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The Best of the City

As the new year dawns, Houstonians awake to an exciting era of artistic and cultural milestones, marvelous menus at top restaurants and spas, intriguing interior design and bountiful boutiques with flawless fashion. Here’s what’s fabulous for ’15. Plus, our first-ever readers’ poll!

The art of Mel Chin, whose retrospective shows in four venues this month (see “Culture”)

BEST OF THE CITY | CULTURE

Home on the (Wide) Range
Since assuming his position as curator of collections for the Menil Collection in June, 38-year-old Paul Davis has been busy. Moving his wife and 2-year-old boy from South Africa, where he researched post-colonial African art and modernism, was the relatively easy part; updating the world-renowned semi-private museum’s catalogue and thinking about future exhibits was the challenge. Although the museum is intimate, it offers incredible diversity, ranging from pop iconography by Warhol to African tribal art—including a signature piece by Malian artist Abdoulaye Konaté that was the subject of the handsome curator’s doctoral work while at Indiana University, Bloomington. “The collection is truly reflective of Houston, which is constantly becoming more diverse,” he says, “and the collection needs to continue to change with the city on that kind of level.”

On the Chin
Houston-born Mel Chin has quite the homecoming this month, simultaneously displaying work at the Blaffer Museum, Asia Society Texas, Contemporary Art Museum Houston and the Station Museum of Contemporary Art. The retrospective, titled Mel Chin: Rematch and curated by the New Orleans Museum of Art, includes 60 works, ranging from sculptures and drawings to collaborative projects and site-specific installations, all exploring politics, culture and humans’ impact on the environment. Chin, famous for integrating activism into his art, will give talks on Jan. 17 at each of the four museums displaying portions of the retrospective, the first of which is at
noon at the Blaffer. “Points of view established in the past are no longer up to date,” says the artist about his work and the retrospective. “It’s time for a rematch.”

Readers’ Choice: Performance Venues
From auditoriums and amphitheaters to a rough-hewn dance hall, these haunts are hip with Houstonians.

1. Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga perform together at this outdoor concert venue in the Woodlands this spring. Look for Lana Del Rey and Idina Menzel, of the wildly popular Frozen soundtrack, this summer. 2005 Lake Robbins Dr., 281.363.3300 2. Alley Theatre Upon completion of an extensive $46.5 million renovation of its theater, the company returns to Downtown in the fall. Until then, catch performances like All My Sons and Tristan & Yseult at the troupe’s temporary University of Houston location. 615 Texas Ave., 713.220.5700 3. Miller Outdoor Theatre Hermann Park’s outdoor performing space cools off in the winter months but restarts its season of free events in late March. 6000 Hermann Park Dr., 832.487.7102 4. Wortham Center The two-theater home of the Houston Ballet and Houston Grand Opera also holds dozens of social events and special performances annually. HGO produces Madame Butterfly and The Magic Flute at the end of the month. 501 Texas Ave., 713.237.1439 5. Fitzgerald’s This Heights music venue opened in 1918 as a Polish dance hall and in 1977 became a prime pit stop for bands coming through town. Animal Collective plays in February, and new-wave singer Twin Shadow comes in March. 2706 White Oak Dr., 713.862.3838

Ghost Story
Although he now lives in Boston, there is no denying that Thomas McNeely is a Houstonian. In fact, the first page of his recently published novel, Ghost Horse, begins with: “Last day of fifth grade, Houston, Texas, 1975: the time before Star Wars.” The autobiographically inspired bildungsroman tells the tale of growing up through the eyes of a boy, split between east and west Houston, who must learn to navigate complex relations between races and classes. Because the novel is so politically charged, McNeely was turned away by several New York publishing houses before Gival Press picked it up. “Houston has its own, strong identity,” he explains, “and that’s precisely what is intimidating.”

Da Camera Ready
The National Endowment for the Arts awarded chamber music powerhouse Da Camera, known for intimate jazz and classical concerts set in various venues, a $50,000 grant in December. The grant, double the size of any previous one won by the organization, will directly fund its 2015-16 season. Expect highlights like the Danish String Quartet, lauded by The New York Times for its impeccable technique and talent, performing in the Menil. Later in March, there will be a standout performance by Houston drummer Kendrick Scott at the Wortham Center.

