La Carafe

Great wine bars are as much about atmosphere as good wine. Luckily, La Carafe has lots of both. Despite the popular misconception, La Carafe is not actually the oldest bar in Houston (that distinction belongs to Leon's), but it is housed in the oldest commercial building in town — supposedly it even has a ghost. Every time we walk in and slide up to the bar, we take a moment to enjoy the whole thing: the candlelight and the stalagmite-wax formations, the photos on the wall and that excellent jukebox. The place has a good wine list, and if you're unsure, the bartender will point you in the right direction. There's also beer for those not vino-inclined. This is not a wine bar for the sniff-swish-and-spit crowd, and that's why we love it.

Nick's Place Italian Sports Bar & Pizzeria
David Rozycki

Sports are the ultimate communal experience, and these days every establishment with a TV has the game on. Like many spots, Nick's offers a multitude of televisions and some serious eats. Unlike a lot of places, however, Nick's has character, and not that manufactured type that comes in the form of posters and crap on the walls that masquerades as personality in your average chain sports bar. Nick's feels lived in, the kind of place where you can tell innumerable fans have had countless moments of triumph and tragedy within its walls. No matter your choice of sport, you'll find it at Nick's, where you can down a few beers and add your own moments to its history.

Joystix Classic Games-Pinball

Death to Giant Jenga. When you're out drinking with your friends, forget the world of physical games and embrace the joy that is the arcade. By day, Joystix might just be a cool store that sells classic arcade games and pinball machines, but once Pacman Fever Fridays roll around, it's the best place in Houston to relive your glory days while having a drink at the same time. If you spent your youth shoving quarters into those weird Neo-Geo machines and dreamed of a day with affordable unlimited play and the chance to drink like a real-live grown-up, that dream is a reality at Joystix.

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

No museum can be all things to all people, but the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston certainly gives it a good try. The museum's holdings include a heady mix of European masterpieces, contemporary Latin American works, landmark photographs, historic Asian and Islamic art and relics from pre-Columbian and African civilizations. Add to that the world-class exhibitions the museum attracts ("James Turrell: The Light Inside" and "Charles Marville: Photographer of Paris"), the work it commissions ("Soto: The Houston Penetrable"), and its extensive film and educational programming, and, yes, MFAH seems to have something for everyone. We're looking forward to upcoming exhibitions "Habsburg Splendor: Masterpieces from Vienna's Imperial Collections," "Monet and the Seine: Impressions of a River" and "Treasures from Korea: Arts and Culture of the Joseon Dynasty," all scheduled for 2015.

Inflaming listeners' political passions is how Michael Berry makes his living, but his own passion is music. More specifically, the highly rated KTRH-AM talk-radio host digs roots stuff, often talking up Texas country, Southern rock and gonzo Americana artists on the air or welcoming them as guests. Since last fall, Berry has also been proprietor of the Redneck Country Club, a suburban lodge with plenty of parking that specializes in both kinds of music: country and western. No doubt one of the few private-club honky-tonks in existence, the RCC bestows plenty of privileges on its members — non-members usually shell out twice what members pay, for example — all the way up to the "Big Ass Gun" $50,000 lifetime membership that includes, among many other things, $10,000 in-house credit to be spent at your discretion and your name/company logo on the menus. If that seems like a lot to pay for some steel guitar, we hear the burgers are mighty tasty, too.

Connor Walsh, principal dancer for the Houston Ballet, was an impressive presence onstage during the company's recent production of Swan Lake. The classic ballet about lost love is, of course, a vehicle for the female lead — here it was Sara Webb who partnered with Walsh — but his performance as the Prince was thrilling. Known for flawless technique and the emotional depth he brings to his characters, two attributes that set him apart from the other young male dancers of his generation, Walsh brings the same attention and commitment to a simple flick of a wrist as to a complicated, awe-inspiring series of leaps that send him bounding impressively across the stage. He makes both seem effortless and elegant. Walsh is equally at ease with modern choreography such as Swansong, and it's easy to see why Houston Ballet Artistic Director Stanton Welch created lead roles for Walsh in Marie and the new staging of La Bayadère.

It would be a gross understatement to call the Indian Film Festival of Houston, now in its sixth year, a celebration of Bollywood. Yes, there are the lavish musicals that are popular in India, filled with dashing men and beautiful women, huge dance numbers and infectious music. But that's only a small part of the festival's programming. Founded in 2007 by Sutapa Ghosh, herself a producer, the festival covers all sorts of genres, from in-depth documentaries to lighthearted comedies, from provocative dramas to pushing-the-envelope experimental films. With awards for Best Feature, Best Documentary, Best Short and a slew of others recognizing industry leaders, the festival attracts an ever-growing number of Indian producers, directors, actors and screenwriters each year. Most of the films on the schedule are attended by principal players, and screenings attract viewers from around the world.

Since his days at Rock 101, Outlaw Dave's show has been Houston radio's pre-eminent man cave, the only place for listeners to stay abreast of the latest developments in booze, babes, bikes and everything else they need to know to keep from having their dude credentials getting revoked. Six nights a week, Dave and his eclectic guests keep Houston's airwaves percolating with a show that is sometimes controversial and frequently hilarious, but never, ever boring. Originating from Outlaw Dave's Worldwide Headquarters, the Washington Avenue bar where he has held court since 2012, the show balances frank discussion of current events with investigations of cultural affairs including but hardly limited to rock and roll, prizefighting, adult entertainment, relationships, recurring features like the "Stupid Criminals Panel," and lots of other stuff that finally clinched Dave's induction into the Texas Radio Hall of Fame this November.

A former member of the Houston Ballet now with the Norwegian National Ballet, Garrett Smith came back to the city last year not as a dancer but as a choreographer. His new work, part of the Houston Ballet's Four Premieres program last September, was appropriately titled Return. "Did everybody get that?" Smith laughingly told us at the time. Smith had created several works for Houston Ballet II, the group's pre-professional company, but Return was the first commission piece he'd done for the main company. Set to music by John Adams, Return featured a dozen dancers, including some of his old friends, as teens who find a secret place. While there is a hint of a narrative stream to the piece (the kids have fun playing and exploring the space), Smith kept the work abstract and open to the audience's interpretation.

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.

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