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.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

Photo by Yuri Peña

This Heights boozing compound is actually two bars in one, both a craft beer and wine-on-tap mecca and a swanky craft cocktail destination, and that means a happy hour that covers double the ground of your average after-work special, weekdays from 3 to 6 p.m. Here, you can choose from more than 30 beers at just $3 a pop or half-off wines at HBG, or walk across the cool patio, where groups of pals lounge in hammocks or bring their pups to hang out in the shade of picnic tables, to where you’ll also find a wealth of cocktails for half-price as well, including simple variations on mules and mojitos to complex, spirit-forward concoctions dreamed up by the mixologists tending the well-stocked Worcesters Annex bar — so well-stocked, in fact, the bar is coming up with its own Dewey Decimal System to keep track of its booze. Thankfully, chef Brandon Silva also offers a variety of tasty snacks, so you won’t get too overwhelmed by all the studying at hand.

For ages, educators have been trying to convince kids that science can be fun, but The Health Museum is the only place we know of that lets them crawl through a 40-foot replica of the lower intestinal tract known as the “Colossal Colon.” Part of the museum’s permanent Amazing Body Gallery (where you can also walk inside a 10-foot brain), the model’s origins are actually rather heartwarming; the concept came from a colon cancer survivor in honor of a friend who died from the disease. So is this: Since opening in 1996, the museum has drawn more than 2.5 million visitors to its interactive exhibits, programming in the McGovern Theater, and a vast matrix of programs, camps, classes and seminars. The Amazing Body Store (read: gift shop), meanwhile, offers everything from a model kidney to, if a skeleton T-shirt isn’t your speed, some spiffy souvenir scrubs. For an additional fee, the on-site DeBakey Cell Lab allows guests to collect their own cheek samples, test anti-microbial agents, or learn how saliva breaks down food, among other microscope-ready dramas. Good, clean fun.

Photo by Patrick Feller via Flickr

Every year the fund drives at KPFT get a little closer together, evidence of just how difficult it is for a totally listener-funded FM station to remain afloat in this era of corporate-controlled airwaves. More amazing still is just how little the years of behind-the-scenes turmoil — which came to a head when, after an especially contentious staff shakeup, police were called to the station’s Montrose offices back in July — affects its on-air programming. The 47-year-old station is still one of the very few places in the nation’s fourth-largest city that save room for nearly every musical genre under the sun, and gives the DJs complete control over their playlists, leading to a level of trust among listeners practically unheard of these days. Every day KPFT stays on the air is a victory for independent music, independent programming and independent thought itself. Savor it while it’s still here.

Photo by PROMartin Fisch via CC

Opened in 2012, Emmit’s Place is a cozy little neighborhood bar located in a small strip center on a mostly residential street near South Post Oak and 610 that hosts live music, mostly blues and zydeco bands with the occasional rock and country acts. Although Emmit’s is new to the local music scene compared to some of the more veteran spots in town, it has captured the hearts of the regulars and newcomers alike and it’s the kind of place you feel comfortable in almost immediately due to the friendliness of the people involved and their lack of pretentiousness. Along with an impressive lineup of top-notch musicians stopping by for gigs, Emmit’s holds a blues jam and a karaoke night where everybody can showcase their talents, amateurs and pros alike. The drinks are poured generously here and do try the burgers, boudin and barbecue while you’re at it.

Houston is flush with galleries showing strong contemporary work, from the well-established houses of the Texas, Moody and Inman galleries to the new jack swingers like Jonathan Hopson, Homeland and Scott Charmin. So there are many hands on this hardbody, but this year we’re handing the keys to the Jeep to Cardoza in recognition of its fast and furious way of showing artists early and showing them often. Its restless menagerie of talent includes Katie Mulholland, Bret Shirley, Chris Henry, Melinda Laszczynski, Mark Flood and many others. Cardoza has artists on the rise, artists from the underground and artists who are just here to party. Perhaps, as the years go by, it will catch some artists on the decline, too. In addition to its local presence, Cardoza keeps a toehold in various national art fairs, the better to wiggle in somewhere in the national dialogue. Perhaps as important to the layperson is that Cardoza can party, as its sporadic deejay events attest.

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