Under The Volcano

Taking its name from a 1947 novel by English writer Malcolm Lowry that was made into a film by legendary director John Huston in 1984, Under The Volcano is an eccentric bar with a unique style and atmosphere about it. The features include elements from the novel, such as a shrine for the Mexican holiday Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead); Central and South American tribal masks hanging on a wall; candles of various spiritual and religious traditions on the tables; crosses; and more. In addition to the interesting decor, owner Pete Mitchell has put together one of the best and most diverse jukeboxes in the city, featuring classic rock along with cutting-edge new material. Equally impressive are the local and visiting musicians who play live here each Wednesday night and during select special events.

Pearl Fincher Museum of Fine Arts

The Pearl Fincher Museum of Fine Arts has snagged a Best Small Museum nod before. It wins again this year for the very simple reason that it's doing excellent work. The brilliance in its programming is that it showcases works rarely seen publicly from small, private collections held locally. Early on the museum hosted "An American View: The Hosek Collection of American Art," an exhibit of works from Pearland contractor Howard "Chip" Hosek's private collection. In a later show, in the museum's Northwest Houston Collects series, works from local residents Ginger and Fred Palumbo were featured. The museum has paid special attention to Texas art. In 2014, 19th-century selections from the Bobbie and John L. Nau Collection went on display. Most recently the museum hosted "Texas Contemporary Regionalism." Between the two exhibits, works by Texas artists from three centuries have been on display.

W Grill

Not only does this Washington Avenue grill serve some excellent burgers, dogs and tacos, but you can also hit up the drive-through window to get a couple of margaritas to go. We repeat. Margaritas. TO. GO. (It's legal because they cover the straw hole with tape. On a side note: We love Houston.) Satisfy your greasy-food craving with a classically delicious chili cheese dog, generously sized grilled chicken and avo-bacon sandwich, and thick and crisp steak fries. Then tack on those drive-through margaritas, all from the comfort of your air-conditioned driver's seat.

Fuego Houston
David Rozycki

This Miami-inspired, upscale Latin nightclub has a trio of house DJs who spin a mix of salsa, merengue and bachata music, as well as hip-hop, Top 40 and Spanish rock. Fuego has an impressive audio and lighting system that was installed by the same company that handled the lights and sound at popular nightclubs Liv in Miami Beach and Rain at the Palms Hotel in Las Vegas, among others. The light fixtures set up above the always-busy dance floor look kind of like the spaceship from Close Encounters of the Third Kind; with the aid of a computer, each individual pixel color can be changed at will. In addition, the various laser lights on the ceiling can be changed to any color desired, and a number of different patterns can be projected out of them onto the dance floor below. It's a cool thing to see, whether you dance under them or just observe from afar with an adult beverage in hand.

READERS' CHOICE: Gloria's Latin Cuisine

There are more than 2,400 traffic signal control cabinets in Houston: Big, drab gray boxes that sit on the side of the road. Thanks to the Mini Murals project, dozens of them have been covered by bright, colorful mini murals. Elia and Noah Quiles of UP Art Studio launched the project and enlisted local artists to create site-specific public art. Among the participating artists are Anat Ronen, DUAL, Wiley Robertson, Jessica Guerra and GONZO247. Guerra's mini mural, at the corner of West Bellfort and Hillcroft, is a bright yellow box with lilac and purple flowers. W3r3on3 (aka) Gelson Danilo Lemus's painting, at the corner of West Fuqua and White Heather, is a black-and-white portrait of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Other boxes include a bright orange frog on a box covered in raindrops and a loteria card showing two fútbol players. At the cost of just $2,500 per box, which covers artist fees, supplies, equipment and project management, Mini Murals is set to grow across the city, adding another 100 boxes in 2016.

Batanga
Photo by Troy Fields

Because of municipal code changes over the past few years, there aren't really any "cigar bars" in the traditional sense inside the city of Houston aside from a few private establishments with hefty membership fees. The key is to find a place with a patio large enough that you can enjoy a stogie the required 25 or more feet away from the nearest building entrance. Batanga's patio is spacious enough to meet that requirement. Its bar sports a stellar cocktail menu, as well as a selection of rum and whiskey that would go nicely alongside a smoke.

Inprint!

International literary stars Salman Rushdie and Sandra Cisneros are two of the nine noted authors appearing at the 2015/2016 Inprint Margarett Root Brown Reading Series. Houston-based Mat Johnson, who many believe is destined for the same level of success, is on that list. The series has hosted 56 Pulitzer Prize and seven Nobel Prize award winners over its 34 seasons. Ensuring that there will be plenty of future prize winners, Inprint has also provided some $3 million in scholarships and support to local writers and held hundreds of writing workshops and dozens of Cool Brains! Inprint Readings for Young People events at local middle schools.

D & T Drive Inn
David Rozycki

According to D&T Drive Inn's web site, until 1959 it was an actual icehouse, a place that stored and sold blocks of ice until in-home freezers became viable options. When a Mrs. McKeehan bought the place, she named it after her sons, Dan and Ted. Today, D&T sports more than 50 beers on tap, and there's a homey food menu that goes perfectly alongside. Our favorite beer snacks at D&T are all included on the Dan & Ted's plate: pimento cheese, salami, pickled eggs and house-made pickles. It's happy hour all day on Monday, steak night is Tuesday and Wednesday is "Dog and A Beer Night," when a quality hot dog on an El Bolillo bun and a beer costs just ten bucks.

READERS' CHOICE: West Alabama Ice House

Fitzgerald's

Drive by Fitzgerald's most weekend nights, and plenty of weeknights, and the line to get in often snakes out the door and around the corner, and sometimes around the block. It's a pretty good sign that something great could be about to happen on one of the venue's two stages. Since the summer of 2010, Fitz has hosted countless sold-out shows by acts from any musical genre you'd care to name, and has become an anchor for the thriving area radiating from the corner of Studemont and White Oak. Even when it's crowded — which it is, often — Fitz doesn't feel claustrophobic; rather, the close quarters help enhance the communal experience so fundamental to enjoying live music. Last month Fitz entered yet another chapter of its long and illustrious history as one of the best sound engineers in Houston, Lauren Oakes, took over the general-manager role at the venue; her first task is supervising a series of much-needed renovations designed to bring the venue up-to-date and make it even more fan-friendly. That could be a tall order considering the recent success Fitz has enjoyed, but it's also hard to imagine anyone better qualified for the job.

READERS' CHOICE: Cynthia Woods Mitchell ­Pavilion

Lola's Depot
By Bill Olive

Opened in 1982, Lola's Depot, Houston's ultimate dive bar, still counts among its loyal regulars people who have been hanging out there since the '80s; in recent years the bar has had a resurgence as a whole new generation of thrill seekers has discovered the place thanks to social media and funny reviews on Yelp. The appeal of Lola's is the authenticity and realness of its staff and patrons; there is no other bar quite like it that we have run across in Houston or any other city, for that matter. The atmosphere is that of a dirty punk rock bar, yet at the same time Lola's is truly a neighborhood bar that appeals to a whole cross section of the larger population in Montrose, those who live there and those who'd like to. It's hard not to have a good time here under the influence of heavily poured drinks or cheap Lone Stars and PBRs in the company of friendly faces.

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