Inversion

Even before the Art Guys went and married a tree, the collaborative team of Havel and Ruck were bucking for a crown. They had a huge hit with their Montrose installation Inversion, but Sharp is even better. For this site-specific thingie, they disemboweled, repainted and copper-clad the innards of a fire-damaged mid-century home, transforming it into a glowing, ascetic-and-aesthetic mystery attraction, an impeccably executed piece of art detoured from architecture. What's more, it was brilliantly sited on a quiet residential street in the Sharpstown area, as likely a front-runner to become the Montrose of Houston future as any.

Levy Park
Rendering courtesy of the office of James Burnett

Levy Park is not new, technically, but after the $15 million in renovations completed early this year, it's Upper Kirby's newest destination for fun. Originally given to the city as a gift in 1952 by merchant and philanthropist Leon Levy — a descendant of one of Houston's earliest families — the park, a plot of more than five acres just up the road from Greenway Plaza, has sprung back to life thanks to careful coordination between the city, governing body Levy Park Conservancy and its mixed-use neighbors (including one more next year, the Woodshed Smokehouse restaurant). The park now boasts a covered pavilion, two expansive lawns, a community garden, a children's play area and splash pad (including a nifty molecule-like climbing toy), abundant seating, and carts full of board games and art supplies for creative types. Its calendar has likewise quickly filled up with events such as concerts, festivals, gatherings and a whole lotta yoga. It would be very hard indeed not to find something to do at Levy Park — up to and including just lounging in the shade of one of its majestic live oaks. Watch for programming updates on Twitter at @levyparkhouston.

Splice Records founder Shaun Brennan

Shaun Brennan's Splice Records specializes in so-called "confused genre musicians," acts that might sound great over a cold one or two at an icehouse, another Houston specialty. An offshoot of Splice of Life Productions, the banner of Brennan's film/video projects since his school days, the label sprang to life after the 2013 demise of the Artery, the long-running multipurpose art space where Brennan had been a longtime volunteer. Not by coincidence, Artery musical alumni Craig Kinsey, Arthur Yoria, John Evans and "Pecos" Hank Schyma now make up the bulk of the Splice roster. Brennan and Kinsey, the story goes, decided to start the label after a long night of Johnnie Walker and music; the album Kinsey played for Brennan, American Roots and Machines, became Splice's first official release in 2014. Besides the annual BowiElvis Fest, which capitalizes on the two late rock icons' shared January birthday, the label also sponsors the annual River Revival music/camping festival in New Braunfels — a convenient platform to promote the label's artists, to be sure, but also further proof that Splice's fan-first philosophy filters from the top down.

Best Reading Series

For more than 30 years the Inprint Margarett Root Brown Reading Series has been giving locals the chance to hear Pulitzer- and Nobel Prize-winning authors read from their latest works and offer all kinds of insights about how they crafted them. The 2017-2018 season brings yet another dazzling array of authors to town, with readings scheduled for Jennifer Egan, Claire Messud, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Paul Auster, Jhumpa Lahiri and a slew of other writers. What makes all of this even better is that tickets to these readings cost roughly the same as a Starbucks iced coffee.

Lei Low Bar
David Rozycki

There's only one place that makes the blue fiery glow of a Scorpian Bowl — as it is freshly set on fire with a small blowtorch —­ look its absolute sultriest and that's the Lei Low Bar. Dark as the inside of an old ship and kitschy as all get out, this Heights favorite has the tropical and divey tiki vibes on lock. From mermaids and hula girls to velvet paintings of buxom pin-up models, the art here doesn't disappoint, nor does the rattan furniture or various carved tikis, all of which look plundered from the set of the Golden Girls or some midcentury modern estate sale in Southern California from the days of Jan and Dean. If it's a quiet night here, this is a perfectly romantic escape with a beach bar feel and mood lighting for days. But if it packs out, patrons can simply escape out back to the patio with its signature plumeria, the tropical flowering tree that's popular in Hawaii for its beautiful lei flowers.

The gargantuan metal sculpture along Avenida Houston is lovely by day, offering a playful fountain for the enjoyment of passersby and a gently waving kineticism for those lucky enough to look up from their smart phones. But it's at night when the brainchild of artist Joe O'Connell and Creative Machines really soars, as the color-changing lights impart kaleidoscopic brilliance to the stainless steel, aluminum and Stamisol feathers. Sure, it looks just a bit like a giant, slow-moving cockroach, but that's okay, because we do things big here in the Bayou City.

Best Icehouse

There's a satisfying simplicity at West Alabama Ice House. With few frills and nothing fancy, you'll get exactly what you want at this classic haunt: cheap, ice cold beer, a giant dog-friendly patio full of large picnic tables, and maybe a football game on TV or a game of pool or bags if you're feeling competitive. Or even H-O-R-S-E if you're up to it. Don't forget to grab some tacos at the taco truck parked across the street.

Best Politician

All Houstonians should watch Sylvester Turner run a Houston City Council meeting on the city's public-access HTV channel sometime. To put it mildly, the first-term mayor does not suffer fools gladly. Since taking office in January 2016, Turner has hardly been afraid to roll up his sleeves; this past summer alone, he dismissed the city's public works director in the wake of a bribery scandal, played hardball in pension negotiations with Houston firefighters, and called an audible on the city's controversial recycling plan. But Turner leads the best when he leads with his more benevolent side. Sticking up for women's rights, supporting the lawsuit against Governor Greg Abbott's sanctuary cities ban, or opposing the so-called "bathroom bill," he's consistently come down on the side of equality and humanity. With the nation perhaps at one of its most divided times, Turner took to the steps of City Hall during the Houston Women's March in January and announced, "In this city, we are going to love one another."

Chef Justin Yu (second from left) with his BLT team.

Sure, Better Luck Tomorrow emits a casual feel with its vibrant neon lights, '60s-reminiscent linoleum and seating, and food menu titled "bar food." But at this new Heights neighborhood joint, the execution is far from casual. The brainchild of James Beard-award-winning chef Justin Yu and Houston cocktail entrepreneur Bobby Huegel of Anvil and The Pastry War, Better Luck Tomorrow takes the less is more approach with a small but seriously bold menu. Find everything from East Coast oysters to Egyptian-spiced, anchovy-garlic-topped flatbread (called "not a pizza" for a reason) on the food menu, to a seasonal lemon and ginger Pimm's cup and strawberry daiquiris on the cocktail menu.

The Menil Collection

In Houston's stacked visual arts landscape, a quiet powerhouse has built an unyielding curatorial résumé featuring works by artists that you may have heard of before — Andy Warhol and Richard Serra, for instance. Her name is Michelle White and she joined the Menil in 2006 before eventually ascending from assistant curator to associate curator and then to curator in October 2011. In her nearly seven-year stint as curator, White has organized the repeat-visit-worthy shows "Barnett Newman: The Late Work"; "As Essential as Dreams," which displayed pieces from the longtime stigmatized genre of self-taught art via the donated collection of Houston legends Stephanie and John Smither; and the smash hit run of Andy Warhol's Sunset, an unfinished film featuring the abstract musings of Nico that screened each evening for nearly five months. White, named by Artnet in 2015 as one of the "25 Woman Curators on the Rise," put her curatorial touches on the Serra drawing retrospective that also exhibited at New York's Museum of Modern Art and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

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