Gayest and Greatest

We’ve got a secret! (And one really big gripe…) OutSmart’s annual Gayest & Greatest People, Community, Businesses, Dining, After Dark, and Galveston. Oooo la la! 

By Steven Foster
Illustration by Caleb Smith

Gayest & Greatest: SecretsPeopleCommunity & BusinessesDiningAfter DarkGalveston

G&GCrown_09_goldThe 13th Annual Gayest & Greatest presents your favorites in a variety of categories once again! But this year, we’re letting you in on some of our—and your winners’—best-kept secrets. We’re, of course, very happy that you’re out, but let’s keep these things on the downlow, okay? Just between us. Shhh. Don’t tell a soul. As for the complaint, we can’t even speak of that ridiculous bit of misguided municipal madness. You’ll just have to find it on your own!

You Have the Right to Not Remain Silent
If you find yourself heading toward the slammer (relax, we said if), here’s the big secret upon checking into your new digs: Say You’re Gay. Nine times out of 10 you will be considered “at risk,” which means you will be placed in a separate cell, and not in the SRO general population holding tank and its less-than-private toilet that hasn’t been flushed since the Carter administration. Granted, your own cell seems small comfort if you’re busted, but, hey, in jail you take any comfort you can get. “It depends on how vulnerable you are in prison,” explains activist and frequent G&G winner Ray Hill. “Some of the people you’d think were vulnerable, like the femmes among gay males, actually do quite well in general population. The high school football player types are more vulnerable, because in jails and prisons, macho is a game. The femmes are not in the macho game, so they just don’t make pledge week.” So, if you don’t tell … swish?

So Very Cherry
Anyone who’s been served by Best Bartender Amanda Plochek knows she’s famous for her Cherry Limeade. But if you want to replicate the sparkling ruby concoction at home, we have the secret straight from the Guava mixologist herself. “Cherry vodka with a little bit of Sprite and sweet and sour and squeezes of lime. You don’t even taste the alcohol,” Plocheck spills. “Deliiiiicious! Serve it on the rocks. Tastes like the cherry limeade from Sonic.” Insert punch SFX here.

Screw the Popcorn
If we had a brain in our heads, we would have had a brasserie outside of every theater playing Julie & Julia. Was it just us, or could you not head to Max & Julie’s or Au Petit Paris fast enough? Well, now you can plan the perfect cinema and cuisine fete with the MFA’s Meals on Reels film series. Each month, a foodie film is selected by a respected restaurateur who will introduce the selected screen gem personally. Check out these pairings: Irma’s Irma Galvan presents Tortilla Soup, Voice’s Michael Kramer opens Big Night, Indika’s Anita Jaisinghani serves up Mostly Martha, and Scott Tycer and Robert del Grande make chefly cinematic appearances. So select your movie, hit a correspondingly themed restaurant afterward, and have the most sensually indulgent night imaginable. A two-hour visual appetizer? That’s gonna make any meal taste divine. Check mfah.org for dates and times.

Wheel Good Time
Where’s the place to be the third Saturday every month? Kicks Indoor Soccer at 611 Shepherd. But not for soccer. For Roller Derby! Just 12 bucks in advance ($15 at the door), and you get to witness all the rock ’em sock ’em insanity that is roller derby, complete with cold beer, a throw-cholesterol-caution-to-the-wind snack bar, and a carelessly diverse crowd. Bring a folding chair because seats go fast. But if you’re really brave, sit rinkside because—get this—there’s no barrier. Yep, when the rollergirls whiz by and elbow-check an opponent, you could become one with a falling tumble of bruised limps and battered helmets. Yeeeaaaah! And these wheelie-go-go-girls sport monikers far more clever than any drag queen could hope to come up with. Names like Holla Pain, Tempestua, Claudia Van Damage, and Death by Chocolate (yep, she’s black). It’s the hottest ticket in town, and after Drew Barrymore’s Whip It comes out, it’s only gonna get hotter.

Just Desserts?
When the Best Dessert winner gives us a foodie tip, we listen. But you’d be shocked to find out what Dessert Gallery maven Sara Brook’s secret indulgence is. “I don’t know what they do to it, or how they do it,” confesses Brook, “but the Fried Shrimp at the Barbecue Inn is amazing. Believe me.” We do. One quick trip to B4-U-EAT confirmed Brook’s rave. “It’s like fried chicken batter or something. It’s definitely swoonworthy.” Anything that makes this master of desserts this weak at the knees, we bow.

