When it comes to entertainment options, downtown Houston has something for everyone. From the quirky to the cool, from sophisticated to hip, whether you’re into the arts or sports or anything in between, downtown has more than enough options to keep you finding new favorite things to do, even as you revisit your old favorites. Arts groups, sports teams, outdoor lovers, even foodies find something to love about downtown and you will too. Your downtown entertainment options this fall include tap dancing, Oktoberfest, and embracing your inner writer. Overwhelmed by all there is? Don’t worry. We’ve made it easy for you. Here’s our A-Z list of what’s happening, hot and fun.
A IS FOR ARCHITECTURE
With its soaring skyscrapers, innovative spaces and meandering bayous, downtown can be architecture overload for the uninitiated. That’s why you need to take a tour from Architecture Center Houston Foundation (September - May). This fall, you can view the city from its very backbone – the banks of Buffalo Bayou. See where Houston began, how it grew and where this modern metropolis is headed. Offered jointly between ArCH and the Buffalo Bayou Partnership, this walking excursion guarantees you’ll get a whole new perspective on Downtown.
“The Architecture Center Houston Foundation tours are designed to be interesting, informative and entertaining for both Houstonians and visitors,” says Rusty Bienvenue, AIA Houston executive director. “On these tours, you not only experience world-class architecture by some of the biggest names of the 20th and 21st centuries, but you also learn why these buildings are important, what motivated the people that made them and how the buildings have contributed to the Houston community.”
The two-hour tour meets at Market Square Park. $10 for AIA, ArCh and Bayou Buddy members; $20 for nonmembers. aiahouston.org/Tour.cfm
B IS FOR BLUES
You know it when you hear it, those sultry, scratchy tones, singing out about tough luck, love gone bad and living through it all. It’s the blues, baby, and Houston’s got ‘em. The Houston Blues Society is dedicated to the study, research and preservation of blues culture and the imprint this unique music style has made. Monthly blues jams, socials and concerts are all part of the society’s ongoing efforts to showcase Houston, Texas and Gulf Coast music and artists. Their full calendar promises an array of great musicians and good fellowship.
If you like your blues with a little dose of rock ‘n’ roll, Houston’s main address is House of Blues. A full concert calendar with music styles from blues to rock to everything in between, HOB has all you need for a night out on the town. Don’t miss the weekly Sunday gospel brunch, the next best thing to going to church. On the menu are Southern soul food favorites and on stage are some of the biggest names in gospel. Sing out, Houston. Sing dem blues. houstonbluessociety.org
C IS FOR CINEMA
New York has TriBeCa. Park City has Sundance.
And Houston has the Houston Cinema Arts Festival. This annual event showcases innovative filmmaking and media installations designed to offer the best of the Bayou City’s diverse cultural scene. Started back in 2007, HCAS aims to broaden the public’s understanding and appreciation of contemporary cinema and its indelible ties to the creative arts.
This November, five full days of film and arts appreciation take over downtown. Look for more than 40 screenings of films and documentaries, including the world premiere of Art Car: the Movie, following a team of local artists as they prepare for Houston’s 2010 Art Car Parade.
The weeklong celebration of all things Houston cinema will introduce you to some of the top talent in movie making and multimedia. Watch out, Hollywood. Houston is ready for our close up. cinemartsociety.org
D IS FOR DIVERSE
Lovers of the Houston arts scene have long lauded DiverseWorks, a funky space on the edge of downtown, tucked away from the glittering lights of more mainstream arts. A beacon for experimental and contemporary arts, DiverseWorks is a space where innovation comes alive and artists test new ideas.
The center hosts a theater space, an art gallery and Flickerlounge, a co-presentation with the Aurora Picture Show, also known for its edgy and contemporary approach to art. The lounge offers rotating full-length films throughout the year, showcasing an eclectic array of styles and approaches to the medium.
