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
Photo by David Rozycki

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
Photo by Michael Barajas

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.
Photo courtesy of Better Luck Tomorrow
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.

Best Place to People-Watch
Photo by Postoak at English Wikipedia via CC

With three million total square feet of space and more than 300 stores, an office tower, a hotel and a private health club, the Galleria is the largest mall in Texas and the best place to people watch in the city. Who knows how Houstonians fed their urge to ogle each other before the Galleria opened in 1970, but since then it has consistently offered incredible chances to see people from all walks of life as they come together to shop, see and be seen. Around Christmas time, you can do your own shopping while taking in the harried mothers trying to get infants to stop crying during their pictures with Santa, but the Galleria, which comes equipped with an indoor skating rink and is almost always packed to the gills, has year-round opportunities to look for actors, athletes and other famous people. Watch as people buy items from Chanel and Nordstrom's that cost more than your entire salary, as well as marvel at tiny children in sparkly spandex who defy gravity on the ice skating rink.

Best Public Art
Photo by optictopic via CC

Arguably Houston's unofficial motto, and definitely its most famous two-word slogan sprayed on the side of a rusting railroad bridge, "Be Someone" is, at its core, an invitation. Certainly a number of citizens have taken it upon themselves to alter the five-year-old graffiti from time to time — once to "Be Football," just in time for Super Bowl LI — but, thanks to anonymous neighbors, never for very long. Speaking to the Bayou City's wildcatter past and individualistic self-image, this singularly public-spirited vandalism has since made its way onto T-shirts and, as of this past St. Patrick's Day, H-Town rapper Paul Wall's chest. "I get inspired every time I drive thru downtown and see it sprayed on the bridge," he informed his Instagram followers. Visible just north of the Milam Street downtown exit, "Be Someone" could well be inspiring someone stuck on I-45 south right now.

Best Dive Bar
Houston Press file photo

When you're looking for a dive bar, what you're really after is a place where the stools are comfortable, the jukebox options are solid and everything, from the décor to the heavy drink pours has been comfortingly, reliably the same for as long as anyone can remember. That's where Warren's Inn comes in. Warren's has been satiating that specific dive bar longing since it opened in 1978. The bar, named after the late Warren Truesdale, moved into its current location on Market Square in 1987, and next to nothing has changed since. After all, why mess with perfection? Walking past the neon red sign into Warren's, you know that when you enter the bar everything from the chandeliers and mirrors that have decorated the place since it first opened to the solid array of jazz, blues, old school R&B and rock piping out of the jukebox will be just as it has always been. And as you sidle up to the bar to get a Shiner or a well-made Old Fashioned, you know that whether you're a lawyer, a dedicated drinker, part of a crew of ladies out for a night on the town or just a lonely guy who needs a place to stoically stare down into his beer, you'll be accepted. There's room for everyone at Warren's.

Best Small Museum
Photo by Myke Toman, courtesy of the National Museum of Funeral History

Surely there's nothing else like this in the country. The museum was founded in 1992, with, according to its website, the founder's dream to "preserve the heritage of death care." That highly unusual dream launched a highly fascinating museum, with 14 permanent exhibits, including the history of embalming, and "coffins and caskets of the past." It's only $10 for adults and $7 for kids age 6 to 11, so you won't break the bank while basking in the awesome history of death. It's something every Houstonian needs to see.

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