Valhalla

Every drink is a drink special at Valhalla, the tiny graduate student pub in the basement of the chemistry building on the campus of Rice University. Cool thing is, you don't have to be a student to drink at this divey charmer, where you'll always find two beers on tap, including local options such as the Buffalo Bayou Brewing Co.'s Great White Buffalo, for just 95 cents. An array of craft beers are priced at $2 or less, and you can get a glass of wine for less than $2 as well. Insiders know that you should just Uber or Lyft to the bar because parking is the most difficult part of grabbing a drink here.

Smart Financial Centre at Sugar Land
Photo by Jack Gorman

The Houston concert scene was missing something, even if it didn’t realize it. In fact, it was missing a few things: a midlevel venue with plenty of seating, a theaterlike venue that mainstream comedians could play and an indoor place for classic acts to perform. That the Smart Financial Centre replaced all those needs with one venue is a game-changer for the Houston music landscape. Ample parking at a venue that doesn’t require walking around a lake or going underground? Check. Actual seats that aren’t just folding chairs with chalk on them? Check. They even pipe the stage audio into the lobby and bathrooms so you don’t miss out on anything. Just keep reminding yourself: Sugar Land isn’t that far away.

Best Place to Take a Selfie
Photo by Ed Schipul via CC

It’s the ultimate photo bomber. You’ll find the multi-story Gerald D. Hines Waterwall peeking out from behind — and stealing the scene — in untold numbers of photos documenting quinceañeras, graduations, engagements, weddings and performance pieces. The waterfall has survived a few name changes over the years (Transco Waterwall, Williams Waterwall), but now the John Burgee Architects/Philip Johnson-designed masterpiece is managed by the City of Houston, continuing to circulate 11,000 gallons of water per minute and turning all of our photographic memories into keepsakes.

Best Tourist Attraction
Photo by Kristen Eide

Houston has proudly given the world numerous “WTF”-worthy spectacles, and artist David Adickes is responsible for many of them. A truly one-of-a-kind believer of the “bigger is better” school of art, Adickes has given commuters on I-45 something majestic to appreciate: 18-foot concrete busts of Stephen F. Austin, Sam Houston, Abraham Lincoln and George Washington. In 2016, some fool vandalized the sculptures, spray-painting vampire fangs, swastikas and the words “blood” and “oil” on the busts. It was meaningless and cowardly — the exact opposite of this monument to leadership and to the strength and spirit of Houston itself.

Lucky's Pub

This venerable Houston institution is huge enough to fit several sports teams and more TVs than you can shake a stick at (although why you’d want to do that, we don’t know), but not so huge that you’ll have to wait forever for a cold brew or delicious wings. The service and atmosphere are top-notch — the staff is friendly, and the crowd isn’t a bunch of drunken, obnoxious yahoos. This is just a fun place to chill and cheer your favorite team — whoever they are, whatever sport it is, Lucky’s is showing it. Trust us — if you haven’t been, you’re missing out.

Best Pool Hall
Photo by Tri Vu Dao via CC

Barney’s Billiard Saloon has everything you want in a pool hall: It’s dark, with nothing frilly or flashy. The beer is cheap. Each of the six pool tables is lit by two single overhead lights. And a couple of dozen bare-bones wooden stools line the bar, where live sports are continually on the screen. Pool is $10 an hour, with solid specials on Wednesdays when pool is $5 for the whole night and wells are $2.50.

Best Bar Patio
Photo by Chuck Cook Photography

It’s almost as if Houstonians have rediscovered the patio in recent years. Any list of the best patios would often include a few staples, but as new venues and restaurants have embraced getting outside, we are in the midst of a patio renaissance. At the dead center is Axelrad, with its sprawling backyard and upstairs patio complete with hammocks, picnic tables and live music. Even on a hot summer night, it’s a damn fine place to have a drink.

Best After-Hours Hangout
Photo by Jeff Balke

No, this isn’t the Kirby location you know and love, but you wouldn’t know it from the lines that start to build up around 10:30 p.m. weekend nights. It gets its own share of misfits and late-night dates and families not ready to head home and loners who just want a good slice of pie. The food is exactly what you expect from a place called House of Pies, but the vibe is even more laid-back than you would expect. Not everyone is lucky enough to live inside the Loop, but for those who don’t want the night to end before 3 a.m., it’s good to have a spot like House of Pies as a beacon in the night on one of Houston’s busiest streets.

13 Celsius Wine Bar
Photo by Kaitlin Steinberg

With its enoteca-like charm, bare walls, long bar and lovely courtyard, it’s not hard to see why this Midtown wine bar, housed in the restored Jenning’s Cleaners and Dyeing Shoppe that dates back to the 1920s, is always packed to the gills. From after-work crowds noshing on cheeseboards and sharing a bottle of bubbly to late-night Tinder dates sampling rosés by the half-glass, there is a niche here for everyone, and a nook and cranny too, with plenty of couches, tables and bar stools to get comfy in. The wine list, curated by sommelier Adele Corrigan, is one of the best in town, with on-trend natural and biodynamic wines and unique pours from the Loire Valley to the Western Cape of South Africa and eccentric surprises — try the orange wine from Georgia — will delight any oenophile or neophyte alike. But don’t let that scare you; this is a great spot to unwind with a beer as well, with a great selection on draft, including a few local Texas brews. Add in the well-curated cheese boards sourced from Houston Dairy Maids, huge and heavenly slices of cake and a bar staff that kindly caters to folks who just want to unwind, and there you have it. The best bar in Midtown.

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

There’re two things Houston locals can’t go wrong with when giving visitors a tour of the town: food and art — which means that when it comes to the latter, the Museum of Fine Arts is nearly a Saturday-afternoon requirement. With a vast array of art collections spanning centuries and a myriad of cultures, MFAH is bound to impress even the grumpiest relatives. The museum offers collections from the Renaissance and Baroque periods, from 500 BC Africa and Pre-Columbian South America, from Native Americans and contemporary masterminds such as Pablo Picasso, Georgia O’Keefe and Andy Warhol. This fall, special exhibits include a showcase of the work of legendary Dominican fashion designer Oscar de la Renta and a thematic collection of work from Latin American artists revolving around the central idea of “home.”

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