“There are usually two to five films in the Flicker Lounge,” says Mary Magsmen, curator of Flickerlounge. “And those are designed to complement or contrast what’s on display in the main gallery.” At press time, the fall schedule was still in flux, but you can see the full listing of programming online. diverseworks.org
E IS FOR EXPLORE
If you’re looking for something different, something new, and a chance to talk with artists about why they do what they do and how they make it happen, Hardy Street Studios have just what you need. A must-visit stop on Houston’s Art Crawl, Hardy Street is a space where art runs wild, across a variety of media.
Their Third Saturdays Open Studios, offered on the third Saturday of every month, is a chance to meet artists and see this cool studio space. Third Saturdays are not only an opportunity to see different styles of artwork on display, but also provide a chance to purchase unique pieces, and hear the artists tell you the back story behind their creations. Better yet, Hardy Street Studios’ Warehouse District location feels like a funky, on-the-edge-of-being-discovered spot. You’ll feel like you’re on the cutting edge of art exploration.
Details about upcoming artists and works on display in the main studio space are sill in the works, but you can get the 411 online. hardystreetstudios.blogspot.com.
F IS FOR FOCUS
Since 1983, FotoFest has been at the intersection of art and ideas, showcasing world-class photography and educating the public on how pictures bring us the world, and how images can create change. More than simply a presenter of art, FotoFest sponsors programming that introduces young people to photography and an educational series designed to demonstrate how photography and literacy enhance each other.
This fall, FotoFest presents an innovative look at the city we love though Houston 175 – People. Celebrating the 175th anniversary of Houston’s founding, and offered in partnership with the Houston Center for Photography, these exhibitions, tours, film series and history conference offer a unique look at the people who populate the Bayou City. You’ll find displays in One and Two Allen Center, named – natch – for the Allen brothers, the founders of Houston.
Later this year, check out International Discoveries III, an exhibit at FotoFest’s Vine Street headquarters, showcasing outstanding work from Asia, Europe, Latin America, Canada and the United States "discovered" by FotoFest curators in 2010 and 2011. fotofest.org
G IS FOR GALLERY
Designed to be a space where artists, the university community and the people of Houston come together, the O’Kane Gallery at the University of Houston – Downtown delivers innovative visual arts and contemporary culture. Open Monday – Saturday, the gallery showcases everything from an annual exhibition of artwork from Houston’s most talented high school artists to the work of UHD students, as well as the creations of artists from around the world.
This fall look for the paintings of New York artist Larry Rushing (Sept. 8 – Oct. 19), whose works are intricate and complex still-life pieces.
“They’re often seen through glass or broken glass,” explains O’Kane Gallery director Mark Cervenka. “So these are images of New York as seen through windows or with a window in the background onto something else.”
Czech artists Barbara Benish’s Chemical Crabs and Other Playthings runs from Oct. 29 – Dec. 8, and features a multimedia installation looking at the health of the ocean.
Cervenka points out that guests won’t want to miss opening day of each exhibit, as the artists will be present to talk with guests and answer questions about their work.
And as part of the Houston 175 initiative, the O’Kane Gallery presents Educating Houston 1836-2011, an exhibit of photos and artifacts that discuss the beginning of the educational system from K-12 and higher ed. It’s at the gallery’s Willow Street Pump Station location Oct 29 – Nov. 6. okanegallery.uhd.edu
H IS FOR HOME RUN
The seventh inning stretch. The slide into home base. The crack of a ball against the bat. These are the sounds of America’s pastime. Baseball fans know that win or lose, rooting for the home team is part of the thrill. And the Houston Astros home at Minute Maid Park is the perfect downtown venue for a game.
The team takes its relationship to Houston seriously, offering a number of community-themed events throughout the season. On sale at games is the third annual pet calendar, featuring poses of players with their pets, with proceeds from the sale going to the Houston Humane Society. Thanks to a partnership with Gallery Furniture, Astros fans can nominate veterans to receive free tickets to an Astros game and $15 in spending money. The honored veterans even receive special seats at the ballpark, with a special, patriotic design.
You can still catch matchups this season with Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Colorado and St. Louis. Pick up tickets at the Minute Maid Park box office or online. astros.com
I IS FOR INK
Houston’s literary scene is made all the better thanks to the presence of Inprint Houston an arts organization dedicated to the written word. Lovers of literature know that Inprint sponsors readings and evenings with authors through the Margaret Root Brown Reading Series, offering a diversity of talent and styles. And kids have their own events thanks to Inprint’s Cool Brains series.