The Lowe Down
Once upon a time, Rick Lowe thought he might be a flash in the pan. “I didn’t think I’d last very long,” the artist says, “but here I am 30 years later.” His unique Project Row Houses, a collection of more than 70 formerly blighted, now revitalized buildings in the Third Ward repurposed as live-work spaces for artists, is not only thriving; it’s earned him a spot on President Obama’s National Council of the Arts and, in the fall, it scored him a coveted MacArthur Grant for $625,000. There’s no doubt among the urban-renewal faithful that Lowe’s “social sculpture,” as he calls it, has been a dominant force in the second coming of one of the city’s most historic districts—and in the ascendance of Houston as a world-class arts town.

Top Five: Artists to Watch in ’15
1. Syd Moen
Famed for her fantastical landscape photos—usually morphed into floating spherical forms—Moen takes on a new project this year at the silos near Winter Street Studios that will feature her first-ever videography. 

2. Ben Woitena
In addition to exhibitions in Abilene, Midland and San Angelo, this Houston artist will unveil a new large-scale, abstract geometric sculpture at Downtown’s Heritage Plaza. The curtain drops on Jan. 28 at noon.

3. Karin Broker
The Rice art professor moves into a 6,000-square-foot studio/gallery/living space in Garden Oaks this year. Her gothic drawings are also featured in two books hitting shelves this spring, one of which is published in the U.K.

4. Fariba Abedin
This geometric abstractionist—think kaleidoscopes—has a reception for a new videography installation at Spring Street Studios on Feb. 5 at 6pm. She also displays this year at Dallas’ MADI Museum & Gallery.

5. Paul Fleming
Puffer-Sweiven has commissioned an installation by Fleming for its extensive corporate collection. Additionally, the artist—known for covering walls with dots of color—has a show at the Barbara Davis gallery in the fall.

BEST OF THE CITY | BEAUTY

Readers’ Choice: Sensational Spas
Get pampered at these fan-favorite spas that rubbed our readers the right way.

1. Trellis at the Houstonian For those needing an escape from the hustle of Houston city life, tranquil, highest-end Trellis is nestled in the wooded grounds of the Houstonian and offers a range of services using products from Natura Bissé, Decléor and others. The pedicure is among the best in town! 111 N. Post Oak Ln., 713.685.6790 2. Sanctuary Spa In business for 30 years and newly relocated to a larger spot on Shepherd, Sanctuary boasts luxurious massage and facial packages, plus hydrotherapy treatments like the new Moon Bath hair-bleaching one that brightens body hair and leaves skin feeling silky and smelling amazing. 1701 S. Shepherd Dr., 713.622.7722 3. Alira Boutique Spa This quaint, competent spa and salon, housed in a bungalow on West Alabama in Montrose, has a Gentleman’s Facial that uses Scotch whisky. 1619 W. Alabama St., 713.523.6000 4. Fiori Spa A Tuscan getaway near the Galleria boasts a thermal mineral pool and eucalyptus-infused steam bath, plus a relaxing outdoor wine garden for a post-treatment refreshment. 2613 Potomac Dr., 713.244.0070 5. Urban Oasis Day Spa This Midtown spot caters to a biz-savvy crowd with its Express menu of services, to which customers can tack on a $15 lunch that will be packaged to-go upon completion of a deep-cleansing facial, Swedish massage or mani-pedi. 3201 Louisiana St., 713.521.9990

Super Beautiful
While superfoods have become all the rage at Houston’s hottest restaurants—hello, kale and quinoa!—two Houstonians have discovered that one particular superfood boasts beauty benefits, too. Steven Jefferies and his aunt, Kelley Walker, founded the skincare and haircare line Chia Derm+ earlier this year, utilizing the antioxidant- and amino-acid-rich chia seed extract in raved-about products. The silky Serum is a restorative spot-treatment of the face, hands and hair, and the Balm is a luxe emollient. 832.987.3207

