House of Pies
Jeff Balke

Some nights, even though the lights have come up and the last call has gone out, you're still not ready to go home. On such occasions, House of Pies on Kirby is the obvious after-hours destination. Whether you want good greasy diner food to soak up the booze, or a cup of coffee and a slice of pie (or all of the above), House of Pies is there to provide. The place started out as a chain restaurant in the 1960s — brought to us by the masterminds who also gave the world IHOP — but the empire faltered and went broke in the 1980s. Good thing the House of Pies on Kirby (and its sister restaurant on Westheimer) never failed. The Kirby location went through a rough time last year when there was a fire and long, agonizing months of remodeling. The look changed with the remodel, but now there's more seating, and the pie is still amazing and still available 24-7. There's no better place to end a night.

Poison Girl

Walk by Poison Girl fast enough and you might not even notice it's a bar. That's because the giant outdoor sign that says "Cocktails" is actually inside this Westheimer watering hole, which is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year. (Salud!) That sign is just one of the many quirks that make Poison Girl one of Houston's favorite drinking establishments, along with the amber whiskey bottles, pinball machines, R-rated velvet painting straight out of Dolomite's private collection, and the giant Kool-Aid Man out back. Poison Girl is always a happening place, but some nights it has more character than others — Monday nights, local personalities come in to DJ or simpatico local musicians might stop by to play one of the bar's "Tiny Concerts."

Several literary powerhouses call Houston home, Robert Boswell (Tumbledown) and Antonya Nelson (Funny Once) among them. The current graphic-novel/Internet king, Mat Johnson (Right State), is also here. The country's leading urban-fiction novelist, ReShonda Tate Billingsley (Rumor Central), and a slew of bestselling romance novelists, such as Kerrelyn Sparks (How to Seduce a Vampire Without Really Trying) and Sophie Jordan (The Ivy Chronicles), are all locals. With a nod to all that talent, it's Dean James, an unassuming librarian/bookseller who writes cozy mysteries and has legions of fans, who takes this year's Best Author award. James has written under several pseudonyms, including Honor Hartman, Jimmie Ruth Evans and Miranda James. It's Miranda James who released The Silence of the Library, the latest title in the "Cat in the Stacks" mystery series. The cozy whodunits feature a male librarian/amateur sleuth who has a big Maine Coon cat for a sidekick — no, the cat doesn't talk, but he does seem to think a lot. Fans (even the ones who don't realize Miranda is actually Dean) scoop up each new title as soon as it hits the shelves and immediately clamber for the next release. ("I'm writing as fast as I can!" James has assured us.)

For those of us who grew up long after the '60s and '70s, KACC is the kind of station we always heard rock radio was supposed to sound like: enthusiastic, music-savvy and custom-tailored to its listeners' tastes and interests. In addition to its primary function as the voice of Alvin Community College, KACC earns its reputation as "The Gulf Coast Rocker" several times over, with a song selection that cruises easily from the 1960s through the 2010s with few gaps in continuity or momentum. One recent afternoon, Amy Winehouse, Pink Floyd and the Beatles' cover of Chuck Berry's "Rock and Roll Music" perked happily out of the speakers alongside fun stuff like Fastball's "Little White Lies" and local artists like Ezra Charles & the Works. Toss in charmingly awkward PSA spots and clever promos like our favorite, "less music by angry bald-headed guys," and on KACC pleasant surprises lurk around every corner.

Station Museum of Contemporary Art

We have no doubt that if the Station Museum of Contemporary Art were just a few blocks west of its current location, it would be twice as popular as it is. Thankfully — for fans, at least — its current location east of Main Street in the Third Ward helps to keep the crowds small. A non-collecting institution, the Station calls itself an "activist" organization, and political and economic issues are frequent topics for exhibiting artists. Among its standout shows from international artists are Mel Chin's 2006 "Do Not Ask Me," the 2008 group show "Iraqi Artists in Exile" and Andrei Molodkin's 2011 "Crude." The museum has exhibited work by quite a number of local artists, some with international reputations, such as Jesse Lott, and some with an emerging national presence, including Floyd Newsum and Forrest Prince.

Colorado Bar & Grill
Photos courtesy of The Colorado

This Houston mainstay with the classic, old-school-Vegas-style sign is celebrating its 25th birthday this year, and you should help with the festivities. Turns out the sign is actually the only over-the-top, glitzy part of the Colorado — unlike most other Houston gentlemen's clubs, this one strives for the warm, comfortable feel of a hunting lodge. The decorations include stuffed and mounted wild game and grand pianos. It's a refreshing change of pace from other such places, which tend to look strikingly similar inside. You might come for the beautiful women, but you'll stay for the billiards, terrific menu, and cozy, friendly vibe. Here's to another 25!

Asia Society Texas Center

The Asia Society Texas Center has been a wonderful addition to the Houston arts landscape, with exhibitions, performances and festivals for adults and children. This year the center added another excellent program, ExploreAsia: Culture Camp for Kids. Local artists and cultural experts served as tour guides for explorers aged five to 11, teaching them about Asian culture and history through a variety of interactive activities. The fun included contemporary Chinese and classical Indian dance performances, an Okinawan percussion concert, lessons in Persian castings and virtual tours of the Silk Road. The camp is expected to expand its scope and size next year, and there might even been a teen program in the works.

Nassau Bay's Space Walk Plaza is barely more than a median in one of the access roads to the Clear Lake-area bedroom community. But it's across from Johnson Space Center, and thanks to sculptor Eric Ober, it's one of Houston's most unique points of interest. Five years in the making and dedicated in spring 2013, the plaza boasts a dozen or so steel monuments marking various milestones in the manned space program's 50-year history: the Gemini and Apollo missions (including Buzz Aldrin with the American flag and Neil Armstrong on the ladder of his capsule); a typical shuttle launch; the International Space Station; an adorable depiction of the Mars Opportunity rover; and a fountain-situated earth-moon centerpiece. NASA's funding may have seen better days, but thanks to Ober, the agency has inspired a collection of public art any community can be proud of — especially this one.

Cezanne Jazz Club

At this point, Cezanne is so synonymous with jazz in Houston that it's difficult even to think of a No. 2, even though the intimate upstairs venue has live music only on Fridays and Saturdays. The room is cozy, the acoustics are great and the bookings are stellar, whether they're homegrown or out-of-towners. Thanks to Cezanne's longtime association with nearby High School for the Performing and Visual Arts' world-famous jazz program, it's not unusual to see three or four alumni come through the club in any given month, whether they just graduated or have long since moved to other towns. It's also one of the most romantic spots in town — if you and/or your love interest are even remotely interested in jazz, the place makes a fabulous date night. Other local venues take a stab at booking jazz here and there, but why drive a Kia when a Cadillac is already sitting upstairs from the Black Lab, keys in the ignition?

David Hardaker's name seems to be on everyone's lips lately, and there's no surprise as to why the figurative painter has earned the respect of his peers. He has an excellent eye for line and color and a sense of humor about his work. (His Lost Monsters series, a collection of small portraits of alien creatures, features a backstory he made up for his daughter about a megalomaniacal Austrian professor who crafted his minions from old toys and chewing gum.) Hardaker's work often includes copyright-protected imagery, which, through mass production, he considers part of the cultural landscape and so open to fair use. The owner of the Avis Frank Gallery, Hardaker produces only a limited number of works annually, making each more prized by collectors.

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