Best Hotel Bar
Photo by Patrick Feller via CC

Walking into Lawless feels like walking into an exclusive club. Tucked inside the iconic Rice Hotel in downtown Houston, Lawless is an old lawyers' hangout with an atmosphere that suggests it. Some of the dining chairs look like they were made for royalty, then later picked up in an antique shop. The rustic brick walls contrast with the elaborate chandeliers. And the lounge seating in the middle of the second-floor bar looks as though it belongs in a law library. The real appeal, however, is the balcony: It's one of very few downtown that isn't drowned out by dance music, ideal for a happy hour cocktail or glass of wine after a night of bar hopping on Main Street.

Houston Public Media News 88.7 news team
Photo courtesy of Houston Public Media
Houston Public Media News 88.7 news team

Rare among modern media organizations, local or national, Houston Public Media not only identifies the ever-blurry line between news and entertainment, but the journalists at News 88.7 do the best job in town of respecting it. The KUHF newsroom is staffed by journalists who do their homework, ask the right questions and provide listeners with enough information to make up their own minds rather than injecting reporters' personal opinions into a story. Unlike other outlets catering to the collective id with nonstop drama, tragedy and celebrity, KUHF consistently offers in-depth reports on issues that are truly important to the community, no matter how unsexy they may be — taxes, health care, education, traffic and the other stories that rarely make the 10 p.m. news but affect citizens' lives 365 days a year. The thing is, even when the content is bone-dry, Houston Public Media consistently proves that storytelling without sensationalism can still be compelling — and, dare we say it, entertaining.

There are three things that make "Secret Sands" a great band name. The first is that it instantly transports you away from the bayous and concrete that make Houston the city we know and love to another part of the world, one where we all leave footprints under a bright sun as the wind whips around us. Any name that evocative is a winner. The second is that it's got an air of mystery befitting a group that bills itself as a "noir organic electronics" band. The name just makes you curious about what they sound like. Last, it just rolls off the tongue in a really pleasing way. It's a fun pair of words to say. Secret Sands, like all good band names, is a phrase you wouldn't mind wearing on a shirt.

Cezanne Jazz Club

It sometimes feels as if every corporate cocktail party or five-dollar-sign restaurant has a requisite jazz trio plodding out standards for diners to ignore. But true fans of jazz music know it demands close attention in the presence of other aficionados, and Cezanne is just the place for that. Crammed into a wood-paneled upstairs room above the Black Lab, Cezanne plays host to some of jazz music's heavy hitters, such as Horace Grigsby and Bob Henschen, in an intimate setting unlike any other in Houston.

Best Place to Ride a Train
Photo by Ron Misrack, courtesy of Hermann Park Conservancy

The best part of going to Hermann Park to ride a train is you can get there by train. METRORail's Red Line runs parallel to the park, along Fannin, and there's even a stop that links up with the second train in the park, the Hermann Park Railroad, the tiny replica steam locomotive that all Houstonians should ride at least once.

Best Jukebox
Houston Press file photo

Excuse us for a minute while we rattle off an old-man "get off my lawn!" sentiment: Most bars today don't have jukeboxes so much as digital kiosks where you can play just about every song ever recorded. Sure, this is a good thing, but back in the day, true jukeboxes reflected a bar's very character. It was indicative of the vibe's joint. That's why Warren's jukebox — with its eclectic mix of Sinatra, Otis, Sam Cooke, Dylan, John Lee Hooker, Paul Simon, REM and Louis Prima, among many others — makes sense. Classic artists to go with a classic, old-school, no-nonsense bar where you go to drink, not to be seen.

Best Bingo Night
Photo by Gilbert Bernal

You better line up early at this venerable Heights social hall if you want to make it inside for the wildly entertaining Thursday night bingo extravaganza. Folks of all ages and backgrounds turn out for this family-friendly function, where you can also enjoy cheap pitchers of beer and burgers, nachos and hot dogs. The lodge nearly always reaches its 700-maximum capacity, but there's never shoving or rudeness — everyone's there to have a good time, and that's what you're going to have. What are you waiting for?

Best AM Radio Personality
Houston Press file photo

This might be the best time in history to listen to no-fi, seems-like-yesteryear amplitude modulation radio. It's not quite the Golden Age (from the 1920s to 1940s), but Donald Trump's presidency has hatched amazing volumes of aggro from all sorts of sides. Most of these feelings can be heard via AM broadcasting, where Michael Berry has been King Thorn in the Side to Houston eardrums for more than a decade. The 46-year-old conservative news personality and former Houston City Council member spouts straight-ahead, sometimes whackadoodle opinions that often bleed into surprising wisdoms. Can't get enough/had enough of Berry in the morning, which runs from 8 to 11 a.m.? Good news: He's back on the airwaves in the evening from 5 to 7 p.m.

Alice's Tall Texan Drive Inn
David Rozycki

There are plenty of bars in the Heights, but when you want to drink beer at a true neighborhood institution, Alice's Tall Texan Drive Inn is the obvious destination. Why? Well partly because the regular clientele has been coming to this no-frills haven of beer and jangly music for countless years, so not only will they not be bothered by newcomers, they won't even notice you exist. And that's just fine, because Alice's Tall Texan is a place where you can find a seat, order one of their famed frosty goblets of ice-cold beer (the bar serves various types of beer but only Shiner or Lone Star get the goblet treatment), listen to the music blaring out of the jukebox (Tejano or country, depending on the whims of the crowd) and hang out. There's none of this nonsense about everybody knowing your name. Nobody knows your name unless you've put in a solid decade bellying up to the bar, so you can just relax. Enjoy the squeaky clean surroundings (there's always a faint aroma of window cleaner lacing the air) and the old school cowboy wallpaper, and the fact that nobody there wants anything from you except common courtesy and for you to pay cash. (It's a cash-only establishment.)

Best Bar
Houston Press file photo

Long live the darker dive that you can just slink into and wile away the hours with some good conversation instead of the ubiquitous craft cocktail and after hours scene. That's La Carafe, which sits in great contrast from the booming, trendy clubs that surround it, a testament to the olden days, when times were simpler and Houston bars were a lot more chill. Here the candles drip their ages-old wax and the walls seem to tell the story of beautiful decay, not all too common in Houston. It's not a fussy place, but the wine selection is pretty solid and so are the bartenders, who are happy to strike up conversation so long as you're not a blathering idiot and have a little reverence for the place. On Sundays you can find some of the city's best singer-songwriters performing during the open mic, and the door here is always open. It leads straight back in time.

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