Cutting In
Even while offering a view of a quintessential Houston ’hood, Highland Village’s new second-story Maison Luisant (4059 Westheimer Rd., 713.505.1560) salon, with hair, makeup, skincare and massage services, actually transports its patrons to Paris. Glam chandeliers, high ceilings and gilded mirrors recall a Parisian loft, while multiple fireplaces throughout the 6,500-square-foot space add warmth—literally! Meanwhile, in the Heights, Black Sheep Parlor (1901 N. Shepherd Dr., 832.742.5205) is also new. Decked out in a colorful mix of retro decor—think black-and-white checkered floors and a purple gothic Victorian sofa—it offers equally vibrant hair styling. (It’s not unusual for customers’ locks to match the furniture!) And West U’s Studio A Salon (2405 Sunset Blvd., 713.859.1591) has moved into a larger space next door, outfitted by interior designer Margaret Naeve with luxurious touches like Italian-leather chairs and massaging shampoo bowls. Say ahh!

Top Five: Spa and Salon Exclusives
1. Chrysalis
In addition to dozens of skincare lines often only spotted at the dermatologist’s office, Sabina Khan Benavides’ spa has unique treatments like the “back facial” ($125), for smoothing skin on the back. 2615 Southwest Fwy., 713.522.2111

2. Organic Spa Houston
The still-new outfit located in the penthouse suite of the Bayou Bend Towers has a unique alternative to laser hair removal called depilar (from $15), which involves an enzyme-based gel applied directly to the skin. 5201 Memorial Dr., 832.589.6221

3. Skindustry
Some of Jaclyn Losie’s customers fly in from across the country to receive her personalized facials (from $65) that include ultrasonic vibration and extractions. She’ll resume taking new clients in the spring. 3400 Bissonnet St., 713.501.9552

4. Solution for Hair & Makeup
Amber Carroll is one of two stylists in Texas to offer a method of hair extensions called Natural Beaded Rows, a customizable tape- and glue-free process that takes less than three hours to complete. 1800 Westheimer Rd., 713.526.4545

5. Tre Spa
Tre Spa, the exclusive Houston purveyor of the Original & Mineral haircare line and Tauer Perfumes, has opened a blowout-only salon inside The Core gym. 2516 Sunset Blvd., 713.523.7800; 4665 Southwest Fwy., 713.523.7800

Pretty Kitty
Aubrie Layne’s enviably effortless, retro-glam glow has some extra wattage this new year, thanks to the successful opening of her Lucky Cat Beauty studio in Montrose. After honing her skills with Laura Mercier and a stint last year at West Ave’s Vanity Lounge, she’s stepped out on her own to provide clients with makeup, brow-styling and eyelash-application services—plus a selection of new, Lucky Cat-branded products. Expect vegan eyelashes and tools to assist in perfect DIY lash placement. Now that’s the cat’s meow. 212 Stratford St., 281.773.4259

Counter Culture
In the fall, Givenchy debuted a coveted collection of beauty products at its in-store boutique inside Neiman Marcus, one of just two of its kind in the country. The setup features the L’Atelier de Givenchy fragrance line—each of the seven scents is inspired by the fashion house’s couture looks—and an array of makeup and skincare products. One unique offering is the Rouge Interdit Magic lipstick ($30), which appears black in the tube, but glides on in a uniquely beautiful berry color—a different shade on everyone, depending on how the formula reacts to an individual’s pH balance. Neiman Marcus, 713.621.7100

BEST OF THE CITY | STYLE

Shop Talk
In Travel & Leisure’s November list of “America’s Favorite Cities,” Houston was named the “best” spot in the country for several things, including hamburgers and brunch—and boutiques. Local fashionistas don’t disagree. Just this past fall, a trio of well-edited, independently owned shops bowed in River Oaks, including Maryam Afshari’s two-story Baanou (1309 S. Shepherd Dr., 713.505.1347), where pieces by Roksanda Ilincic share rack space with dresses made by teenage design sensation Amir Taghi. Nearby, Brooke Feather’s (2020 W. Gray St., 713.520.0211) eponymous boutique boasts a Cali-chic aesthetic echoed in its selection of breezy knits and accessories. And just-opened Salt Studio (2015 W. Gray St., 832.804.8404) has a mix of party frocks and boho accessories by Bardot, Stella & Jamie and more.

