Tuesday, July 5, 2011

72 Hours in H-Town

I'm sure those city itineraries in travel guides/magazines/websites that recommend local sights and activities can be quite useful as a starting point for tourists unfamiliar with the lay of the land, but an inordinate number of them seem to be geared toward a middle-aged demographic with unbelievably comfortable walking shoes and a strong interest in antiquing.

Motivated by my inner drill sergeant and a desire to show my roommates as much of Houston as possible while protecting them from random collections of Americana, I created the following itinerary in preparation for their visit. Specially designed for the young and restless (and Alexander Nemerov-educated), it's short on antiques and long on Philip Johnson. And, naturally, it involves way too much food.

11:00 am
Driving tour
Eastward from Memorial, passing through Uptown, the Galleria, River Oaks, Montrose, and Midtown (to see the restaurants, the shopping, the mansions, the gayborhood, and the hippies, respectively), and along Allen Parkway into downtown.

Welcome to Houston

12:00 pm
The Grove/Discovery Green
Lunch at the Schiller del Grande restaurant group's latest offering, tucked among stately oak trees on the south side of downtown's Discovery Green. (The Grove's niçoise salad always hits the spot.) As for the rest of Discovery Green: come for the farmer's market, stay for the crazy jumping dock dogs.

Alex and Besi at Kinder Lake
Outside the Grove

2:30 pm
Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None at Alley Theatre
The Houston Theater District is a 17-block area in the heart of downtown anchored by nine major performing arts orgnizations and the Bayou Place entertainment complex. With 12,948 seats for the performing arts, the district ranks second (behind New York City) in the United States for the number of theater seats in a single neighborhood. My preference would normally have been for a Houston Grand Opera performance at the stunning Wortham Theater Center, but with limited options during most of the companies' summer break, we scored tickets for the Alley instead (which, incidentally, was once described by former Houston Press editor John Nova Lomax as "something Stalin’s favorite architect would have come up with on ‘shrooms").

5:00 pm
Samba Grille
Pit stop across the street for pão de queijo, iced coffee and papaya cream. Bossa nova FTW.

6:05 pm
Minute Maid Park
Boston Red Sox @ Houston Astros at Houston's train station-turned-baseball stadium.

Outside the ballpark
The Juicebox

11:00 pm
Washington Avenue
Taps HOB, Kung Fu Saloon, Pearl Bar, Ei8ht

11:00 am
Drive to Galveston
An hour southeast of downtown, the breeze becomes saltier and the trees more palm-y.

Cruise ship vs. sailboat

12:30 pm
Fishing trip
The catch: crab, mullet, spinner, blacktip, and Atlantic sharpnose.

Shark (no. 1/5)

5:00 pm
The Strand
Historically significant district of Victorian-era architecture, Galwn as the "Wall Street of the South" until 1900, the year of the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history. Today, the Strand is designated a National Historic Landmark District. Note: Strand tour skipped due to hunger and fatigue.

7:00 pm
Seoul Garden
Nothing like Korean barbecue with all the works after a day out at sea.

9:00 pm
Anvil Bar & Refuge
From the website: "Spirit-forward drinks made with fresh ingredients—including house-made bitters, sodas, infusions and liqueurs—each fashioned with careful attention to detail and favoring local flavors and locally-sourced ingredients." From the menu: "Today's modern cocktail resurgence tends to emphasize urban speakeasies and Yankee cocktails. Secession anyone? Sure, we admire our Northern colleagues, but it's about time other drinking cultures get a little respect. Welcome to the Summer of the South: a four-month tribute to Southern-inspired cocktails and food."

We were trying to (discreetly) take a picture of his sweet 'stache.

11:00 pm
Live jazz and chocolate mousse.

11:00 am
Rothko Chapel
From the website: "Mark Rothko, one of the most influential American artists of the mid twentieth century, was commissioned by the de Menils in 1964 and given the opportunity to shape and control a total environment to encompass his work, resulting in a group of fourteen paintings created specially for the meditative space." Together, Rothko and architect Philip Johnson created a meditative space that has "achieved recognition as one of the greatest artistic achievements of the second half of the twentieth century." The Chapel is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and is a featured entry in National Geographic's Sacred Places of a Lifetime: 500 of the World's Most Peaceful and Powerful Destinations. "The Chapel has two vocations: contemplation and action. It is a place alive with religious ceremonies of all faiths, and where the experience and understanding of all traditions are encouraged and made available. Action takes the form of supporting human rights, and thus the Chapel has become a rallying place for all people concerned with peace, freedom, and social justice throughout the world."

12:00 pm
University of St. Thomas
More Philip Johnson architecture. The iconic Academic Mall is anchored on the south end by Doherty Library and on the north end by the Chapel of St. Basil, representing the dialogue between faith and reason.

Chapel of St. Basil
Interior (no artificial lighting)

12:30 pm
Every Houstonian has a favorite Tex-Mex restaurant that he swears by, and mine is Escalante's. Unfortunately they were closed for the 4th, but what's not to love about Chuy's fajita platters? (Although, as my former violin teacher would say, second best is not concertmaster.)

Aftermath of the damage

2:00 pm
A driving tour of Houston's historic Hermann Park (famous for being the first desegregated golf course in the country) and the largest medical center in the world, composed of 49 independent medical institutions.

Sam Houston, first president of the Republic of Texas

3:00 pm
Rice University
Tour of the meticulously laid out campus of the top-ranked university in the South.

 4:00 pm
375 stores, the Galleria Financial Center, a year-round ice rink, two Westin hotels and a private health club.


6:00 pm
Dinner at RA Sushi before heading to the airport.