Writers, though, flock to Inprint’s Writers Workshops, a series offered three times each year, where they can explore their craft, learn more about submitting work for publication and experiencing the joy of the written word. The fall workshop lasts for 10 weeks and registration is capped at 12 participants. Each session runs about three hours.
“That way, everybody’s work is considered at least a couple of times throughout the workshop,” says Rich Levy, Inprint’s executive director.
Workshops generally begin with a reading and discussion of a piece of poetry, fiction or creative non-fiction, before moving into a round-table talk about the pieces written by workshop participants. Register online at Inprint’s website. inprinthouston.org
J IS FOR JETE
When the Houston Ballet cut the ribbon on its Center for Dance, it opened the door for a new era for the city’s beloved ballet company. Nine dance studios and a 200-seat performance space are only a few of the bells and whistles the new Preston Street space offers. The six-story, 115,000-square-foot center is the largest professional dance company facility of its kind in the country.
And if you want a unique way to experience the beauty of ballet, consider taking a dance class at the new facility. Both children and adults can take classes through the Houston Ballet Academy. Classes are designed for those with ballet experience and beginners alike. With programs ranging from after-school sessions to drop-in barre exercise classes, there is something for every level of ballet exploration. Students will learn both the basics of ballet, as well as how to perfect their techniques.
Call 713.535.3210 or go online for registration. houstonballet.org
K IS FOR KAYAK
After you take an architecture tour along Buffalo Bayou (see above), be sure to book a tour of the bayou itself. The Buffalo Bayou Partnership and North Lake Conroe Paddling Company sponsor guided kayak tours that take paddlers along part of the lush, 26-mile trail that stretches from I-610 and Woodway to the Sabine Promenade. Kayakers meet at the Woodway location, and $60 buys you admission to the tour, a kayak and paddles, and a shuttle back to the parking lot.
The four-hour tours usually run from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. or 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.. This fall’s dates are Sept. 17, Oct. 15 and Nov. 12, although times had yet to be determined as of press time. All trips must be booked and paid for in advance and there is a one-week cancellation policy. Capacity is 20 paddlers.
The tours offer a fun way to stay fit and experience the city from a unique perspective. buffalobayou.org
L IS FOR LAYUP
Houston sports fans know that the Rockets promise fast-paced excitement on the court of Toyota Center. The Rockets roar into action this fall, and there’s great excitement over the team, thanks to the hiring of new lead assistant coach Kelvin Sampson, two-time NCAA National Coach of the Year. According to Rockets coach Kevin McHale, Sampson and three new assistant coaches will help the team reach its full potential – winning words for both players and fans.
In addition to a regular season packed with excitement and the pulse of the Rockets Power Dancers, the team shows its Houston pride with an array of community outreach activities, both in the Toyota Center and around the city. They provide resources for grassroots basketball, which offers opportunities for young people to explore the sport, and a youth ticket program, where tickets are given to youth-oriented nonprofit organizations around Houston so that disadvantaged kids can come to games.
All that hometown spirit should have you out in the stands, cheering on your team.
M IS FOR MOVIES
Film fans went wild when news hit the streets that Robert Redford’s Sundance Cinema was taking over downtown’s shuttered Angelika Film Center. Backed by a $2.25 million renovation and Sundance’s commitment to showing the best in independent films, downtown moviegoers are greatly anticipating the cinema’s opening on Nov. 1.
This will be the third Sundance Cinema venture, following the opening of cinemas in San Francisco and Madison, Wis. Like the Angelika before it, the new Sundance Cinema will offer both mainstream and indie flicks. Unlike the Angelika, moviegoers now get the chance to reserve specific seats for a showing. Buying your tickets in advance means you can pick your seat. But if you’re more a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants personality, don’t worry. When you get to the box office, you can choose from what’s available. And you’ll still enjoy free parking in the Bayou Place complex.