Prints Charming
Houston has become a hub for textile design, as in Rusty Arena’s artful fabrics often used for upholstery, and fashion designer David Peck’s gorgeous prints that appear in his couture gowns and ready-to-wear blouses and frocks. And now, local artist Kari Breitigam incorporates her beautiful embroidery work and textile design in pieces like geometric pendant necklaces and hand-painted, hand-stitched clutches with tassels. Houston-based accessories line Manoosh also blends art with fashion, offering cashmere scarves and journals with silk covers printed with works by local painters.

Readers’ Choice: Local Designers
As the city’s star rises in the fashion universe, these Houstonians are shining bright.

1. Chloe Dao The Project Runway winner, whose eponymous boutique in Rice Village remains popular, debuted her Spring 2015 collection at Fashion Houston in November, featuring graphic prints in a muted color palette, plus a handful of flowy floral frocks. 6127 Kirby Dr., 713.807.1565 2. David Peck In 2014, the designer moved into a huge new Montrose spot that serves as both his showroom and manufacturing space, plus he designed the uniforms for the staff of the hip new JW Marriott hotel Downtown. Up next? His collection of 30 unique masks for the next month’s masquerade-themed Houston Ballet Ball. 2515 Morse St., 713.524.3482 3. Jonathan Blake Young Jonathan Tinkle’s newest collection makes use of several intriguing fabrics such as a emerald-green stingray pattern. 4544 Post Oak Place Dr., Suite 220, 713.960.1514 4. Kendra Scott Austin-based Kendra Scott, known for her colorful baubles at accessible price points, has taken Houston by storm, opening three area stores in recent years. 2411 Times Blvd., 713.965.4056; and other locations 5. Elaine Turner H-Town’s accessories queen just opened her 10th boutique, in BLVD Place. 1700 Post Oak Blvd., 713.621.8485; and other locations

The Bling Ring
The new year is off to a shiny start amid reports that three luxury jewelers—Cartier, Chopard and De Boulle Diamond & Jewelry—are headed to the new River Oaks District mixed-use development which, despite the location implied in its name, will actually open later this year on Westheimer near the Galleria. Meanwhile, inside the mall, upscale watch shop Tourbillon is now open, as is Rolex’s first Texas boutique. And Bulgari, which celebrated its 130th anniversary last year with a blockbuster exhibition and bash at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, and De Beers are both touting beautiful renovations.

Haute Comes Home
Coco Chanel famously had an apartment above the fashion house’s store on rue Cambon in Paris. “It’s still there today, maintained as she decorated it,” says Barbara Cirkva, division president of Chanel. And now, the brand’s Galleria boutique has reopened, bringing a piece of that residence to Houston. To update its look, New York architect Peter Marino pulled inspiration from Coco’s color palette—black and white accented by softs pinks—and her furniture, art and accessories. “Coco had a pair of bronze deer standing in front of her fireplace, so Peter commissioned from Mark Swanson a stag sculpture done in crystal to reflect this,” explains Cirkva. The entire store is “residential” in feel, “where one room flows into the next,” she adds—“not just a large empty space with clothing in it.” But the clothing is not to be forgotten! Chanel’s new cruise collection fills racks now. Says Cirkva, “I think it’s going to be a true favorite with the Houston ladies.” In the Galleria, 713.850.0055

Top Five: Buzzy Men’s Boutiques
1. Dryden Kreps
With both funky-casual and formal looks by designers such as Zachary Prell and Jack Spade, 2-year-old Dryden Kreps can outfit a fashion-forward guy for any occasion. In CityCentre, 713.984.9884

2. John Varvatos
The edgy designer, who pulls inspiration for his collections from rock ‘n’ roll music, opened his first Texas outpost in the Galleria in the summer. In the Galleria, 713.589.7145

3. Polo Ralph Lauren
Ralph Lauren’s sporty menswear—and, for the first time, a line for women—can now be found in the Galleria near Louis Vuitton. In the Galleria, 713.850.9330

4. Sid Mashburn
Atlanta-based husband-wife duo Sid and Ann Mashburn brought their eponymous, next-door his-and-hers shops to Houston a year ago. Find great boots, button-downs and bespoke services for him. 2515 River Oaks Blvd., 713.936.9502

5. Suitsupply
Year-old Suitsupply offers custom and off-the-rack suiting in endless fabric options, plus all the right accessories. In West Ave, 713.999.9050

BEST OF THE CITY | DESIGN

Readers’ Choice: Favorite Home Design Store
Deck your home with mod finds from these five favorite contemporary furnishing stores.

