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.

KCOH's sports director and Sports Rap host Ralph Cooper is a Houston institution. In 2010, the Houston Association of Black Journalists honored his 40 years in print and broadcast media with a lifetime achievement award, recognizing his work in the late 1960s for the Forward Times and Houston Post, on through his sports coverage for KYOK, KCOH, the Houston Defender, KTRK and many other outlets. Cooper was there for Muhammad Ali's Astrodome bouts, and his "Rumble in the Jungle" against George Foreman. According to the KCOH website, Cooper has interviewed Satchel Paige, Roberto Clemente and Wilt Chamberlain, just to name a very, very few. He's also a huge supporter of local high school and college athletes. But here's the thing: You don't have to know the difference between a pigskin and a softball to enjoy Sports Rap. Listening to Cooper's avuncular tone and delivery, matched with a quick wit, you'll soak up some real Houston history. The man is a local treasure.

Wooster's Garden
David Rozycki

Wooster's Garden is the definition of a clean, well-lit space. The front wall and ceiling are composed mainly of iron and glass, which lets in lots of sunlight. The aged, white-painted bricks of the back wall reflect it, filling the space with a natural glow. At night, wire framework lanterns mounted to the ceiling cast a pleasant glow on up-and-comers enjoying some of the best beer and cocktail selections in Midtown. Outside, guests lounge on the wood-decked patio. In a bar this nice, there's no reason for anyone to be in a big hurry to leave.

READERS' CHOICE: Julep

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

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