When considering where to eat that night I immediately think of Monica Pope, the city’s ballyhooed lesbian chef. She currently owns several joints around town including the aptly named Beaver’s (2310 Decatur St. Tel: 713-864-2328. beavershouston.com), a casual eatery that claims to offer “dam good vibes” (get it?), and also upscale Sparrow Bar + Cookshop (3701 Travis St. Tel: 713-524-6922. sparrowhouston.com) where I sidle up to the industrial chic bar by myself Friday night and order shiitake mushroom dumplings with an irresistible blue cheese-honey sauce and a beautiful and hefty crispy chicken drowning in salsa verde and lemon butter sauce.
After dinner I hit up the gay bars in Montrose in search of tomfoolery and find myself part of a weekly traveling “block party” in which participating queer taprooms lure patrons with $2.75 well drinks. This Houston ritual concludes each week with free admission to nightclub South Beach (810 Pacific St. Tel: 713-521-0107. southbeachthenightclub.com).
The first bar I visit is Montrose Mining Company (805 Pacific St. Tel: 713-529-7488), an old leather bar where a single go go boy tugs at his boxer briefs in an attempt to shift leftward his ample wiener. He looks out of place at this dark and rugged men’s bar and the few patrons present at this early hour are paying him no mind. But drinks are cheap and stiff and there’s a barrel full of peanuts for shucking and chucking so what’s not to love? Plus, like most Houston bars, there’s an impressively large back patio.
The dancer at nearby JR’s Bar and Grill (808 Pacific St. Tel: 713-521-2519. jrsbarangrill.com) is ridiculously ripped. He’s wearing a pair of white Armani briefs with the initials GA sewn into the rear and every time he clenches his perfect ass, the letters disappear up his crack. He takes a break a few minutes later and is replaced by a bearded lumbersexual whose ding dong is so big I suspect it can be seen from outer space (I’m pretty sure everyone in the bar is staring at it) and he isn’t shy about rubbing it against the booties of unsuspecting patrons in hopes of a dollar or two in return. The age range tonight is easily 22 to 75 and there exists an impressive smattering of races and genders. I suspect this is the bar where every queer Houstonian makes at least the occasional appearance.
At midnight, I am fortunate enough to experience a meteor shower. That is to say, it’s midnight and the dancers at Meteor (2306 Genesee St. Tel: 713-521-0123) are getting soaking wet onstage — a nightly tradition. The crowd here is young, clicky and clubby and pays no mind to anyone north of age 35, although I suspect many of these boys will privately hit up Grindr later in search of a daddy.
The rain continues on Saturday, although it has slowed to a gentle mist. I join the line at bright and bustling Common Bond (1706 Westheimer Rd. Tel: 713-529-3535. wearecommonbond.com), a new bakery and cafe that is yet another highlight in the city’s dining scene, and judging by the dearth of available seating, everyone seems to know it. It’s the kind of place where the pastries are so pretty and tempting you can’t just order one thing, so I get both their celebrated Kugelhopf (a heavenly Bundt cake) and a big, fat walnut chocolate chip cookie which I squirrel away as fuel for later in the day.
If you can say anything about Texans it’s that they are proud. The proof is next door to Common Bond at Space (1706 Westheimer Rd. Tel: 832-649-5743. www.spacemontrose.com), an adorable gift shop featuring the works of more than 140 designers and artisans whose wares are all crafted in the USA. What a cool shop.
Anyone who derides Houston as a cultural wasteland is missing out on its reverence for fine art. There is no better way to grasp Houstonians’ appreciation for high culture then to visit the Menil Collection (1533 Sul Ross St. Tel: 713-525-9400. www.menil.org ) and its surrounding campus of bungalow homes featuring impressive works from several contemporary masters. The main building houses the 20th century and contemporary art collection of founders John and Dominique de Menil, including pieces from Man Ray, Matisse, Duchamp, Picasso, and Andy Warhol. The campus as a whole — and it’s all a pretty stroll—includes the Rothko Chapel (3900 Yupon St. Tel: 713-524-9839; www.rothkochapel.org) for quiet contemplation, the bright and vivid Dan Flavin Installation at Richmond Hall (1500 Richmond Ave. Tel: 713-525-9400. www.menil.org/richmond-hall), and the exuberant Cy Twombly Gallery (1501 Branard St. Tel: 713-525-9400. www.menil.org/twombly-gallery).
