Mat Johnson, University of Houston Creative Writing Program professor, has carved out a unique place in the American literary scene. He writes about the serious aspects of contemporary race relations, and he does it in hilarious prose. The New York Times Book Review compared Johnson's latest release, Loving Day, to Invisible Man, while NPR has called him "one of the funniest writers in America." Salon, Rolling Stone and the Los Angeles Times have added their own accolades. Johnson's work often features characters who, like him, identify as black but look white. Along with his novels (Pym, Drop and Hunting in Harlem) Johnson has written several comic books (Incognegro and Dark Rain) and a nonfiction novella about murder in 18th-century New York (The Great Negro Plot).

Wooster's Garden
David Rozycki

There are certainly a whole lot of contenders for this action-packed category, but Midtown's newest cocktail and beer garden has a dedication to excellence that shines through. With 49 craft beers on tap, a rotating selection of around 40 inventive cocktails, and a wine and spirit list to rival that of any bar in town, these guys are pretty serious about their drinks. But they're just as serious about their food and chill neighborhood vibe, too. Hit their misted-up patio during the happiest of hours (which runs Monday through Saturday because they are awesome) to get $3 select beer taps, half-off wines and half-off house cocktails, ranging from "refreshing" and "bitter" to "straight up boozy." You'll need those to wash down the hot, buttery pretzel and queso made with beer. Like we said, they're awesome.

READERS' CHOICE: benjy's

The competition for Best Film Festival is always fierce. Between the dozens of themed festivals including the Indian Film Festival of Houston, which hosts dozens of exciting contemporary Indian filmmakers every year, and Latin Wave, which brings in provocative, cutting-edge Latin American filmmakers; a half-dozen superior micro-cinemas in town; Rice Cinema; Houston Cinema Arts Society; and all the pop-culture cons that are bringing in more films every year, it's a crowded field. So what tips the scales in favor of Jazz on Film? Curator Peter Lucas. He finds an exciting mix of films that show on-screen jazz performances, films that skillfully utilize the music to further the plot line and, as he did with Mark Cantor this year, knowledgeable film archivists/historians who present rare clips and insider stories. A favorite film in the festival this year was Jack Johnson, a documentary about the Galveston boxer who became the first black world heavyweight champion in 1908; it featured a dazzling jazz score by Miles Davis, recorded shortly after his landmark Bitches Brew.

You can, and maybe you do, dance in a different venue every night in Houston. We're a city with a lot of great spaces to shake your thing, but there's something about Barbarella that feels different. Maybe it's the way everything seems to glow inside it, creating an atmosphere that's fun but not obnoxious, silly but not grating. It's a space that encourages you to explore and more and not just sit at the bar or on a couch and passively watch. With a variety of themed nights and the addition of live music, Barbarella is a place that you'll want to visit over and over again.

READERS' CHOICE: Numbers

Hubcap Grill

It's not often you find a great jukebox in a burger joint, but owner Ricky Craig is a huge fan of music, especially from the '80s. The jukebox at Hubcap Grill is stocked with hits from Depeche Mode, Duran Duran, Tears For Fears and Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers. For those about to rock, there's AC/DC, Soundgarden, The Cult and Jane's Addiction. All in all, it's a great sound track for either tossing horseshoes out back or just sitting down and enjoying a cold beer and one of Hubcap's many fine burgers.

READERS' CHOICE: Cecil's Pub

Located in the cavernous main hall of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, "Shadow Monsters" is a clever and whimsical interactive art exhibit that kids have to see to believe. Using projectors and a vision-recognition program, you can transform your shadow into an ever-shifting monster on one of the three walls. Your limbs and head will sprout eyes, tendrils and teeth as you move, and there are bins available full of props to help you create even more impossible shadow visions. Warning: It can be a bit frightening for little children, but most get into the piece fairly easily once they discover they have complete control over their own nightmare images.

Rainbow Lodge

The area behind the 100-year-old cabin that houses Rainbow Lodge is so lush and expansive, it's like the patio to end all patios. There are multilevel decks and bridges that make the most of the abundant natural beauty, including a citrus grove and creek bed. The sophisticated wild game and Gulf Coast fare match the earthy yet elegant setting. When the weather is nice, it's the perfect site for lunch, brunch or dinner.

READERS' CHOICE: Boheme Cafe & Wine Bar

The Nightingale Room
David Rozycki

The Nightingale Room is a small, intimate space with a good sound system that offers patrons the fun experience of choosing a vinyl record from the bar's large collection of around 2,000 discs for the bartender on duty to play for them, or they can bring their own albums to be played as well. On other nights, house music is cranked up to get the good times rolling; Nightingale also presents a unique live-music experience as the bands who visit play upstairs on a loft above the bar that's normally a customer lounge. The bar even has a call elevator to send up its classic cocktails, house drinks, beer and wine.

READERS' CHOICE: Flying Saucer Draught Emporium­

Lynn Lane is a master at photographing performing artists, dancers in particular. No trick shots, mind you. With just their athletic artistry and his creative vision, he's done some of the most stunning dancer portraits we've seen in the city. When he isn't busy shooting around town, he's teaching photography (at the Houston Center for Photography and privately). Understandably his busy schedule keeps him tied up for most of the day. When he does manage to get home, Lane doesn't put his camera down. He has an active — and extremely popular — Facebook series of portraits of his cat, a large and, Lane says, lazy tomcat he calls Worthless.

The West End
David Rozycki

The West End has a massive patio that can seat more than 400 people, making it a good spot for after-work get-togethers and parties; the clientele is made up largely of young professionals and business people who work in the Galleria area. The bar food menu is extensive, so you can get burgers, wings, fish and chips, and a whole lot more; there is a Clockwork Orange theme going on here, with images inspired by the film on employees' T-shirts and on menus and signs, but the bar itself looks nothing like the Korova Milk Bar, maybe a little Duke of New York pub, for all you Kubrick fanatics. Join the bar's pub club to become a "droog" and earn points toward free appetizers, West End merchandise and even a trip to a brewery of your choice in Europe, including airfare and hotel.

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