The Dirt

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.

SPJST Lodge 88

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

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.

JPMorgan Chase Tower

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.

AMC Studio 30

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.

IHOP

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.

Catbirds

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

Hotel Zaza

The thing about a romantic stay at ZaZa is that you really get to choose how you define "romantic." Its "concept suites" range from Geisha House to An Affair to Remember to SoHo Loft. As if that weren't indulgent enough, you and your significant other could choose from the hotel's "magnificent seven" theme rooms. Like a little hedonism in your romantic getaway? Check out the 2,160-square-foot Rock Star Suite with mirrored walls. Or maybe go old-school with the Fatal Charms room's crystal chandeliers, bronze velvet drapes and "the magnificent bed with the black velvet-tufted headboard," as described on the Web site. There's truly something for everyone.

Stereo Live Houston

While some of us weren't looking, guitars became obsolete. Everybody else was over at Stereo Live. The spacious discotheque at 6400 Richmond — once home to the legendary Club 6400, whose alumni still hold reunion nights — has actually been booking some of the world's top DJs for a few years now. Remixer-turned-superstar David Guetta played in November 2009 when it was still called Planeta Bar-Rio, and trance overlord Paul Oakenfold split an October 2010 bill with Scottish wunderkind Calvin Harris. Then everything exploded, EDM (electronic dance music) and its grimier cousin dubstep came crashing into the mainstream with the strength of Guetta or Oakenfold's brain-busting beats, and Stereo Live found itself in the catbird seat, upgrading the sound and light systems to world-class status and effectively becoming a self-contained operation. After several months of simply producing shows at the venue, Houston EDM promoters Nightculture bought Stereo Live this past May, a move that has already paid off in a revolving-door succession of top talent (Rusko, Porter Robinson, Flux Pavilion) and all but ensures the venue will keep ruling Houston's EDM roost for the foreseeable future.

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