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.

Super Happy Fun Land
Photo by Altamese Osborne

For those who believe that the young brain should be exposed to all sorts of culture, Houston's one-stop spot is Super Happy Fun Land. Husband-and-wife team Brian Arthur and Olivia Dvorak — who, in 2008, moved the now nine-year-old project from a Heights-area house to its current East End spot — continue to bring in the sublime, the bizarre and the wrecked. Along with touring acts like Nautical Almanac and Tatsuya Nakatani that carry quite a bit of heft in the DIY scene, the venue presents interesting and original local acts that range from jet-aircraft-loud noise to broken folk. Of-age folks can kill time between sets by draining a can of Lone Star (for a donation). Under 21? No worries, dude. Along with the oversize Cabbage Patch Kids statues to admire, there's also the left-field art gallery to check out.

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It would be a bummer if Khon's, which flaunts "darts" in its name, didn't do the throwers thing very well. Well, no worries, because the venue's well-kept dartboards make this a destination for rookies as well as the dart teams that sometimes post up inside of the Midtown spot. Khon's also does the "wine," "coffee" and "art" pretty darn well. Plus, if you're sitting outside at one of the curbside/parking lot tables, you may soon find yourself invited inside to one of Mekong Center's ever-rotating underground spaces, listening to jacked-up noise music or looking at a suspended-from-the-ceiling piece of carpet during a conceptual art opening.

Contemporary Arts Museum Houston

Art-film dorks, especially those into found-footage collages, were in hog heaven from April 13 to July 8 when "Perspectives 178: CINEPLEX" posted up at Contemporary Arts Museum Houston. For that, we must thank Peter Lucas, who doubles as CAMH's education associate. The curator of the exhibit/film series brought his programming experiences from the Northwest Film Festival, the Seattle International Film Festival and Alamo Drafthouse Cinema over to the museum's Zilkha Gallery. There, Joseph Cornell's celluloid patchworks, Bruce Conner's montage-centric films and Martin Arnold's on-screen deconstructions were presented on select Thursday nights. For the dorkiest of the dorky dorks, the added bonus occurred when the avant-garde works and documentary films were presented in installation format during normal museum hours.

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.

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