1. Kuhl-Linscomb As far as Houston design devotees are concerned, the huge and growing Upper Kirby campus of Kuhl-Linscomb is a contender for Eighth Wonder of the World. 2424 W. Alabama St., 713.526.6000 2. High Fashion Houston At High Fashion Home, upscale and mod-minded furnishings, many surprisingly affordable, are displayed in hip vignettes on all four floors. Designer fabrics are next door. 3100 Travis St., 713.528.3838 3. Internum Still fairly new, Internum, created in 2010, has earned its reputation for curating an extensive collection of very high-end and uniquely artful European pieces. B&B Italia, Cappallini and Minotti are top sellers among the many labels on offer. 3303 Kirby Dr., 832.242.9470 4. Roche Bobois A Houston institution for years, the designer-driven French firm Roche Bobois touts statement-making Euro collections—think Jean Paul Gaultier—and an impressive commitment to sustainability. 4810 San Felipe St., 713.629.0442 5. Ligne Roset Perhaps the boldest and most color-forward of Houston’s top decor shops, Ligne Roset, also French, returned to the city in 2012 after a hiatus. In West Ave, 713.630.6500

Take a Seat
Modern furniture showroom Cantoni unveils its new Leolux Gallery, featuring the newest tables and chairs by the Dutch designer. The ultra-modern collection comes in several customizable leathers and a variety of bases, including matte lacquer and flashy stainless steel options. Chairs in the collection include the Elixir, which begins at $4,669, and the Pallone, starting at $2,519, both of which are celebrated for their ergonomic comfort. Other arrivals at the studio include several Italian pieces in walnut—the new warm wooden hue of the moment. 9889 Westheimer Rd., 713.787.9494

Out of the “Box”
Along with their mother Linda Webster, sisters Elizabeth Webster and Lindsey Amiralai opened Boxwood Linens in the fall on the trendy West Alabama strip. The store—a partnership with Bret Duhon and Mimi Wadsworth of Boxwood Interiors down the street, which just so happens to have decorated all three women’s homes—began when the sisters realized Houston’s lack of local, large-format monogramming boutiques. After noting the market gap, the project was born and then quickly expanded to include gifts, accessories and even furniture. The store’s gold-trimmed shelves are full of finds like Alexandra von Furstenberg accessories, soaps and scents by The Laundress, and overstuffed pillows. But linens take center stage, naturally, with Elizabeth’s favorite being a whimsical collection by D Porthault from France, exclusively in Houston at Boxwood. For spring, look for beautiful new gilded flower art pieces by Tommy Mitchell, including a gorgeous coffee table. 1839 W. Alabama St., 713.528.1501

Top Five: Design Trends
1. Rock Solid
Agate and quartz are big this year, according to Connie LeFevre of Design House. “They make great decorative pieces,” she says, “and are more than just bookends.” Look for them in tabletops, accent pieces and lamps.

2. Gold Medal
“I’m kind of obsessing over metallic veneers,” says designer Gin Braverman, who has studios here and in New York. Industrial-chic surfaces like brushed aluminum are appearing everywhere, especially in the kitchen. 

3. Alpaca Punch
In Texas, cowhide is always in, but look for more exotic hides used as rugs and upholstery. Designer Laura Umansky, who now has a studio in Aspen, loves textile maker Rosemary Hallgarten’s long-hair alpaca.

4. Into the Light
The team at Marie Flanigan Interiors notes that many clients are moving away from dark stains and gray washes in wood flooring and finishes. Instead, they are going for warmer, more natural hues with walnuts and oaks.

5. Retro Reruns
Patterned wallpaper reminiscent of the ’70s—updated, of course—is back to the future. A recent home decorated by Teri Pugh Studios pops with geometric patterns, including a psychedelic starburst-patterned wall.