Afterward, it’s onward to Hermann Park just a few steps away from the daunting Texas Medical Center which is the largest medical center in the world, although it looks sleepy on this silent and grey Saturday afternoon. Hermann Park is home to many of the city’s largest museums, including the Children’s Museum, the Houston Zoo and the Health Museum of Natural Science. I brace my Zara high-top sneakers for soggy impact and trudge my way through the trails leading to the leafy and tranquil Japanese Garden (6000 Fannin St. Tel: 713-524-5876www.jgarden.org). Even more rewarding is a stroll around Pioneer Memorial (Hermann Loop Dr at Fannin St. www.houstontx.gov) with its long, contemplative reflection pool and granite obelisk which was erected in 1936 at the centennial of Texas independence.
At Hermann Park’s northernmost point sits a grand circular with a fountain in the middle, not unlike the kind you would see in Europe, and its a regal setting for the Hotel Zaza (5701 Main St. Tel: 713-526-1991. www.hotelzaza.com/houston), an upscale boutique lodging that offers a hat tip to Hollywood, both old and new, with striking black and white portraits of movie stars in the lobby, ballrooms, and meeting rooms. The men’s bathroom, for example, is dedicated to Bogart and the women’s, naturally, to Bacall. It’s a pricier option, but is much closer to downtown and includes a rooftop bar and enviable poolside villas.
I’m pulled back to the Heights neighborhood one last time, the occasion being dinner at Coltivare Pizza and Garden (3320 White Oak Dr. Tel: 713-637-4095. coltivarehouston.com). The specialties here are Italian wood-fired pizzas, but wouldn’t you know it everything here is spectacular, including the big hunk of sausage and potato stuffed bread, garden-picked radishes served with cultured butter and salt and, yes, a simple but filling pepperoni pizza. This might be my favorite Houston restaurant.
There is time and energy for just one bar and tonight it’s the Houston Eagle (611 Hyde Park Blvd. www.eaglehouston.com), an enjoyable but peculiar entry into the nationally known chain of men’s leather bars. Although there is the requisite onsite shop selling jocks, cock rings, lube, etc. this multi-level taproom with ample outdoor space has a sporty vibe and attracts all kinds of patrons from rugged men to twentysomething prepsters. I find myself following around a guy I chatted with earlier on Grindr, but no connection is made. Nevertheless, the shirtless bartender is a hunk and I’m happy to plop down at the bar and be captivated by his goofy smile and innocent flirtations.
On Sunday morning the sun is out at last and Houstonians are out in full force trying to shake off the rain like a soaked dog after a reluctant bath. I join them at the circular loop at Memorial Park where it is estimated that approximately 10,000 people daily lace up and make the three-mile trek around the Memorial Park Gold Course. Everyone is on the trail this morning shirtless, shiny and with dogs in tow, and I don’t blame them; it’s gorgeous out.
With time no longer on my side, I return to Montrose and wait, sun drenched, in the line at Tacos Tierra Caliente (1919 W Alabama St. Tel: 713-584-9359), a food truck serving up knockout breakfast tacos for $1 each. These suckers are mouthwateringly amazing and are served in handmade tortillas which are folded around fluffy, scrambled eggs and smoky, deep red chorizo. They are devilishly spicy when dipped in hot sauce, so be sure to first hit up the convenience store at the end of the parking lot for a large, bottled water.
The only item left on my Houston to do list is to spend a little time poolside so I head to Club Houston (2200 Fannin St. Tel: 713-659-4998. www.the-clubs.com), a member of the nationwide chain of bathhouses for gay and bisexual men, for a naked dip. It’s mellow on this lazy Sunday afternoon and most of the men who have gathered here share my idea of using the club as an opportunity to splash around and soak up a few rays. Surprisingly, the fitness room is seeing some use and the indoor-outdoor whirlpool feels amazing.
On my way out of town I circle back to downtown where I began my journey at the Pastry War on Thursday night, this time to snap an image on the side of a building that caught my eye upon first arriving in town. It is a large sprawling piece of graffiti art painted in bright colors on the side of a brick building and reads: “Houston: Inspired, Hip, Tasty, Funky, Savvy.” I may struggle to believe each of these adjectives are entirely true, but in my mind at least, this is how I always want to remember Houston.