Best Place to Ride a Train

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

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

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

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

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.

Best Mural

Houston has exploded with street art in recent years, not with unsightly tagging but elaborate, bold works of all sizes. Lately that trend has even extended, somewhat controversially, to many electrical utility boxes around town. But first there was "Houston Is...," the vivid, borderline psychedelic mural sprawling across the southern wall of venerable Market Square eatery Treebeard's. A collision of red, yellow, orange, green and purple (naturally) anchored by the skyline and "HOUSTON," the painting naturally draws the eye to the well-chosen words "inspired," "hip," "tasty," "funky" and "savvy." Created by Gonzo247, founder of the Aerosol Warfare gallery and the Graffiti & Street Art Museum of Texas, "Houston Is..." reflects a turning point of sorts for Bayou City public art: Gonzo created striking murals before, and many since, but here his patron was the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, producers of a recent TV spot in which the mural co-stars with Gulf Coast Soul musicians The Suffers. In other words, as seen by "Houston Is...," the arts are front and center in Houston's public-image strategy. Good call — "City of Street Art" has a nice ring to it.

Goode Company Armadillo Palace
Photo courtesy of Goode Company

Once common, honky-tonks in Houston have largely gone the way of the pay phone. Seems the corner beer joint doesn't have much to offer an age of craft breweries, artisan cocktails and Internet jukeboxes. But for live country music at least, some of that honky-tonk spirit lives on in the capable hands of a family long known as premier stewards of Texas cookin'. The Goode Company's Upper Kirby restaurant, its dining room appointed like an old-school oilman's den, has been a popular spot to soak in Lone Star culture since 2004, but after a recent renovation the Palace is finally serving up live music as more than a side dish. Plowing under a parking lot to make way for a spacious biergarten-style patio, the owners also installed a small-ish stage that this year has hosted silver-haired legends Billy Joe Shaver and Joe Ely, and budding stars Bart Crow and Sam Riggs, just to name a few, with many more to come. Best of all, there's little danger of getting hit by a flying longneck here; some things can safely stay in the past.

Under The Volcano

It's a little bit Tex Mex. It's a little bit rock and roll — there are live bands and even a Mod dance night — but one thing is for certain: Under The Volcano is a totally laid-back bar that draws in all kinds of folks, whether for an evening margarita or a late-night shot of mezcal. The very much Day-Of-The-Dead-themed neighborhood watering hole, named for the 1947 novel by Malcolm Lowry, offers a great selection of frozen drinks, a food menu including sandwiches, tacos, and chips and salsa, and a great list of beers and liquor to pull from for all the shot-and-a-beer lovers out there. When the weather dips, hit the covered deck or the front patio (the smoker's delight) to chill, and don't miss the killer Steak Night every Monday from 6 to 9 p.m.

Neil's Bahr

A haven for gamers, comic book aficionados and Simpsons lovers, Neil's Bahr is the place to be for those with a competitive streak and a soft spot for the '80s and '90s. On any given night at Neil's, you're likely to find The Simpsons playing on a TV behind the bar, The Cure on the speakers and people gathering around the TVs where the Nintendo is plugged in, yelling at their friends to go faster. It's the kind of bar where you'll likely end up befriending strangers, whether because someone challenged you to a ping-pong game or asked to join a round of Cards Against Humanity. The East Downtown bar boasts old-school game systems, including Nintendo 64 and Super Nintendo, with classics like Super Smash Bros., Mario Kart and Street Fighter, and video-game tournaments are held every Tuesday night. All the arcade games — three custom-made machines that offer dozens of classic options — are free. And for those who don't care much for gaming, card and board games like Pokemon-themed Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit are up for grabs.

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