The Hair-Raising Truth
Ignore the rule of having certain haircuts according to your face shape,” shares Best Male Hairdresser John Rubio of Upper Hand, betraying the belief held by most of his fellow coif cutters. “If you have the haircut you want, and you’re confident in it, it’ll look the way it should.” But the real scoop we wanted to know was: is cheaper shampoo really sub-par to the expensive brands? “No,” he says in a hush, before adding, “Now, I wouldn’t tell my clients that, but cheap shampoo is fine.”

Have a Nice Afterlife
The thing that is so frightening about dying isn’t its permanence so much as its sheer, stubborn mystery. Death is the great one-way ticket someone purchases, then never sends you a postcard from the final destination. “Paris is great! Wish you were here!” Sounds good. Post those slides on your Facebook when you get the chance! Nope. Not gonna happen. That’s why Baylor College of Medicine’s gently poetic and mindblowingly brilliant neuroscientist David Eagleman’s Sum is such a stellar achievement. Eagleman imagines 40 tales of the afterlife that manage to be thrilling, moving, hilarious, disturbing, ironic, beautiful, and, most of all, endlessly surprising. No matter what your belief system, you’ll have to admit these blink-brief vignettes are the work of a gifted philosopher with a limitless, questioning mind. Small wonder this provocative charmer of a book has received raves since its publication earlier this year. We can’t say for certain Sum holds the eternal secret, but for sheer pleasurable musing, you won’t discover a more lovely trip to places unknown than this disarming rumination on what’s next.

Okay, So Superman Knows This One Already
“Don’t kill me,” says Helen Bow, representative for Best Financial Institution winner. “I realize this is not exactly what you’re looking for, but . . . ” Don’t worry, Helen. We love it. Apparently, the downtown Wells Fargo Plaza building appears, from the ground, like any of our other Space City slivers. “But from the air,” says Bow, “the building is formed in two semicircles arranged to mimic the shape of a dollar sign.” Oh, that is so money.

What a Card
We have recording artist Meshell Ndegeocello to thank for this one. Famous for her argument-ending Stop Talking cards, designer Alison Riley expanded the concept to include an entire line of simple yet powerful Jenny Holzer-esque stationery. It’s an elegant, understated alternative to the Ed Hardy bling of the pricey Papyrus line. The Mercy series features pointed bon mots like “Never ever bring this up again” and “Shut your mouth and take off your clothes.” In this world of words, these greeting-card gag orders are real relationship savers. But the best bet is Cardstock: Every Card You’ll Need This Year, with 40 cards and 42 envelopes that arm you with correspondence for each conceivable occasion you’ll encounter in 365 days. At only $60, this attractive and elegant box of thoughtfulness is about $200 cheaper than you’d spend on individual cards in the store. Go to seteditions.com.

Think Inside the Box
Bottle snobs will balk, but Lindy Rydman freely admits that many oenophiles are finding it’s quite hip to be square. “Some of the wines that come in boxes now are really quite good,” admits the Spec’s sommelier. One of the best of the bunch is Puech Haut Bag in a Barrel, a blissful blend of syrah and merlot. Even better, each beautiful little barrel features one of 10 painted vignettes on the charmingly cask-shaped container. The barrel holds seven bottles worth of wine for only $49.99. “I just thought the barrel was pretty,” Rydman confesses. “Turns out the wine was pretty goddamn good too!” Is your French lousy, and 50 bucks is still too steep? Rydman has you covered. “Washington Hills is in a box and holds four bottles worth, and it’s under $20.” That’s a mindblowing five bucks a bottle. Cheers to that.

+ + = !
Would it kill us to branch out a little beyond the Pacific Street Block? (Café Adobe on Monday nights doesn’t count.) Well, there’s a great little organization in town called Live Consortium that, one Thursday a month, plans a bar blast that’s off our usual well-worn trail. Even better is the group’s main purpose of fighting HIV stigma. Positives, negatives, gays, straights—although the crowd pretty much skews homo—get together at a bar for mixing and mingling, broadening both bar and status horizons. “We don’t promote the establishment,” explains founder Beau Miller. “We promote the fact that gay, straight, positive, negative, we’re all here to fight the stigma of HIV.” In recent months, the group has hit the Social, Belvedere, and Bar 8, all establishments wonderfully off the beaten path. Find out where the next stop is by checking their Facebook page, getting on their e-mail list, or sending a request to [email protected]

Orange You Glad?
Houstonians wept when they bulldozed one of the oldest Luby’s cafeterias at Buffalo Speedway near 59. But the phoenix that arose is a fantastic replacement. The new HEB that now resides there is almost as glam as Central Market. And maybe it’s just an opening gimmick, but right now the entire store still features HEB-level prices. The best bargain here is the deli’s Orange Plate—one entrée and two sides for $5.99. Yep. Under six bucks. Try the perfectly grilled salmon with black bean corn salad and the yummiest, most citrus-y edamame salad you’ve ever tasted. It’s heart healthy and delicious. And it’s a steal.