Remaking History
The 328-room JW Marriott Downtown, which opened late last year, was awarded the prestigious Houston Good Brick Award for Excellence in Historic Preservation in December. Housed in the landmark Samuel F. Carter Building, the hotel pays tribute to the tower’s history by highlighting its original steel structural beams in its mod makeover. On the second floor, a former boardroom’s majestic wood-paneled walls (now encasing an event space) harkens to bygone eras, with antique chandeliers, stained-glass windows and an imposing stone fireplace. The hotel also boasts a sprawling, warmly mod lobby and an extensive Houston-based art collection, including the lobby’s 12-foot-tall bronze griffin—JW’s symbol—by sculptor Brad Oldham. 806 Main St., 713.237.1111

Store Up!
Now, with its finished 12,000-square-foot addition in the space formerly occupied by Cierra, exploring Kuhl-Linscomb’s 70,000 square feet of retail space can easily take hours. The store, one of Houston’s design favorites, is spread out among five buildings on a walkable, neighborhoody campus in Upper Kirby; it specializes in high-end lifestyle products, tabletop decor, furniture, clothes and accessories. In its newest space, an extension of the main showroom in Building No. 5, expect to find even more jewelry, home accessories, fragrances, beauty products and barware. Its extensive registry service and vast line of hard-to-find products make it a good bet for gift-buying, too. 2424 W. Alabama St., 713.526.6000

BEST OF THE CITY | FOOD & NIGHTLIFE

Works of Art
Hot new eateries are joining the tree-lined pedestrian-friendly Museum District, which boasts 18 cultural institutions. Museum-worthy indeed is contemporary Bistro Menil (1513 W. Alabama St., 713.904.3537), on The Menil Collection campus designed by acclaimed architect Renzo Piano. Chef-owner Greg Martin (formerly with the Schiller Del Grande group) plates accessible European style dishes, from salads and petite pizzas, to cassoulet, or cocoa-black pepper-crusted beef filet. Plus: wines on tap! At the artsy Museum Park Café (1801 Binz St., Ste. 110, 713.520.0108), exquisite apps like roasted bone marrow with arugula salad share menu space with fresh-made Italian pastas and robust entrees. Don’t miss cheddar bacon biscuits with salumi caramel or Pastry Chef Chris Leung’s fab desserts.

On the Bake!
Artisan bakeries keep rising. Pastry chef Rebecca Masson will open Fluff Bake Bar (304 Gray St.) soon. Expect her famous Fluffernutters, and also charcuterie and cheese plates, plus wine and beer. Meanwhile, besides perfectly piped red-velvet cupcakes at Red Dessert Dive (1045 Studewood St., 832.649.2977), find butterscotch scones and fresh breads baked with Karbach beer. Then there’s new Pondicheri Bake Lab (in West Ave, Ste. B240, 713.522.2012) above Pondicheri, where chef Anita Jaisinghani’s fans can pick up exotic masala shortbreads. And, just bowed: Weights & Measures (2808 Caroline St.) a resto, bar and bakery, housing Slow Dough Bakery’s retail store and treats by Brown Paper Chocolates.

Readers’ Choice: Great Chefs
Food followers elect iconic cooks and a celebrity newbie among their favorite kitchen crusaders.

1. Chris Shepherd He may have brought the James Beard Award home to Houston for the first time in nearly two decades last year, but Shepherd is more celebrated for his Houston-culture-on-a-plate at Underbelly (1100 Westheimer Rd., 713.528.9800). 2. Ronnie Killen Who’d have thought that a chef who graduated first in his class at London’s Le Cordon Bleu would have returned to Texas to open a barbecue joint? Killen, that’s who. His Killen’s Texas Barbecue (3613 E. Broadway St., Pearland, 281.485.2272) opened last year, a casual kid brother to his lauded Killen’s Steakhouse (2804 S. Main St., Pearland, 281.485.0844). 3. Danny Trace There may not be a more important culinary legacy in the Gulf South than the Brennan family of New Orleans and Houston. Brennan’s of Houston (3300 Smith St., 713.522.9711) Exec Chef Trace carries it on with innovative flair and reverence for tradition. 4. JaNel Witt Her TV-star background—she won Hell’s Kitchen in 2013—is almost as delicious as her healthful haute cuisine at River Oaks’ new classic Corner Table (2736 Virginia St., 713.568.9196). 5. Monica Pope An icon on the city’s culinary scene, Pope, of Sparrow Bar + Cookshop (3701 Travis St., 713.524.6922), remains a trendsetter and leader of the farm-to-table movement. Maybe they should start calling Alice Waters the Monica Pope of California?

