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 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.

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.


David Rozycki

This laid-back, family-owned neighborhood bar in the Heights features a nice little patio out front that local food trucks come and visit so you can get some grub; venture a few steps inside and get some craft beers or excellent signature cocktails to wash your food selections down with. There is a bit of an upscale ice house feel here, with the bar's windows being opened up when the weather is nice; check out the owner-curated CD jukebox which offers some great selections of classic rock, country, soul and pop. This is a good spot to come out and just drink and chat with friends or, if you want to engage in some activities, entertainment includes foosball and pool tables, a couple of video games, a photo booth and a bean-bag toss outside. The location next to some railroad tracks reminds one of a lazy, small Texas town; you can hear, feel and smell the train when it comes roaring through.

From script to sugar skulls, hearts to portraits, and yes, roses and anchors, your best bet for that amazing body ink is Rose & Anchor Tattoo. Husband-and-wife team Erik and Victoria Del Rio take pride in their award-winning work, with more than 20 years of combined tattooing experience between them. After years of working in several studios on the Westheimer strip, the couple opened their own small shop, which has quickly grown into a powerhouse of quality tattoos. Erik's waiting list is usually months long since his specialized lettering style and flair are in high demand. Victoria specializes in vibrant Americana-style ink. So whether your skin is longing for classic black and gray or something with more color, make the short drive west to Katy. Rose & Anchor is well worth the trip.

READERS' CHOICE: Gaslight Gallery

The Firehouse Saloon is so popular with its customers that it started booking private holiday parties in July. Owned by retired West University firefighter Tom Imber, the honky-tonk at 59 South and Fountain View is known for the pairs of cowboy boots suspended from the ceiling, the impressive collection of rare vintage neon beer signs, and of course, the fire truck parked out front. For decades it has been, if not the only place to see live country music in Houston, the only place that matters. The Firehouse's list of alumni who have gone on to one level of stardom or another includes Miranda Lambert, who had some kind words for the bar at her most recent Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo appearance. Other acts that have long since graduated to bigger venues or the festival circuit, like Randy Rogers and Cory Morrow, will still squeeze in a Firehouse gig when they can; Wednesday-night open-mike night props open the door for the saloon's next generation of headliners.

READERS' CHOICE: The Redneck Country Club

Part of the fun of drinking at this recently built, sleek downtown hotel is how many places you can do it. Drink at the long bar adjacent to restaurant Main Kitchen. Drink on one of the plush sofas and people-watch. The best way to drink here, though, is with a view of the hypnotic Solanum sculpture in the lobby. It's augmented by a series of projected images that sometimes give the illusion of movement and at other times make it seem as if water is rippling over the surface. Cocktails include pre-Prohibition selections like Boulevardiers and Sidecars and artsy originals like Jar Of Apricots, with Aperol, lemon juice, apricot syrup, egg white and cranberry bitters. The exceptional bar menu includes hush puppies with whipped honey butter, and chewy kale- and sausage-topped pizzas take care of any munchies with a touch of pure class.

Photo by Katya Horner

On a basic level, Discovery Green is a fascinating place to people-watch because there's so much going on around the park at any one time. Depending on the time of year, we're talking festivals, music, ice skating, people playing with their dogs, people getting fancy photos taken, art installations, flea markets, food trucks, yoga and more. It's a space that attracts people from a variety of backgrounds, so the crowds never feel static. Add in the people walking through the park on their way to concerts, sporting events and comic-book conventions, and the only thing you can expect to see at Discovery Green is the unexpected.

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