Canoe Can-Do
NPR was recently in Houston for a week, broadcasting from and telling the nation about our fair city. Sure, we got slammed on our commute and our energy consumption (twice as much as LA and NY, believe it or not), but the coverage was generally rapturous. This month’s Advocate even ran a very complimentary spread on H-town. And they didn’t mention W once! But neither news bureau revealed one of the best-kept secrets of Bayou City. You can take your kayak or canoe, if you have either, and just slip it right into the tranquil waters of Buffalo Bayou—no cost, no permit required, no hassle. There are graceful herons, jumping fish, the occasional gator, and the weather right now is downright perfect for a bayou adventure. So, Lewis, grab your Clark and explore some uncharted territory that’s still happily close to downtown haunts.

Faster Pussycat … to the Library!
With all the fanfare the new library generated, it’s an absolute crime this is one of the secrets we have to tell you about. But we know how you queens are. You get locked into your Barnes & Noble mindset and there’s no snapping you out of it. Well, snap out of it! With its pristine makeover, vibrant colors, public art, and easily navigable layout, Houston’s downtown library is something we can all be proud of. There are computers, Wii players, and self-checkouts that, unlike those faulty, bossy bitches at Kroger, actually work. And the wealth of free programs is staggering. This month alone, the niece of gay author/activist Zora Neal Hurston will speak, there’s a class on digital storytelling, an evening with 60 Minutes’ Byron Pitts, a DIY workshop, a website design class, and Sunday Throwback Movies featuring the coolest flicks from the ’80s. HPL’s website is right. “Shhhh” has left the building.

And for You Size Queens…
Leave it to Charles Armstrong to go one better than a free canoe ride. The multiple G&G winner for Best Male Businessman, who’s made a name for himself with the “bigger is better” mantra, told us of the Sam Houston Boat Tour at the Port of Houston Authority. “They have a daily cruise. You’re going down the Port of Houston and you are right beside massive sea-going vessels, container ships, US military ships, vessels with Russian registry, Panamanian registry,” says Armstrong. “The wow factor is amazing.” And while you do need to make a reservation, the trip is absolutely free. The PHA even throws in a complimentary beverage while you’re cruising down one of the biggest ports in the world. The boat’s been dry-docked since September 3 for maintenance, but on October 3, the double-decker cruiser, complete with quaint porthole windows in the air-conditioned cabin lounge, is back on its eye-popping run. Go to portofhouston.com for details.

I’d Like the Latest Oprah Book Club Pick. Oh, and a Large Non-fat Mocha with an Extra Shot, Please.
Hip coffee lounge Inversion, which has always been the epitome of artistic, caffeinated cool, now offers a second location at the Downtown Houston Public Library, of all places. This is only one of the many wonderful additions to our newly revamped central branch, but the genius of this java joint’s new locale is that Inversions has a spot inside and a walk-up coffee bar outside the library. So before the library proper is open to the public, you can zip by on your bike or walk right up, and get the delicious coffee or tea drink of your dreams, and be back on your way to work, or simply enjoy downtown sights and Houston’s fabulous fall weather.

The Secret Life of Plants
We love Buchanan’s. Everyone does. It’s a classic, and it always wins G&G’s top spot. This year, however, they tied with relative newcomer, Joshua’s Native Plants. Perhaps it’s because the funky and freaky Joshua’s features a cavernous barn filled with matching life-sized Egyptian sarcophagi, authentic reindeer and impala pelts, a glowing vintage Wurlitzer jukebox, and other antiques. And, supposedly, it’s the only place in town where you can find the designer-prized tumbled recycled glass in eight vibrant colors. But the real scoop? The thick, waxy-leafed Zamioculus Zamiofolia, a plant that is virtually indestructible. “It’s called the ZZ plant,” explains Joshua Carter. “It’ll grow in the dark, and you only have to water it once a month. You can’t kill it.” It’s the terminator of the plant world. We’re sold.

Secrets Superman Knows, Part II
Sure, Wells Fargo’s building is shaped like a dollar. But the Seals’ training compound at the US Naval Base in Coronado, CA, is shaped like a swastika. It’s McHeil’s Navy!

