Connor Walsh was just 21 years old when he was promoted to principal dancer with the Houston Ballet making him the youngest person ever to achieve that level with the company. He joined the company in 2004 as a member of the corps de ballet (that was the same year he won a gold award in the National Foundation for the Advancement in the Arts). He became a soloist in 2006 and principal dancer in 2007. In three years, he achieved what most dancers take a decade to do. It's clear why — he's athletic, powerful and graceful onstage. Technically, he's near perfect and artistically, he has the ability to move easily from playing a dashing prince in Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker to performing as the mischievous Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Ripcord

With the recent Supreme Court ruling making same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states, it's important to recognize and appreciate the history and importance of early Houston gay bars like The Ripcord, which opened back in 1980, when our city was not as tolerant toward the LGBT community as it is now. Ripcord is the oldest leather bar in Texas, and for any club to last this long, whether gay or straight, it has to be doing lots of things right; cheap drinks, a jukebox, a pool table and the large outdoor patio keep the regulars coming back. Ripcord has something of a reputation for being scary and appearing seedy to the uninitiated, but the bartenders and patrons are a welcoming and friendly bunch and the overall atmosphere is one of acceptance and tolerance toward all people; you don't have to be into the leather and Levi scene to drop in for a drink. In fact, the Ripcord can feel more like a neighborhood place than a leather bar much of the time, since it now has show-tune sing-along and trivia nights in addition to the theme nights catering to various fetishes throughout the month.

READERS' CHOICE: JR's Bar & Grill

Houston Museum of Natural Science

In the past year, the Houston Museum of Natural Science has featured exhibits about a lost Chinese civilization, incredible nature photography, samurai warriors and one-of-a-kind jeweled creations from one of the most famous design houses in history. That's in addition to all of its permanent exhibits on ancient Egypt, Texas wildlife, weather, chemistry, indigenous peoples of the Americas and more. Oh, and don't forget its planetarium, rain forest, nature films and special events. The mood in the lobby is a delicately balanced cross between a rock concert, a school yard and a science lab. Not only does the museum offer programming for everyone — science geeks, history enthusiasts, bright-eyed kids and visitors from around the world — it manages to offer all that programming at the same time! We've seen kindergarten kids, brainiacs and intergenerational family groups all occupy the same hall at the same time. By employing super-secret time-warping technology and invisible soundproofing, HMNS kept the groups separate, manageable and happy. (Okay, maybe there's no invisible soundproofing, but we are certain about that time-warping technology. How else could all those crowds so happily coexist?)

READERS' CHOICE: Houston Museum of Natural Science

Jimmy's Ice House

This little open-air spot has all the charm of Houston's other favorite icehouse down in Montrose, but is just a little more gruff, unpolished and down to earth, giving Jimmy's its signature cool, relaxed vibe. On weekends, you can catch chatty old-timers elbowed up to the bar, armed with stories to tell over cold ones. There are plenty of TVs for sports-viewers, and lots of good stuff on the jukebox for long, thirsty nights. Plus, you can stop in to grab a cheap Lone Star before or after a show down the road at Fitzgerald's.

Patrick Renner's Funnel Tunnel on the Montrose esplanade in front of the Art League Houston building was a real attention getter. The 7,000 pound wood and steel sculpture introduced the found-object artist to a city-wide audience. Over the last year, he's gained a regional audience. A vibrant mix of engineering, design and visual art, Renner's work since Funnel Tunnel has included Conduit, a site specific installation at Eastwood Park and Sentinel, a work on the plaza of City Hall. He also partnered with an opera singer for an hour-long performance at the Houston Fringe Festival and exhibited some 100 works in the solo-show "Cabinet of Curiosities" at Gallery Jatad. Most recently Renner installed Funnel Tunnel in New Orleans.

When you think talk radio in Houston, tune your brain in to Houston Matters instead of all that right-wing rabble on the AM dial. Every weekday at noon, host Craig Cohen and his well-informed guests undertake an always thoughtful, sometimes provocative consideration of all things Houston, balancing topical affairs with regular features like "The Good, the Bad & the Ugly" Friday news roundup. Some of the best discussion anywhere of the Memorial Day 2015 floods, the city's ongoing budget crunch and upcoming mayoral election, local LGBT concerns, and the myriad transportation issues Houstonians confront on a daily basis has come from this program. But it's not all serious; you might catch a segment about a visiting author, new theater production or gardening advice, too. They even talk a fair amount of sports.

Nouveau Antique Art Bar

Nouveau Antique Art Bar has been around for a while now as trendy clubs have come and gone nearby and the fact that it actually has a large parking lot is unique itself in Midtown; the big draw here is the large collection of reproduction Tiffany lamps and Art Nouveau (French for "new art") antique furniture that gives the place a distinct look and feel. This combination, as well as the low lighting, cozy couches and low-volume music that lends itself to conversation, helps create a romantic atmosphere; drop in on Lounge Night Wednesdays to hear the music of Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald, which can further enhance your romantic mood, more than a night of listening to, say, indie-rock or metal at your usual dive.

When Chanson d'Eau, a contemporary Belgian circus and dance troupe, came to Discovery Green for Maravilloso! 2015: The Water Festival, the group was looking for a local partner. Chanson d'Eau found Karen Stokes Dance. Choreographer Stokes created DRENCH!, a site-specific commissioned work performed in water. Stokes, both a past Houston Press Mastermind Award winner and a full professor at the University of Houston, where she heads the dance department, also created Backstage at Allen's Landing, another site-specific work. This time the site was the banks of White Oak Bayou. Currently working on DEEP: Seaspace, an ongoing project that has already included 1836/Channel, performed in celebration of the Port of Houston Authority's 100th anniversary, Stokes is creating several dance works for film.

McGonigel's Mucky Duck
Jeff Balke

Between the low lighting, comfortable chairs and scrumptious bar food, it's easy enough to mistake the Mucky Duck for someone's actual den. The only thing that gives it away is the soundboard console, big and intimidating enough to resemble something out of a '60s or '70s sci-fi film. Other details help enhance the room's cozy ambience — like the plush curtains ringing the stage that turn the sound into the equivalent of a warm blanket around your shoulders, or the soft glow emitted by the individual lamps on each table — but nothing feels extraneous. Everything at Houston's premiere listening room is designed around strengthening the bond between artist and listener, creating a hermetic environment for performers who excel when fans hang on their every word.

La Chicana Laundry Pictures founder and filmmaker Stephanie Saint Sanchez was inspired to start Señorita Cinema by Real Women Have Curves filmmaker Josefina Lopez's Boyle Heights Latina Independent Film Extravaganza. Sanchez screened her film The Legend of La Llorona at the festival a few years ago and was so encouraged by the experience, she decided to launch a similar event in Houston. Now in its fifth year, Señorita Cinema is the only film festival focusing on Latina filmmakers in the state. In a bit of serendipity, Lopez was this year's Señorita Cinema's featured guest. She screened her film Detained in the Desert and led an artist workshop.

READERS' CHOICE: Art Car Parade

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