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.

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.

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

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