Off Duty: Houston

It used to be said that "a few days in Houston isn't a getaway, it's a sentence". Not any more...


Why?


The website
houstonitsworthit.com recently invited residents to say what they liked about their sprawling oil-rich city. One answer ran: "If Houston were a dog, she'd be a mutt with three legs, one bad eye, fleas the size of corn nuts and buck teeth. Despite all that, she'd be the best dog you'll ever know."

America’s fourth-largest city isn’t pretty but it’s energetic, gutsy and BIG. Houston’s reputation rests on big fortunes, big egos and big portions. No one does anything by halves in Houston, especially in restaurants. But there’s a subtler, self-deprecating side, too. Don’t forget this is the city that produced America's ambassadors of cool Wes Anderson, Owen Wilson and Lyle Lovett. There’s more to enjoy here than margaritas, barbecues and NASA.

This spring is a good time to be in Houston because the city is showing off how cultural it can be. From 28-30 March, there’ll be the annual outdoor gallery at the Bayou City Art Festival Memorial Park ( bayoucityartfestival.com) featuring 300 artists working in 19 different media plus wine cafés and entertainment on the performing arts stage (admission $10).

In April, over two weekends (19–20 and 26–27), iFest, the 37th Houston International Festival ( ifest.org), honours arts “Out of Africa”, with continuous music and dance on 10 stages. The line-up includes the Wailers, performing the classic hits of Bob Marley, Chicago blues guitar hero Buddy Guy, and New Orleans funk masters the Neville Brothers, plus South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela leading a Pan-African finale on 27 April.

This is followed on May 1 by Ensemble Theatre ( ensemblehouston.com), the city’s leading black company, opening its new show “Ashes to Africa”.

As for the plastic arts, during March and April, the Museum of Fine Arts in Bissonnet St ( mfah.org) is hosting exhibitions of 5,000 years of Korean Art and Culture, a Retrospective of 50 prints by Bill Brandt, contemporary art from the People's Republic of China and the first US showing of Damien Hirst’s End Game. Get out there and enjoy, people.

What?

No one comes to Houston for the architecture. The city has seven miles of pedestrian air-conditioned tunnels precisely so that you don’t have to look at it. What’s inside those buildings is fascinating, however.

The Museum of Fine Arts is a must, as is the Menil Collection at 1515 Sul Ross Street ( menil.org) for its Surrealist collection. The Rothko Chapel, also on Sul Ross Street ( rothkochapel.org), offers free admission to see 14 of Mark Rothko's largest canvases.

Bayou Bend Collection at 1 Westcott Street ( mfah.org/bayoubend) houses one of the biggest collections of North American decorative arts inside a 1920s ante-bellum pastiche mansion (Admission $10). The new Byzantine Fresco Chapel on Yupon Street ( menil.org/byzantine.html) contains a rare pair of 13th-century frescoes smuggled out of Cyprus.

Where?

Food is a way of life in Houston. For Cajun try Soul on the Bayeaux, at 3717 Dowling Street, "The Ultimate in Creole Dining" in the heart of Houston's rehabilitated Third Ward. Ask if the fried alligator appetiser ($5.95) is available.

Goode Company Barbeque chain, at 5109 Kirby Drive, is great for a snack of ribs and potato salad and jalapeño beans ($8.95). The wine bar La Carafe, at 813 Congress Street, once served as a stop on the Pony Express. Now it’s an ideal downtown pitstop before an evening out.

Blanco's Bar & Grill, at 3406 West Alabama Street, has live country acts on Thursdays and Fridays to get you dancing

For somewhere to lay your head, see if there are rooms at the bijou Patrician Bed and Breakfast, 1200 Southmore Boulevard ( texasbnb.com/no_frames/sites.htm), one of the few establishments within walking distance of many of the city's attractions. Rooms cost from $85 a night midweek.

Alternatively, the 315-room ZaZa, at 5701 Main Street ( hotelzaza.com), is in easy walking distance of the museum district and is glittery and wholly over the top. The lobby is dominated by a sculpture of a woman crouching in a cage and fashion plates that are decidedly risqué by American standards. Rooms begin at $255.

Wow!

Make sure to visit Hermann Park off Fannin Street to catch the monument to Sam Houston. Not many people know that between 1836 and 1845 the eponymous Houston was twice elected president of the independent Republic of Texas.

News
Actor Burt Reynolds last year
peopleBurt Reynolds, once among the most bankable actors in Hollywood, is set to auction his memorabilia
News
Gordon and Tana Ramsay arrive at the High Court, London
newsTV chef gives evidence against his father-in-law in court case
News
people

Watch the spoof Thanksgiving segment filmed for Live!
News
The data shows that the number of “unlawfully” large infant classes has doubled in the last 12 months alone
i100Mike Stuchbery, a teacher in Great Yarmouth, said he received abuse
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of The Guest Cat – expect to see it everywhere
books
News
i100 Charity collates series of videos that show acts of kindness to animals
Arts and Entertainment
One of the installations in the Reiner Ruthenbeck exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery
artCritics defend Reiner Ruthenbeck's 'Overturned Furniture'
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager - Bristol

    £31000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the UK, the major project fo...

    h2 Recruit Ltd: Sales Executive - Meetings & Events (MICE) - £40,000 OTE

    £30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits: h2 Recruit Ltd: Are you a high achieving...

    h2 Recruit Ltd: Account Executive - Hotel Reservation Software - £40,000 OTE

    £30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits: h2 Recruit Ltd: A rapidly growing Hotel ...

    Recruitment Genius: Tyre Technician / Mechanic

    £15000 - £16800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Tyre Technician / Mechanic is...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game