Natachee's Supper 'n Punch

Shuffleboard is as serious as you make it. You can idly scoot the metal puck back and forth across the table or calibrate just the proper amount of force that will result in a "hanger." It's fun either way and an excellent way to pass the time. Mid-Main comfort-food oasis Natachee's Supper 'N Punch can get mighty crowded, which makes its shuffleboard table a welcome diversion as you're waiting for a table. It's a good way to sharpen your skills for a more competitive environment, such as the table across the street at the Continental Club. But please, no wagering here, just fun. There's no scoreboard above the Natachee's table, nor any need for one.

The Grove

The Grove, a chic little eatery in the heart of Discovery Green, boasts one of the best happy hours in the city, and the scenery ain't bad, either. The patio is perfect as a chilled-out space to hang, but even if you're more of an a/c-and-dining-room person, the floor-to-ceiling windows allow you to bring a bit of the green surroundings inside. With small plates like truffle fries and tuna tacos knocked down to rock-bottom prices and a $5 drink list that includes goodies like the pomegranate screwdriver and raspberry margarita, the Grove is a no-brainer for an after-work drink or three with friends.

Slick Willie's Family Pool

Montrose has always been a place of wonder and merriment, and overall a cool place to hang. In the middle of the Westheimer/Montrose strip is Slick Willie's, which has always been open to all kinds of characters, from novices to experts, teens to retirees, all looking for a place to cool down. Whether you're skipping class or just pre-gaming it, you can enjoy happy hour every day until 7 p.m., munch on bar food while you watch an Astros or Texans game, throw some dollars into the jukebox, or do your best Paul Newman impression as you hustle your friends for a round of drinks. Check out Wristband Wednesdays, when $5 a person buys unlimited play from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.

Black Hole Coffee House
Photo by Katharine Shilcutt
An extensive coffee menu is just the icing on the cake at Black Hole, which also has delicious, locally made cakes and desserts. While they specialize in caffeinated concoctions, you can also find plenty of non-caffeine drinks such as the absolutely amazing Matte-Latte. Black Hole-ites go there for the good brew and good eats, but it's also a see-and-be-seen coffee spot where you can find many a Mac laptop user banging away on his or her latest poem or novel. Go for the coffee and the Montrose people-watching, and stay for the good music always playing, the friendly staff and the free Wi-Fi.

The Suffers have Houston's best stage show because there's so much to look at: cucumber-cool keyboardist and bandleader Pat Kelly; steady-rollin' drummer Nick Zamora; guitarists Kevin Bernier and Alex Zamora; bassist Adam Castaneda; a three-man horn section doing that old JBs side-to-side; "Chapy" Luna going to town on all manner of percussion — congos, timbales, bongos and more — and of course Kam Franklin up front, a singer whose voice is as bodacious as her Afro. The multiple Houston Press Music Awards winners have so much going on onstage at any given time, they're as fun to watch as their intoxicating Island-flavored stew of reggae, rocksteady, ska, R&B and a whole lotta Gulf Coast soul. And even still, the Suffers' stage show is not even kind of close to the action they create on the dance floor.

Architect Mohammed Nasr vacationed in the Yucatán just before he was set to design downtown's Heritage Plaza in the 1980s. His time in Mexico is directly reflected in the building's postmodern design; the building's cap is a granite stepped pyramid inspired by the Mayan constructions he saw there, and the interior lobby shows off more Mexican influence with a plaza-like design. The building is one of the last projects of this scale to be completed before the economy took a turn for the worse. Heritage Plaza stands as a gleaming expression of Houston's then-wealth and optimistic future.

Rick's Den

This small but lively Tejano club on the north side was named Oscar's Place for a very long time, but a young man named Rick has converted it into a very nice Tejano dancing venue. A strict dress code is enforced, so take your time getting ready. Inside, the dark room is highlighted with just the right amount of color, not too loud or too blinding, but comfortable. DJ Steve-Audio and DJ Lalo play a mix of Tejano, cumbia and even some tropical. Rick's also hosts live Tejano acts on a regular basis, so you might get lucky and catch Tejano legends Ram Herrera or David Lee Garza on any given night.

There's more that's unique about choreographer/dancer jhon r. stronks than just his name; he's one of the most daring and innovative dancemakers in town, and his company, There...in the Sunlight, is among the city's most ambitious. Recent productions include B.L.K. Gurls ~n~ W.H.T. Boiz: Singin' 'bout Gawd!, an evening-length program of solo and duet performances by stronks and former student/fellow choreographer Jasmine Hearn. The production explored issues of race, gender, sexuality and reconciliation. Those might seem rather serious topics, but stronks and There...in the Sunlight approached them with a sense of humor and whimsy.

The Corkscrew
David Rozycki

Nothing about the Heights' resident wine bar, The Corkscrew, follows those stuffy conventional wine-bar rules, and that's a good thing. This wine bar has built a good reputation among the wine-loving crowd by offering a solid selection of vino in a laid-back, come-as-you-are atmosphere. Resident musician Nick Greer can be found tickling those ivory keys among the aging Malbec and Cabernet bottles most nights, belting out everything from big-band hits to gussied-up hip-hop songs, and he's been known to throw in a bit of burlesque, complete with dancers, for good measure. Wine and burlesque; really, what more could you ask for?

Once upon a time a salacious, R-rated performance artist named Y.E. Torres who calls herself a "bad unicorn" hijacked a PG-rated visual artist named Lisa Chow who's notorious for her sweet-as-pie creations. The result of this artistic commandeering was a visual and performance-based collaboration to end all collaborations. The concept for this merger was simple: Torres's dark work would literally and figuratively take over Chow's light and whimsical art pieces during a monthlong stint at the ARC Gallery at Fresh Arts. Torres turned Chow's lovely daydream into something of a nightmare in the most wonderful way, and the results were perfectly aligned.

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