museum that could. Sitting in the shadow of its bigger, shinier cousins, the Weather Museum is housed in what was once a private two-story home. Each room downstairs has been transformed into an exhibit area, the most popular of which might be the WRC TV Studio, which features a camera, teleprompter, lights and a green screen. Visitors can become faux meteorologists and tape themselves delivering a weather report (you have a choice of intense weather conditions to report on). There's also the Cyclone Room, with its own cyclone chamber; the Weather History exhibit, with antique meteorology equipment; a theater with a variety of videos; and the Weather Wizard Corner, with demonstrations by museum meteorologists. Given Houston's history with extreme weather, it makes sense that we have the country's first weather museum, don't you think?
Houston's favorite dark, hip and nasty rock bar, The Dirt, is now located across from the House of Blues off Caroline after spending its first few years incubating in the Heights. The bar's staff comes complete with fun rocker attitude, with extremely pretty, sorta-dressed girls and tattooed boys who will do shots with you if you're cool. The only hitch seems to be finding street parking on downtown's busier nights, leaving you with the options of walking or ponying up for paid parking.
Sure, you could belly up to a hot singles club or Upper Kirby haunt looking for love in all the wrong places, but why not roll the clock back and head into the Heights for some beer, burgers and bingo? This Thursday night institution in the neighborhood starts the weekend for many a horny and self-respecting, unattached yuppie.
Warehouse Live is hardly Houston's "best hip-hop club" per se — legions of emo and hardcore bands would beg to differ — as much as it is simply the city's place to see hip-hop. However, it does have a few features that make it especially well-suited for hosting a rap show: Big and small rooms for hosting either headliners or up-and-comers; a sound system that keeps the lyrics audible above the floor-rattling bass; and a no-nonsense security staff that won't hesitate to kick out any knuckleheads they need to, but aren't assholes about it either. But honestly, Warehouse Live is where the rap is: The venue's open-door policy to promoters such as Scoremore and Pegstar has created a steady stream of quality national acts, from A$AP Rocky and Yelawolf to El-P and Killer Mike. But Warehouse Live really rolls out the red carpet for the locals, with triumphant packed houses this spring for reunions of Paul Wall, Chamillionaire, Slim Thug and Z-Ro and then Screwed Up Click alums Lil Flip, E.S.G. and Lil Keke (among others) to honor unofficial H-Town holiday June 27.
Joan Miró's Personage and Birds dominates downtown Houston's JPMorgan Chase Tower plaza like a colorful guard standing watch. The steel and cast-bronze sculpture is a representation of a person with birds in flight around the head. The body is a triangle made up of wide bands of metal painted in bright green, red, blue and yellow. A circle of red and yellow metal sits atop the "shoulders," with three abstract shapes circling. The piece is the largest Miró ever commissioned (it is 35 feet wide at its base and stands 55 feet tall), but despite the colossal size, it seems lightweight, as if it could start walking across the plaza at any moment. The piece, chosen by the building's architect, I.M. Pei, was installed to mark Miró's 89th birthday in April of 1982.
Being bigger isn't enough when it comes to movie theaters. Having 30 screens won't do you much good if those 30 screens are filled with lame films. That's where AMC Studio 30 beats out the competition to take this year's Best Movie Theater award. It's not only big, it has exciting, exceptional programming. The complex is home to the annual WorldFest International Independent Film Festival, a ten-day festival of cutting-edge releases made by the best up-and-coming filmmakers from around the globe, with most of the directors and actors attending the screenings. It also regularly holds previews, such as the recent U. N. Me; premieres, including Joseph Elmore's Because I Love You earlier this summer; and limited-release openings, like Patrick Wang's Independent Spirit Award Nominee In the Family.
Sneer if you must, but no über-hip, in-the-know, secret-knock speakeasy is going to be anywhere near as interesting as an IHOP at 3 a.m. Here you're likely to find a much broader cross section of modern society than almost anywhere else, from truckers on an interstate haul and working stiffs fueling up for their 5 a.m. shift to rich kids looking to soak up the booze (and avoid driving) after a long night of clubbing. The Houston IHOPs inside the Loop are conveniently located near two of the city's most hopping nightlife corridors, Upper Kirby and Washington; any of the other locations is probably on your way home. There's also a much tastier menu than you're likely to get at your average afterparty (if a little fattening) and bottomless coffee refills.
There's a double dose of right-wing madman Michael Berry, who, in January, was accused of backing his car into another vehicle in a peculiar hit-and-run incident at gay-bar standby TC's Showbar. On the weekends, local sports-talk vet Lance Zierlein, formerly of KILT 610 AM and KGOW 1560 AM, raps about food. Then, during baseball season, the Astros broadcast goes off, followed by a radio document that's even more wrecked than the Astros — the nationally syndicated Coast to Coast AM, which features a collection of alternative thinkers, tin-foil-hat wearers and 2012 doomsday believers. Try finding a more well-rounded collection of dynamic personalities on the dial; probably ain't going to happen.
Of the six local bars on Buzztime's official national list of top 100 NTN Trivia hot spots, Catbirds is the only non-sports bar and/or brohalla of the bunch and has the most character by far. What's more, the bar's official name is Catbirds Cocktails & Trivia, and it lives up to both ends of that equation, with some of the strongest, cheapest and tastiest libations in town on hand to aid you in remembering that Monrovia is the capital of Liberia, that Brad Mills was Nolan Ryan's most famous strikeout victim and that the two lost Beatles were Stu Sutcliffe and Pete Best. It all takes place in an effortlessly New Orleanian-seeming milieu of classic jazz, dim lights and a lush (in every sense of the word) interior in the heart of darkest Montrose. Why match your wits while wetting your whistle anywhere else? READERS' CHOICE: The Flying Saucer Draught Emporium