Bar Stars
At least a dozen impressively unique new clubs and lounges are lighting up the Houston night now. These include the relocated Prohibition (1008 Prairie St., 281.940.4636), now also a restaurant in addition to a burlesque bar; Giueletta Sociale (5102 Washington Ave., 713.853.9374), a Champagne bar and dreamy patio meant to recall sexy Italian nights; Julep (1919 Washington Ave., 832.831.2068), a sister to Anvil that touts cocktails with a Southern accent; another Anvil sibling, The Nightingale Room (308 Main St., 832.968.3370), a beatnicky bar with a collection of vinyl records and a dance floor; and posh Crimson Lounge (5018 Kirby Dr., 713.807.7567), with white tufted leather seating set under crystal chandeliers.

Bird Is the Word
One of 2014’s hot trends is a finger-licking fad this year, too. Southern style broadly, and fried chicken specifically, are turning up on the hippest new menus. The Chicken Ranch (6500 N. Main St., 713.550.3823) specializes in basic bird, served with craft beer or Champagne. Nearby, an Underbelly alum is steeling to open Southern Goods (632 W. 19th St.), touting fabulous fowl. And, though its inspirations hail from a bit outside the South, Korean-cool Dak & Bop (1801 Binz St., Suite 120, 713.528.0280) offers twice-fried wings, drumsticks or strips with garlic and spicy chile sauces.

Edible Empire
Chef Charles Clark and restaurateur Grant Cooper of Clark Cooper Concepts are the brains behind many of the most successful restaurants to open in Houston in years. And they aren’t slowing down. “We develop restaurants based on where we personally would want to eat,” says Cooper, who met his future biz partner in Dallas when Clark was a chef at The Mansion on Turtle Creek. They both moved here and eventually opened the still successful Ibiza (2450 Louisiana St., Ste. 300, 713.524.0004), an idea inspired from Clark’s travels and culinary training in Spain. Brasserie 19, Punk’s and few iterations of Coppa (one now defunct) followed. This year, they’ll debut an event space on Buffalo Bayou called The Dunlavy, a “unique glass house among the trees,” they say, and also coffee-selling food truck Mobile Mug. By summer, their breezy SaltAir will bow in Upper Kirby.

Top Five: New Restaurants
1. Amalfi Ristorante Italiano & Bar
Arcodoro alum Giancarlo Ferrara has opened a restaurant channeling his native Italian coast. Expect ravioli stuffed with smoked mozzarella or risotto crowned with huge Madagascar prawns. 6100 Westheimer Rd., 713.532.2201

2. BCN Taste & Tradition
Barcelona-born chef Luis Rogers, late of El Bulli, brings the taste of modern Spain to his artful, two-story Montrose haunt. Think thoughtfully composed grilled tuna medallions with demi-glaze and cherries. 4210 Roseland St., 832.834.3411

3. KUU
Foodies adore this Asian eatery with a sprawling terrace. Young Addison Lee crafts gorgeous tasting-menu portions that electrify your taste buds, like Uni-crusted King Crab with Key lime custard. In Gateway Memorial City, 713.461.1688

4. Pappas Meat Co.
This Southern steakhouse concept by the Pappas family touts high-quality steaks and chops, and sides like gumbo and fried green tomatoes, served in a more casual setting than the upscale Pappas Bros. Steakhouse. 12010 East Fwy, 713.455.0944

5. True Food Kitchen
Panang curry with brown rice and veggies, or butternut squash pizza with walnuts and arugula, anyone? The spacious, mod, health-focused eatery washed in white and green has a delightful patio, too. 1700 Post Oak Blvd., 281.605.2505