Now celebrating its 18th year, the Gulf Coast Film & Video Festival is humble and down-home, with an emphasis on films, not filmmakers. This is one of the perhaps paradoxical reasons the festival attracts so much talent from across the country. Last year's winners came from Salt Lake City and L.A., not to mention exotic Kilgore, Texas. Yearly categories include features, documentaries, comedies and dramas, so there's something for just about anyone. The festival also honors local and national actors with annual lifetime achievement awards. Notable past winners have included Jon Lovitz, Erin Gray and Jasmine Guy.

For several years now, CAMH senior curator Valerie Cassel Oliver has eschewed fickle fads in favor of the quiet, steady promotion of serious artists like Susie Rosmarin, Trenton Doyle Hancock, Jae Ko, Nathaniel Donnett, Benjamin Patterson, Robert Hodge, Sanford Biggers and Jason Villegas. The art world can be a vast, contentious and capricious place, and it takes a well-seeing eye to avoid the flavor-of-the-month distractions.  With her commitment to local artists and her discerning taste, Cassel Oliver has energized the institution.

There's no going wrong with Captain Foxheart's Bad News Bar & Spirit Lodge. The slender, cavernous room is dominated by a gleaming wooden bar and a seemingly endless array of alcoholic substances used by the bartenders to create all kinds of magic-in-a-glass concoctions. Once you've got your drink, you can hang around the bar or head out to the balcony and take in the show that is downtown Houston.

This contemporary dance company, headed by Sam Houston State University professors Andy and Dionne Sparkman Noble, has a gift of combining traditional dance athleticism with sparkly production qualities, especially in its use of special effects. A NobleMotion season often consists of three glamorous Houston productions, like L'Dor Vador: Three Generations of Poetry and Dance, which was presented during the 2015-2016 season; a run to the East Coast, whether it's participating in New York City's Dance Gallery Festival or the Boston Contemporary Dance Festival; and Texas-centric outreach, such as teaching master classes to university students in Laredo and touring as a member of the Texas Commission on the Arts.

READERS' CHOICE: Houston Ballet

To be so good so early is perhaps unfair to a public hungry for missteps and knocked-knees, but new trio Rough Sleepers are already vets of the cola wars. Singer-guitarist Tyler Morris and drummer Charlie Patranella were two-thirds of well-loved dub-goth act Balaclavas and its funky sequel, Subsonic Voices. With the addition of synth player Jonathan Story, Rough Sleepers sound like a Frankenstein's monster of Chrome's android rock and Trance Syndicate's pharmaceutical amp worship, which is to say that Rough Sleepers are heavy and hard-wired to the freak matrix.

David Rozycki

For 23 years, Nick's has been perfecting the science of what makes a great sports bar. Think you can just tune a TV to ESPN and put a fried dairy product on the menu and call yourself a sports bar? No, sir. You really have to nail the atmosphere, for one thing — you want a welcoming, almost familial vibe. We're talking about a sense of community, not just a collection of disparate dude-bros. Nick's boasts 40 screens, and even though there are cavernous franchises out there with even more TVs, they aren't real neighborhood sports bars. Those places don't have Nick's pizza, with its recipe cribbed from heaven's chef, nor do they have the jalapeño cheeseburger sticks or fried chicken pieces we love, despite the fact they're called "Nicknuggets."


It's not just that they keep it local — because, heck yeah, we're all Texas proud — it's the multi-pronged way that William Reaves and Sarah Foltz promote artists from the Lone Star State at their ten-year-old gallery. They produce beautifully written essays explaining each piece's provenance; they invite experts to give lectures at community events; and they publish gorgeous exhibition catalogues. The knowledge base of gallery owners Reaves and Foltz is incredibly deep, and they often interject fascinating anecdotes about luminaries from key periods of the 20th century. They've got some heavy hitters in their stable — legendary greats who have pieces in the major museums down the street — offering savvy collectors an opportunity to acquire rare secondary-market gems.

READERS' CHOICE: Winter Street Studios

Movie theaters are constantly stepping up their games. Everywhere you go, there are bigger screens, fancier menus and reclining seats, no matter if you're paying $8 or $30 for a ticket. The competition is fierce, but in the end, the Vintage Park outpost of the Alamo Drafthouse remains on top because of its focus on what matters most: movies. A crazy idea, to be sure, and one the friendly staff supplements with solid food and drinks, but the Drafthouse has always put movies front and center. With pre-show entertainment you won't see anywhere else and screenings of cult as well as current films, the Alamo Drafthouse continues to create a moviegoing experience unlike what you'll find anywhere else.

READERS' CHOICE: Alamo Drafthouse

You can't escape politics this year. No matter what apps you're using, no matter what channel you're on, hell, no matter where you're sitting, someone is saying something about this year's election. The members of A More Perfect Union probably didn't mean to be part of that trend when they picked their name, but this is one phrase we're always happy to hear. Whether the words conjure up thoughts of the Constitution or an alternative rock band from Pearland, the name just makes you feel good. If we can all agree on anything, it's that we need to strive toward A More Perfect Union.

David Rozycki

There are fewer and fewer establishments in the world where a person can enjoy a stogie without violating an ordinance or inciting a tiny riot. That's why a place like the Heights Cigar Lounge — with its leather recliners and sofas, its impressive walk-in humidor, and its friendly, welcoming vibe — is so vital. It's an oasis, a reprieve from the every day hustle and bustle, where you can sit back, relax and enjoy your Arturo Fuente in peace.

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