It's always a good sign when there's a mohawked punk rocker hanging out front, smoking a cigarette, while inside a jazz combo seemingly has its own band practice. The ever-relaxed Catbirds is also home to various regulars who know which side of the U-shaped bar to sit on for quick service (tip: saddle up on the right) and like to watch sports on the big screens or play NTN Trivia. The Dark and Stormy here is excellent, a true testament to a great neighborhood bar, and the editions of Trivial Pursuit on the shelf, which you can use to see which among your pals is the biggest geek, run deep. This is a no-frills destination with an okay happy hour and almost laughably ugly tables and chairs. There's even a popcorn machine that nobody ever seems to eat the popcorn from. Is it even real? Heaven knows the people here sure are, and that alone makes Catbirds a nice respite from the trendier destinations along Westheimer.

Film still courtesy of Houston Cinema Arts Festival
Everybody Street

The Houston Cinema Arts Society brings Bayou City cinephiles a variety of programming all year long in the form of screenings, concerts and fancy multimedia events like the annual JULYDOSCOPE gala, but all that is still preamble to the Houston Cinema Arts Festival. For several days in November (9 to 13 this year), Houston's movie houses come alive with more than 50 films, plus video installations, "Meet the Makers" interviews, workshops and frequent celebrity sightings; guests across HCAF's decade-long run include Richard Linklater, Shirley MacLaine and Robert Redford. Besides globe-spanning documentaries, special anniversary screenings or sneak peeks at prestige Hollywood fare — last year's HCAF gave Houston audiences their first taste of Jackie and Best Picture near-miss La La Land — the festival curates its bill of fare with a keen eye toward regional interest, which could be a local premiere (Honky Tonk Heaven, about Austin's storied Broken Spoke) or the annual CineSpace competition that invites aspiring filmmakers to cut together a ten-minute short from existing NASA footage.

Houston Press file photo

While anybody can open a wine bar, few can do so in a way that leaves you remembering the way the candlelight flickered and how the music seemed to sway right through you after that third glass the way La Carafe can. Why? Well, it's all about the atmosphere. Of course, La Carafe knows how to offer up fine glasses of vino, but when you step into the bar, the former site of a Wells Fargo Pony Express and one of the oldest commercial buildings in Houston, everything about the place — from the guttering candles that light the room to the sounds of Billie Holiday and Edith Piaf emanating from the jukebox to the cheery ding of the gleaming ancient cash register — coaxes you to sit down, settle in and enjoy the glass of wine in your hand. You might find a broader selection at other establishments and you could find yourself spitting and swishing and sniffing with the best of them at some wine bars, but for a glass of red that you will never forget, La Carafe has you covered. (Also, rumor has it the place even has its very own ghost.)

Photo courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Walking Man by Auguste Rodin

An extension of the Museum of Fine Arts, the Cullen Sculpture Garden offers a collection of mostly bronze sculptures ranging from the early 20th to early 21st centuries. Find eight Auguste Rodin statues of nude — and sometimes headless — men and women in various states of distress or repose interspersed throughout the park. Four Henri Matisse bronze sculptures of nude backsides are mounted to the towering concrete walls that frame the garden. And the garden includes various abstract sculptures, such as Joseph Havel's "Exhaling Pearls" and Joel Shapiro's untitled boxy, vertical figure that looks like a person made of bronze rectangles, getting ready to kick a soccer ball. The park, which is free to visit, is open until 10 p.m., and at night, strings of dim yellow lightbulbs decorate the tree-lined brick pathways.

Photo by Jack Gorman

One night there might be a live band accompanying Alfred Hitchcock's 1927 silent film The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog. On another, the National Tap Dance Day Celebration might have taken over the modern space. Then, during some other evening, there's classical music by the Apollo Chamber Players or White Oak Trio. The Midtown Arts and Theater Center has four "matchboxes" available for rent for small performing arts organizations that might not have the resources to run their own venue, and each ranges in size, versatility and charm. It's hard to choose one over another — it's just that Matchbox 4 happens to boast some of the best acoustics in town, a perk that was hammered home during the H-Town debut of Australian improvised jazz trio The Necks. The space's swaths of blue and gray and the cushy seats helped too.

Photo by Marco Torres

For more than two decades, Rockefeller's was the Tiffany's of Houston live-music venues, a nicely appointed former bank that hosted immortals like John Lee Hooker, up-and-comers like Garth Brooks and, regularly, Texas heroes like Joe Ely and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Its high ceilings and balcony ringing the stage fostered an intimate atmosphere that made it feel like the crowd was right on top of the performers; tales of legendary shows under the "R" are legion. As smaller rooms grew less attractive to bigger artists, the owners of Star Pizza bought Rockefeller's and turned it into a wedding/private-event space for hire. But without a whole lot of fanfare, the owners changed course; Rudyard's alum Mike Sims has been booking shows there for coming up on a year now. In favor of high-priced touring talent, though, these days the calendar is full of regional favorites (Hamilton Loomis, Moses Guest) and plenty of veteran locals (Spain Colored Orange, The Mighty Orq, Journey Agents). The club's unexpected and welcome return fills a hole in Houston's music scene many fans barely knew was there.

Somewhere along the line, in a city rich with gentlemen's clubs, "Treasures" became shorthand for this very particular type of establishment. And it wasn't by accident. Year by year, since its opening in 1996, Treasures built up a reputation for excellent service, food and, well, ambience. Whether you want to book a VIP event, treat a buddy to a bachelor's party or just roll solo, you're going to be treated like a king. But you won't pay a king's ransom for the extensive menu, especially during the generous lunch and happy hours. When's the last time you treated yourself? Treasures has just what you need.

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.

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.

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