If you’re looking to make a movie part of a longer night out, the Sundance Cinema will also offer up drinking and dining choices, sure to make it a perfect date spot.
And given that it’s part of the Sundance brand, the new cinema also will feature special programming from film festivals around the world.
N IS FOR NETWORKING
Emerging Leaders, the Houston Downtown Alliance’s young professionals group is the largest of its kind in Houston, with more than 800 members, representing 300 companies.
“Emerging Leaders promotes downtown businesses, supports philanthropic activities, and plans social events all to encourage the professional development of all of our members,” says Karen Stewart, one of the group’s chairs, and the marketing manager for Houston Center.
On the second Thursday of every month, EL sponsors happy hours in venues around downtown, where members can congregate to sample new drinks, chat up colleagues and network their way to success. But Stewart stresses the events are not members-only.
“The happy hours are open to anyone who is interested in EL. EL members serve as ambassadors for the organization and are often the first contact for prospective members.” She says that hosting the events in downtown restaurants and bars helps EL fulfill its mission of supporting local businesses and allows its members and guests to check out the best the city has to offer.
For details about EL and to check out upcoming happy hours, visit the group’s website at houstondowntownalliance.com/EL
O IS FOR OKTOBERFEST
Don’t worry if you can’t make it to Germany for the big beer blowout that is Oktoberfest. Houston has you covered, and Saint Arnold Brewing Company, Houston’s very own craft brewery, is coming to the rescue.
“In Germany, Oktoberfest is celebrated in September,” says Lennie Ambrose, Saint Arnold’s director of events and marketing. “And it’s designed to celebrate the coming of fall.”
Saint Arnold’s celebration happens in October, a two-night bash Oct. 7-8 that will have beer, music and a costume contest.
“Dress in your finest lederhosen and Oktoberfest garb,” advises Ambrose.
On tap for Saint Arnold’s Oktoberfest, which takes place at the brewery’s Lyons Ave. location, will be an Oom-pah band, a German-style meal and plenty of Saint Arnold’s Oktoberfest beer, a seasonal specialty that recently hit the streets.
Admission to Oktoberfest is by ticket only. You can buy yours online. Your ticket includes admission to the fall fest, as well as commemorative ceramic beer mug, with a – you guessed it – German-theme design. And remember, you can take a tour of the brewery every Saturday at 11 a.m. or any weekday at 3 p.m. saintarnold.com
P IS FOR PUBLIC ART
Walk around downtown any day of the week. In addition to the skyscrapers sitting side by side with historic buildings, there’s an array of art. There’s the bronze and cement Henry Moore spindle on Allen Parkway, the red geometric mouse on the corner of McKinney and Bagby in front of the Houston Public Library and the mosaic benches in Market Square Park. Those are just three of the more than 65 pieces of public art around downtown.
From sculptures to busts to tile work, downtown is a public art lover’s dream.
Explosions of color and creativity share space in our busy city, and if you’ve never stopped to notice them, it’s time to slow down your routine.
Begin your public art excursion by going online for listings by geography and ZIP code. You’ll also find maps and artist information. Downtown art lovers can find pieces around Buffalo Bayou, nearby City Hall and its Annex, Market Square Park and other spots. houstontx.gov/municipalart
Q IS FOR QUILTS
Far from being just cozy covers for your bed, quilts are high art. And every year, they take center stage at downtown’s George R. Brown Convention Center. From Nov. 3 – 6, you can check out the dazzling needlework and tremendous artistry behind quilting at the International Quilt Festival Houston.
Thousands of quilts, representing a variety of styles and stitching will be on display during the three-day event. This is your chance to see a centuries-old tradition up close. Splendid colors, rich fabrics, jaw-dropping needlework – if you thought quilts were just bedding, this show is guaranteed to change your mind. You’ll see everything from small quilts to massive wall hangings, works by amateurs and professionals alike. Since 1974, the International Quilt Festival has been showcasing the amazing quilting talents of quilters around the globe.
Daily admission is $10 and can be ordered through the festival website. While you’re there, treat yourself to the festival’s catalogue, which showcases the quilts on display and tells the stories of the artists and their creations.
