Blanco's Bar & Grill

A roadhouse in River Oaks has been one of the local music scene's most confounding riddles. It's true; some critics have called Blanco's a clubhouse for Coca-Cola cowboys who only book their country-lite friends. And while actual bottle-throwing brawls may be rare — it's definitely an older, moneyed crowd, no question — the Lone Star is still cold, the hardwood floor is boot-polished to a high gloss, and the live music is a lot closer to Hank and Merle (or Willie and Waylon) than at any of Houston's larger suburban "dance halls." Enjoy it while you can, though. Blanco's is currently scheduled to close November 30, although there's an outside chance its landlords at St. John's School will allow it to stay open longer.

Scorpion Studios is the go-to place for serious tattoo artwork, and the man in charge, Dan Martin, is responsible for having built that reputation. As intimidating as the metal music blaring through the sound system may seem, the shop is full of a core group of welcoming tattooers with mad skills and an awesome vision. Both Martin's portfolio and his waiting list are mind-blowing; it can be months before he's ready to lay down some ink for you, but the wait is worth it for some real, adult artwork. There are no off-the-wall stock tattoos in this place; everything is custom, one-of-a-kind art, and they'll even cover up that terrible tattoo you had done at the shop down the road without laughing out loud at ya.

Houston Ballet

Dance fans had a real treat at the Houston Ballet's The Rite of Spring concert in March. The performance included the world premieres of HB Artistic Director Stanton Welch's Le Sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring) and Edwaard Liang's Murmuration, this year's winner for Best Ballet. The work, commissioned by Houston Ballet, was inspired by the flight patterns of starlings, with hundreds of birds moving through the sky as one. Performed on a bare stage, Murmuration included various combinations of swooping, swirling dancers, from duets to a stage full. One sequence near the end of the piece, a cycle of intricate repeated patterns, was perhaps the single most exciting moment of the dance season. Set to Ezio Bosso's Violin Concerto No. 1, "Esoconcerto," Murmuration thrilled audiences, earning enthusiastic, lengthy and well-deserved standing ovations after every performance.

A good band name should be both provocative and evocative, a word or phrase that rattles your nerves a little and sticks in your brain: Rolling Stones, Arcade Fire, the Dicks, Linus Pauling Quartet. Although sometimes the sounds they create hardly qualify them as a "band" — the Wiretaps frequently come across as more performance art or deconstructivist theater, like Negativland or the Residents — the duo does have the most awesome name in town, one that took on even more relevance after the NSA surveillance scandal in mid-June.

Shakespeare Pub

The blues is alive and well some distance from the Katy Freeway's Kirkwood exit, behind Olde Towne Kolaches and next door to a florist. Otherwise a grubby if literary-minded neighborhood bar, the Shakespeare has for many years now reflected not some long-outdated idea of the blues but what the music looks and sounds like today: older, white, suburban. It's had some help, but the Shakespeare has nurtured a community of local musicians — including but not limited to JohnMcVey, Sonny Boy Terry, Sparetime Murray, Mojofromopolis, Steve Krase & the In Crowd and the Mighty Orq — who have gone a long way toward keeping Houston's scene fertile when in most other cities the blues is but a distant memory.

D&W Lounge

D&W Lounge, off Milby at McKinney in the shadow of the Maximus Coffee Factory and surrounded by railroad tracks, has a kind of Jekyll-and-Hyde vibe. By day (D&W opens at 7 a.m.), the unassuming shack's patio and dark interior are home to third-shifters just getting off work from the nearby factories and warehouses. By night, it's home to everything from University of Houston tailgaters to, recently, local bands and DJs including Umbrella Man. In the past couple of years, the bar's beer selection has improved remarkably — they now carry Houston faves Saint Arnold and Karbach. And don't let the ­outside fool you — the interior decor is reminiscent of another local business, Super Happy Fun Land.

Mo Mong

Dirt-cheap yet delicious cosmos are a real live thing that exists outside of daydreams, thanks to Mo Mong's "Martini Wednesdays," a weekly tradition that involves not only some rockin' $3 cosmopolitans but also some of the best people-watching and pan-Asian food around. The scenery ain't so bad, either; Mo Mong is a sleek art- and bamboo-filled little spot right in the heart of Montrose, and the Wednesday night drink special draws one of the liveliest crowds around, ready to imbibe and indulge in some of the more interesting spring roll variations the city has to offer.

Sure, this colorful Montrose character has been making passers-by say, "What the fuck?" for a few years now, but it wasn't until recently that the dude actually started making headlines. With the help of some exposure provided by a local documentarian, Carlos's exciting, upbeat dance moves have wowed even more folks, and when he disappeared for a little while at the beginning of the year, people began to worry. Fortunately, Carlos reappeared, letting us know that things were going to be okay again. His 15 minutes might turn out to be much longer than ­anticipated.

DJ Sun knows how to release an album right. For the three months leading up to the launch of his first ever full-length LP, One Hundred, the Houston turntablist, producer and host of KPFT's Soular Grooves — not to mention a multiple Houston Press Music Awards winner — regularly updated his Web site with "One Hundred Days to One Hundred," all sorts of content creating a rich multimedia context around the album, his first release since 2009's EP Para. Once it came out, One Hundred proved to be worth the wait. Stretching to 19 tracks, including a couple of remixes, it lasts more than an hour but flows by in one richly textured groove that layers hip-hop, soul, electro, funk, exotica, disco and reggae. Sun's rich musical blend is further enhanced by One Hundred's abundant appearances by friends such as jazz musicians Tim Ruiz and Martin Perna, producer The ARE, vocalist Leah Alvarez, and a laboratory's worth of vintage keyboards, samplers and sequencers.

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

If light artist James Turrell weren't a Houston favorite before his latest exhibition, "The Light Inside," he certainly is now. Turrell, a pioneer in the Light and Space movement, contributed an installation of the same name to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, in 2000. That Light Inside was the lighted tunnel between two of MFAH's buildings (colors morph from blue to red and back while blurring the physical elements of the space, making it seem to be an endless void on either side of the walkway rather than just a few feet of empty space). The newest "Light Inside" was a gallery exhibit featuring seven immersive environments, ranging from the artist's first projection projects to his most recent series. Walking into one of the galleries that housed the exhibit was a perception-bending experience for visitors (and slightly disorienting for some). Space and time in the galleries seemed to no longer be on the same continuum as in the museum's corridors just outside the door. While light installations are fairly commonplace in the contemporary art world, few had the impact of Turrell's "The Light Inside."

Best Of Houston®

Best Of