La Carafe

It's no surprise that La Carafe, the history-saturated bar in the oldest commercial building in Houston, also boasts one of the most eclectic, fantastic jukeboxes around. Any night the sounds of Edith Piaf, Billie Holiday or the Ink Spots will come drifting out of the downtown Houston bar before the jukebox switches over to jangle out some Lightnin' Hopkins and Townes Van Zandt, and then rounds the evening out with Frank Sinatra followed by more traditional juke selections by Hank Williams and Springsteen. The odd thing about La Carafe's jukebox is that all of the music fits together and makes for a seamless listening and drinking experience. Whether you're deep in your cups or celebrating with friends, the jukebox at this place always manages to churn out the right tune.

While big brother White Oak Music Hall's indoor stages have only been running a few weeks, the Pegstar-owned Raven Tower opened this past spring, and the music has never stopped, not even when the city shut down the eagles-nest "bachelor pad" observation deck. Even as a relatively small, partially open-air venue, Raven offers two different performing areas in the Pavilion and the Patio, of which the latter is always no-cover. It's quickly become a popular album-release spot for locals such as Catch Fever, Drop Out Vegas and Guilla, as well as a destination for bigger indie names like Wye Oak and David Bazan. No Edgar Allan Poe spoken-word nights that we've heard of yet, but the Raven has even begun spreading its wings beyond music by hosting Sunday morning yoga sessions and a tasty brunch.

In the interest of hastening and possibly short-circuiting the delay between total obscurity and posthumous renown (see Forrest Bess, Henry Darger and that Dutch guy who cut off his ear), let us praise Mike Hollis, one of the most original and committed painters Houston has produced, still living here and still working. His paintings —always changing, always ahead of the pack — are consistently engaging and strangely likable lozenges of hard, funky abstraction with a pop-color palette and a wordless wit. Over the course of his career he's shown at Texas Gallery and the Station Museum, not to mention in New York and elsewhere. Let the record state that he was also a one-time member of the Red Krayola's Familar Ugly mega-band, a psychedelic hooligan and an early punk, an artist's artist dedicated to the whole enchilada, an emblem of the anarchy and chaos for which Houston has prided itself all these years.

El Big Bad
David Rozycki

Housed in a historic downtown building on Travis, El Big Bad's three levels might seem a little daunting at first. But take the hike to that top level and step outside to the simple but tasteful patio, and you'll see one of the best views to be had in downtown. The scenery goes especially well with one of the Tex-Mex powerhouse's infused tequila libations. We especially like to stake out this prime real estate for Cinco de Mayo, but we're game for any time of the year.

READERS' CHOICE: Axelrad Beer Garden

Clicks promises a billiards experience free of warped cues, and that attention to detail is evident as soon as you walk into this highly entertaining and friendly pool joint. Clicks may call itself "upscale," but that doesn't mean "snooty." The prices are reasonable — tables are $12 an hour in the evenings, and around $5 before 7 p.m. If those prices are still too rich for your blood, rack 'em up on Mondays for half-off. We find alcohol greatly improves our marksmanship, so we're especially fond of the drink specials, which include $3.75 Long Island Iced Teas on Tuesdays and $2.75 domestic brews on Sundays. Think of Clicks as the equivalent of a great, clean break — ain't no scratchin' here.

READERS' CHOICE: Slick Willie's Family Pool Hall

National Museum of Funeral History

Death may be inevitable, but the disposal of one's corpse is when things really start to get interesting. Just viewing the 14 permanent exhibits at the National Museum of Funeral History can take up an entire afternoon: There's an actual Popemobile, a hearse used to carry the body of President Ronald Reagan, and a history of embalming dating back to ancient Egypt (hello, mummy). It's not all doom and gloom either: The Día de los Muertos exhibit honors the souls of the departed in blazing color, while the star-studded Thanks for the Memories display pays tribute to celebs like Marilyn Monroe and Michael Jackson. But our hands-down personal faves have to be the fantasy coffins from West Africa — the largest collection outside of Ghana — sculpted into a fish, a leopard, a chicken or a canoe.

Inprint!

The Inprint Margarett Root Brown Reading Series always brings it, and the 2016-2017 season will be no different. Authors Annie Proulx, George Saunders, Colm Tóibín and Jonathan Safran Foer are all slated to come read and share insights about their work. The series has hosted tons of Pulitzer and Nobel winners over three decades, and this season Houston once again has the chance to hear from some of the best writers around for less than the cost of a movie ticket.

Houston built out instead of up. There are plenty of ways to entertain yourself, but few of those options are particularly close together. What makes Buffalo Bayou a particularly attractive way to spend some time with guests is just how much there is to see and do. You can watch bats, explore the trails, take in some art and get some air at Lee and Joe Jamail Skatepark. Got four-legged guests visiting? The Johnny Steele Dog Park has plenty for them, too. Add in the Cistern, which has people in and out of the city buzzing, and you've got a location that'll keep you and your guests busy for a while.

READERS' CHOICE: Saint Arnold Brewery Tour

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.

Contemporary Arts Museum Houston

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.

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