Houston is flush with galleries showing strong contemporary work, from the well-established houses of the Texas, Moody and Inman galleries to the new jack swingers like Jonathan Hopson, Homeland and Scott Charmin. So there are many hands on this hardbody, but this year we’re handing the keys to the Jeep to Cardoza in recognition of its fast and furious way of showing artists early and showing them often. Its restless menagerie of talent includes Katie Mulholland, Bret Shirley, Chris Henry, Melinda Laszczynski, Mark Flood and many others. Cardoza has artists on the rise, artists from the underground and artists who are just here to party. Perhaps, as the years go by, it will catch some artists on the decline, too. In addition to its local presence, Cardoza keeps a toehold in various national art fairs, the better to wiggle in somewhere in the national dialogue. Perhaps as important to the layperson is that Cardoza can party, as its sporadic deejay events attest.

Photo by Carla Soriano

Sitting at the bar in The Pastry War feels like sitting at the table in a Mexican kitchen, with tequila in the turquoise-colored cabinets instead of plates and bowls. Baskets of lemons, limes and oranges line the talavera-tiled countertops. And Day of the Dead figurines and ceramic pottery crowd the end of the bar. Named for the 1838 French war in Mexico that was ignited after a French pastry chef complained that Mexicans looted his shop, The Pastry War specializes in mezcal and tequila, offering a somewhat overwhelming list of agaves. It also serves tamales and chips with queso or salsa — and accepts pesos for payment.

Photo by Jack Gorman

Sixty-two years ago, a large dance hall and tavern called Esquire Ballroom opened on Hempstead Highway, on the outskirts of Houston and through the years it hosted legendary country acts like Patsy Cline, Willie Nelson and George Jones. Four years ago, the old Esquire location became a country and western LGBT club known as Neon Boots Dancehall & Saloon. Neon’s owners refer to their establishment as an “Everybody Bar” since all are indeed welcome and no discrimination is tolerated. The crowd at Neon is fun, unpretentious and diverse in every way, and the patrons all come together (literally) on the dance floor. There are lessons every Thursday evening for those unschooled in the art of two-stepping and line dancing. Bingo, karaoke, live music, Texans viewing parties, Latino nights, Queer Queens of Comedy Shows and other fun events on Neon’s calendar keep this Spring Branch-area joint jumpin’.

Driving to Katy just to see a movie might sound silly, but in the case of the Alamo Drafthouse, it’s worth the time and gas. Houston has plenty of places to see a movie, but there are very few places where you might see a movie and also see an alligator in the theater; get to quote a movie out loud with strangers; consume movie-themed drinks and snacks; or get that person who keeps explaining the plot to his neighbor kicked out of the theater. Yes, the Alamo Drafthouse is a business, but, more than any other theater, it loves cinema. And if you love cinema, you’ll love the Drafthouse, no matter how far you have to drive to get there.

Located in Midtown, Glitter Karaoke isn’t a bar that also has karoake — here, singing takes center stage. Five nights a week, you can belt out your favorite songs from a vast catalog of hits from rock, hip-hip, country and more. On weekend evenings, the venue is often packed with a good mix of can’t-wait-to-get-up-there performers and others who are content just to cheer them on. And you don’t have to sing like Kam Franklin or rap like Bun B to show off your skills — the crowd is eager to cheer on performers of all talent levels. Some advice: The line forms early and gets long quick, so your best bet may be to arrive around opening.

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