Friday, June 13, 2008

The Heights: Culture of Relax

Heights Boulevard is lined with Victorian homes dating back to the founding of the neighborhood as a city in 1891. The Heights is slightly higher in elevation than the rest of the city. Most of the residents are families in small bungalows or new townhomes, although the neighborhood deed restrictions have kept new buildings to a strict emulation of existing architecture.

North of Montrose between Buffalo Bayou and 610 Loop North, the Heights is another bohemian area of the city. Rock and roll stalwart Fitzgerald’s sits at the corner of Studemont and White Oak, and is surrounded by a growing scene of ice houses and restaurants. Both Onion Creek and Dry Creek restaurants come highly recommended for delicious casual fare. Further north in the neighborhood is a strip of boutiques and galleries on 19th Street where they also hold the Yale Street Art Market every month.

Doug and Don's Barber Shop; featured in Rushmore

The Art Car Museum is located on the south side of I-10 on Heights Boulevard. A free museum, art cars can be seen outside the museum and an exhibit of local artists indoors. RIP Tom Jones.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Montrose: Bohemian Bayou

The Montrose District is a grid of neighborhoods lined with Live Oaks and teeming with youth culture. Directly west of downtown Houston, Montrose holds many treasures if one is willing to look hard and slow down. In their current state you should drive slowly because of the condition of the streets anyway. The neighborhood is very green, and it seems as if the bayou is threatening to take over at any moment. The residents are a mix of young professionals, students, young families and immigrants. The most tolerant Houston neighborhood, people from all walks of life travel to Montrose to experience the carefree attitude and alternative culture.


At the corner of Westheimer and Dunlavy Street sits Brazil Café, a brick coffee house shaded by ivy and trees that is a favorite among locals. Nearby Agora Café offers an escapist cocoon and Empire Café is a fashionable eatery two blocks down past rows of antique shops. Several vintage clothing stores and fashionable boutiques line the street between Dunlavy and Mandell Street. Also located here is the hip bar Poison Girl, and one block further east are several popular local bars.

The Menil Collection is located at the corner of Mandell and Sul Ross, with parking available on Alabama Street. Admission is always free. The museum owns many of the neighboring houses, and they have preserved the look of the 1930s homes along with the nearby University of St. Thomas. A trip to the Menil is one of the most rewarding activities in Houston, and the architecture by Renzo Piano complements the tranquil shady neighborhood with simplicity and a ceiling open to natural light, which bathes the art inside with an illuminating tenderness.

Besides the main building there are several other interesting sites nearby. A beautiful gallery dedicated to the paintings of Cy Twombly employs a transparent ceiling, and the conceptual and emotional paintings take on different tones at different points in the day.

The Rothko Chapel is a world renowned non-denominational cultural site; it has held interfaith dialogues, musical and spiritual events from most world religions and is a modern meditative environment. The Chapel houses a series of paintings by Mark Rothko, one of the most successful of the abstract expressionists.

“The Rothko Chapel is alive with religious ceremonies of all faiths and diverse programs to engage audiences intellectually, artistically and spiritually. It is a place where the experience and understanding of all traditions and cultures are encouraged and made available.” – The Rothko Chapel Mission statement

Also nearby is the Houston Center for Photography, the Watercolor Art Society of Houston, The Dan Flavin Pavilion installed in an old roller rink, the Chapel of St. Basil at St. Thomas designed by Philip Johnson and exhibits by young artists at the Joanna Gallery.

For great Greek food stop by Niko Niko’s on Montrose- try the roasted potatoes. For amazing breakfasts check out Baby Barnaby’s or Baba Yega’s. Dallas Street near Montrose Avenue was where the film Reality Bites were based. River Oaks Theatre is the oldest theatre in town, now it shows art house films and I used to work there. Next door is the French bakery Epicure Café, where we go for croissants. 59 Diner and Le Peep are two great diner choices, located across the street from each other at the junction of Shepherd Avenue and 59 South. I waited tables at both of them in the past. Another old job of mine was at Bookstop at the corner of Alabama and Shepherd. A beautiful bookstore housed in one of the oldest theatres in town, the environment is surreal.