One trip to the quilt festival and you’ll never think of sewing the same way again. quilts.com
R IS FOR ROLLING ROADSHOW
Moviegoers love the Alamo Drafthouse because it’s a chance to see great movies, while having terrific food and drink brought to your table. What moviegoers may not know is that in partnership with the Downtown District, the Draft House offers up a monthly Rolling Roadshow in Market Square Park. Bring your lawn chairs and blankets and get ready for a good time, as killer movies light up the big screen.
Market Square’s location makes it a perfect pick to see a show. An intimate setting amid Houston’s historic buildings, food provided by some of the city’s favorite restaurants, what more could you ask for in a night out? Fall offerings include Animal House on Sept. 30 and When Harry Met Sally on Nov. 11. marketsquarepark.com
S IS FOR SILENT FILMS
“It’s like a soundtrack to a dream,” says Discovery Green’s Susanne Theis, of the KUHF Silent Film Concert Series. For the last three years, the park has been showing classic silent movies, accompanied by original scores written for the performances by some of the state’s most sought-after music groups.
“These are ensembles who’ve performed at South by Southwest and a host of other film and arts festivals,” says Theis of the performers.
The Silent Film Concert Series gives moviegoers and music lovers alike an original experience. The performers play on a stage set up in the park, while a silent movie shows on an inflatable screen next to the stage. This fall’s performance dates are Sept. 30 and Nov. 4. In September, pianist Loreta Kovacic will perform an original piece. The movie had not been selected as of press time. In November, Austin’s celebrated B versus Moth will offer their take on an original score to the Buster Keaton classic, The Cameraman.
“This whole series is an amazing way for contemporary artists to connect and create a new work of art using classical film,” says Theis. “It’s a bridge between the early part of last century and today.” discoverygreen.com
T IS FOR TAP CLASSES
You toned up your ballet moves with the Houston Ballet; now take on tapping with TUTS. Theatre Under the Stars offers tap dance classes in its studio space at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts. Students of all dance levels, ages 16 and older, are welcome to attend.
This fall, look for a fast-paced, high-energy experience with Cardio Tap, a program that’s sure to polish your tap skills while increasing your heart rate.
Classes are offered on Wednesdays from Sept. 21 – Dec. 14. Beginners take the stage from 11 a.m. – noon, while the more advanced among you can strut your stuff from noon – 1 p.m. All this toe tapping will set you back $15 per class, but you’re guaranteed to have a blast as you explore the world of dance and give yourself a great workout.
“The class is designed for tappers and non-tappers to enjoy a cardio workout with their tap shoes during the lunch break hour,” says TUTS Misty Robertson. “You will learn to improve memory and work through tap steps.”
To sign up, call TUTS' Humphreys School of Musical Theatre at 713.558.8801 or go online and download a registration form. You also can email HSMT@TUTS.com for more information.tuts.com
U IS FOR UNDERGROUND
Going to the Catastrophic Theatre always feels a little subversive, like you’re taking on mainstream culture and getting in its face. It’s a great feeling.
The downtown troupe offers up contemporary comedies and dramatic performances in the form of works by emerging writers and well-known playwrights alike. Edgy, experimental and always entertaining, Catastrophic this fall mounts There is a Happiness That Morning Is, the story of two admirers of poet William Blake. They get carried away with their passion and make love in a public park. The following morning they have to apologize for getting carried away, or successfully defend their lustful act – or lose their position as tenured professors.
Written by Mickle Maher, the play is delivered entirely in rhyme, and consists of an idealistic and an impassioned lecture. Funny and thought provoking, There is a Happiness That Morning Is is the type of contemporary theater Catastrophic does best. catastrophictheatre.com
V IS FOR VOLUNTEER
So, you want to see all that Houston’s performing arts scene has to offer, but you’re a little cash strapped at the moment? No worries. You can volunteer and see the show for free and be giving back to the theater community at the same time.
While many of Houston’s main theaters use professional ushers, Alley Theatre has a program that allows volunteers to work in a number of capacities, in exchange for seeing shows on the main stage.
