Mockingbird Bistro

A French restaurant and wine bar serving up $20 appetizers and $30 entrées isn't exactly the first place you'd think to go for cheap drinks and eats after work. But when chef John Sheely gives you a taste of his menu for literally one-fourth the usual price and serves drinks for $5 and under, you take advantage. Mockingbird has what it calls a 5-5-5 deal: You can order bar bites, such as the daily ceviche special, mango-barbecue meatballs and pork sausage with braised red cabbage, for $5; wines by the glass from Italy and Spain for $5; and cocktails, including mojitos and margaritas, for, yep, $5. Select craft brews are just $3.50.

New public art has been sprouting up all over Houston, and this past spring one such piece flashed back to when one of our true musical icons could pull off a four-night stand at one of the city's prime concert halls. Created by native Houstonian Jamal Cyrus, Lightnin' Field recreated a vintage block-style poster of Lightnin' Hopkins's January 1975 appearances at Liberty Hall — once located just a few blocks from the mural — on a 40'-by-60' patch of wall above the Just A Dollar store on Main. Erected as part of the Downtown District's Art Blocks initiative, the mural has since been replaced, but for a few months it stood as a fittingly larger-than-life tribute to a musician and a venue who both helped put Houston music on the map.

Double Trouble Caffeine & Cocktails

Located in the more relaxed portion of Midtown, Double Trouble is aptly named. On most days, this spot opens at 7 a.m. and doesn't shut down until 2 a.m. During those hours, the relaxed staff is either slinging some of the best coffee and espresso drinks in town or pouring cocktails inside the comfortable, tiki-like space. Because the staff is totally chill with you bringing in your own food — Tacos A Go Go across the street is a bulletproof option — there's really no reason to leave once you're seated at the bar, high tables or cozy patio drinking a frozen Suffering Bastard (Kentucky bourbon, London dry gin, lemon, angostura and spicy ginger beer) or Captain's Orders (old overholt, dry vermouth, allspice dram, orange bitters and absinthe).

If your walls are looking a little bare, the semi-annual Bayou City Art Festival has you covered, with more than a dozen different mediums represented among roughly 300 artists. Spread out in downtown's Hermann Square and Sam Houston Park, the festival offers up artistic gems for a vast array of tastes. You can find everything here from woodworking and ceramic sculptures to acrylic paintings and fashion design. While many artists are local, handfuls come from as far as Africa and Europe to set up shop in downtown Houston. On top of that, food trucks and live music abound.

When Rich's abruptly shut its doors in 2013, Houston's gay community lost its wild, sweaty living room. Rich's had been around 30 years, offering countless Houstonians their first taste of LGBT nightlife. But now Rich's is back, baby, under new ownership and thumping away once again. Rich's reopened this summer during Houston Pride, and attendees marveled at how their old friend had cleaned up since they last met. The new owners promise even more upgrades soon. We can't wait to see what's next.

READERS' CHOICE: F Bar

When trying to lay out the reasons why someone should visit Houston, it is not uncommon to come face to face with the reasons not to come here. The heat, the sprawl, the traffic — we've heard it all before. This is why a trip to the Museum District should be a requirement for all tourists. Not only does it boast some of the finest works of art you'll find anywhere, but it's situated on lush, oak-tree-lined streets that are the antithesis of what most people think of when they hear the word "Houston." And if the heat is a problem, all the stops are air-conditioned.

Cezanne Jazz Club

The explosive jazz at Cezanne overwhelms the packed, intimate room. Bands play everything from crescendo-heavy originals to nearly unrecognizable Nirvana covers, often so loud you can feel the floor shake. The wood-paneled walls and nature paintings that decorate them make you feel like you are perhaps in a rich relative's living room — if that relative had great taste in whiskey and unparalleled passion for the best jazz in Houston. Enjoy two jazz bands for $10 every Friday and Saturday night.

Kung Fu Saloon

Kung Fu Saloon is like a playground for adults. There's booze. There's ping pong. There's foosball and Mario Kart and shuffleboard. There's skee ball — and that's probably all you need to sell your friends. Kung Fu doesn't have the exclusive feel of an arcade bar, though. Sure, the classic Galaga is tucked in the corner waiting for the hardcore gamers of the 1980s, surrounded by other games, such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, NBA Showtime and Big Buck Hunter. But Kung Fu, with its giant TV screens, also feels like a sports bar. With its DJ on Saturday nights, it also feels like a dance bar. And with its outdoor patio, spacious seating and private small-party rooms, it also feels, simply, like a place to relax. Bar-goers who want to get competitive, however, have plenty of opportunity for that.

La Grange
Photo by Troy Fields

La Grange kind of feels like a backyard patio imported from the Alamo. Cacti and tropical plants are everywhere. On chilly autumn nights, fire pits are set up between the outdoor wooden picnic tables. And inside the barebones cement walls and rustic wood-paneled ceilings from which fancy chandeliers hang make you somehow feel like you're in an upscale hideout. The kitchen serves up first-rate Tex-Mex, and the bartenders don't go easy on the tequila. La Grange has three bars: one inside the dimly lit restaurant, one connected to the outdoor patio, and another on the second-floor rooftop, which feels like its own intimate dive bar.

Thankfully, public art has in recent years become a priority for Houston, and there are no works that say "Houston" more forcefully than the David Adickes sculptures in and around the area. Sure, the "We Heart Houston" sign along Interstate 10 is probably the most obvious, but there are many others. From the cello playing itself in front of the Lyric Centre building downtown to the presidential heads on Nance Street to the giant statues of Sam Houston (near Huntsville) and Stephen F. Austin (off the South Freeway), there are plenty of options. And when the 100-foot astronaut statue is finally erected in Webster, prepare your smartphones for liftoff.

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