The volunteers work in many areas and support a variety of Alley programs. “Our hundreds of volunteer ushers give the first and most lasting impression to Alley patrons and are responsible for the welcoming, guidance, safety and comfort of our audience members,” said Joe Angel Babb. director of education and community engagement “We couldn’t do what we do without the support of our volunteers.”
If you’re interested in ushering at the Alley Theatre for its 65th season, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and to learn about other volunteering opportunities at the Alley, e-mail email@example.com
W IS FOR WOOF
You gotta love a city that loves its pets the way Houston does. This Oct. 14-15, check out Barkitecture at Houston Pavilions. The two-day event shows off the best in doghouse design by some of Houston’s best architects, designers, builders and artists.
The creations will be auctioned off, and 100 percent of the proceeds will benefit Pup Squad, an animal rescue group whose goal is to rescue orphaned puppies, kittens and nursing litters from the streets and other life-threatening situations and match them with adoptive homes, as well as to provide support and education to these adopters and the community at large.
Barkitecture kicks off with a Yappy Hour on Oct. 14. The doghouses will be on display and available for purchase through a silent auction from noon – 6 p.m. on Oct. 15. At the same time, you can even adopt a pet to go with that doghouse you’re bidding on. You’re welcome to bring your current pets along; just remember they need to be on a leash at all times. barkitecturehouston.com
X IS FOR “X-TREME”
Experience what’s thought to be the largest cradle in the country at downtown’s Lee and Joe Jamail Skatepark, a 30,000-square-foot, in-ground facility at 103 Sabine.
The skate park welcomes skaters and roller bladders of all levels daily from 9 a.m. – 10 p.m. The only request to use the park is that you have proper equipment: skateboards and roller blades only, and a helmet with a chinstrap.
The facility is the first world-class, in-ground skatepark in the Houston region, and has for skaters from the seasoned pro to the beginner – skaters can work on their kick flip, ollie, fakie big spin...or simply learn to stay balanced! Occasionally, the park hosts classes, and you can call the park directly at 713.222.5500 for additional details.
Even you’re not ready to get on a board yourself, visit anyway. You’ll catch kids of all ages showing off their tricks and perfecting their sport, always a fun sight to see.
Y IS FOR YUMMY
Houstonians know Phoenicia Specialty Foods for its mammoth west Houston location, where you can purchase everything from fruit spreads from Armenia to spices from Zaire. This summer, downtowners got excited when Phoenicia moved into the space at One Park Place, bringing with it all those specialty foods as well as a café concept that offers up some of the best Middle Eastern fare in town.
The centerpiece of this one-stop shop for foods and sundries is its conveyer belt, where you can watch as Phoenicia bakers form fresh dough into bread, send it along the kitchens, then take the finished loaves, bag them and put them on the shelves.
It’s a sight that makes foodies everywhere weep with delight.
Just don’t forget to tear yourself away from the action long enough to try the eggplant Ikra, a crazy-good delight made of eggplant and tomato, slightly sweet and perfect as a spread or with a bunch of Phoenicia-made pita bread, or grab yourself a Turkish coffee and an apple pie baklava. One bite and you’ll understand why the downtown food landscape just got a whole lot more fun. phoeniciafoods.com
Z IS ZUMBA
Kick up your heels for Zumba, the high-energy workout craze that’s sweeping the nation and turning even the most two-left-footed among us into dancing fools. The dance/fitness workout was created by a Colombian choreographer and infuses elements of Latin dancing with traditional exercise.
“It really is one of our more popular exercise classes,” says Discovery Green’s Susanne Theis. “It’s never less than 250 participants and it can go as high as 400.”
You don’t need any fancy equipment, and you don’t need to have any experience with Zumba to take part. If this sounds like your kind of experience, join the crowd and make new friends every Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.
Zumba takes place at Discovery Green’s Anheuser Busch Stage. It’s free, although you will be asked to sign in and sign an indemnity waiver. The class is led by ACE certified personal trainer, Oscar Sajche, who can help you take your hum-drum workout routine and turn it into a high-spirited party. discoverygreen.com