Excuse Me, Julia, Could You Pass the Cucumber Water?
G&G Best Interior Designer Michael Stribling isn’t really one for stargazing, not when his celebrity clientele is filled with the ranks of Julia, Sandy, Ethan, and Matthew. However, when he and the Pretty Woman decided to head to the spa for a little R&R, Stribling gave OutSmart the inside scoop on the most celestial scene around. “Ten Thousand Waves in Santa Fe is the place to see celebrities on the downlow,” Stribling confides. “And it’s fabulous.” Frequently namedropped by the big O herself, one would imagine the prices would only be within reach of blockbuster marquee names. Couldn’t be further from the truth. Check out their site. Their prices would make the Houstonian think twice about what they charge. Seriously, note to Houstonian: WTF?

What’s a Gay Gotta Do to Get a Drink Around Here?
You’ve been there before. The bar is stacked three deep, everyone’s angling for the bartender’s attention by flashing Benjamins, snapping their fingers, or waving more frantically than Carrie Bradshaw trying to hail a cab. How are you supposed to get a drink? Here’s how, according to Stephen at Meteor. “Run a tab, keep the drinks simple, and the number of drinks you order low,” advises the hunky barman. “If you’re in line and I see you, I’ll make your drinks before I make the eight people ahead of you. You’re easy.” But just to clarify, Stephen adds, “You know what I mean.”

Home (Dinner) Plate Advantage
“Take Me Out to the Ballgame” is getting to be a very expensive tune to carry. After the tickets, the beer, the six-dollar sodas, the dogs, peanuts, popcorn, souvenirs, and the rest, Madonna concerts come out cheaper. Add on parking near Minute Maid, and even the most die-hard ’Stros fan feels like they’re taking one for the team. Not so fast there, shortstop. “Don’t spend $10 to $15 at a lot that’s three blocks from the Park. Go cattycorner to Vic & Anthony’s, valet your car for six bucks, and walk across the street to the game,” whispers radio celeb and frequent G&G winner Roula Christie. Now we’re not condoning this somewhat weaselly (but totally forgivable) practice. Just look at it this way: even if you splurge for a three-course dinner at the steakhouse, you’ll still come out cheaper than if you went the other route. Now play (hard) ball!

Sounds deceptively simple, doesn’t it? Just Oreos, cream cheese, and chocolate. That’s it. So what’s the big secret? What they taste like. Oreo Truffles will be the best dessert you’ve ever brought to a party, and you’ll never have to tell anyone how disgustingly easy it was. Sure, you can spend a fortune on Grand Marnier truffles or champagne creamed bonbons, but they can’t hold a candle to these simple, evil beauties. But be careful. Seriously, these things are like crack. DO NOT leave them in your house. You’ve been warned. The recipe is available on the web—just type “Oreo truffles” in your favorite search engine.

Get By with a Little Help from Your Friends
(Lesbians, ignore this part.) Okay. You’re very into each other. You like him. He likes you. Maybe you even love each other. And things seem to be headed in “that” direction. But when the time comes to salute, you’re not rising to the occasion. Your soldier is at ease and your sex drive, while willing, is MIA. That’s where Stiff Nights and Steel Libido would have come in handy. Sure, maybe you tried others, but according to the Houston Buyers Club, these two are the big guns. Stiff lends an assist with, well, you know . . .
and Steel helps with drive itself. Fred Walters and the boys at the Buyers Club actually test drive these little babies themselves (tell us more, Fred and company!), so each have their favorites. While the evidence is far from scientific, these two supplements sell out constantly. Not that the virile OutSmart staff needs this stuff, no way. Why we’re all hard as . . . (Okay, lesbians come back. Go to the Stiff Nights website. With claims like “Rock Solid erections in as quick as 30 minutes,”  “Intensified orgasms – WOW!” and “Regain the Thunder”—all capitalization and bolded letters quoted exactly, by the way—you’re guaranteed a good laugh and, frankly, be so glad you’re a lesbian.)

Bedeviled Egg
Search for “Tim Ferris Boiled Egg” on YouTube. While much of the hottie bestselling author’s spiel is dubious, this secret will freak you out. Just trust us on this one.

But about That Coffee…
Thank God fall is here. That means soon it’ll be time for Starbucks’ sublime Pumpkin Spice Latte. Oh, wait, we’re still in the last gasps of a recession. $4 seems a little steep for self-indulgence, especially when you gotta start saving up for the holidays. Don’t panic. We’ve twisted the arm of a close personal barista friend and discovered a recipe so spot-on similar, the only Starbuck you’ll remember is the hot blonde from Battlestar Galactica.
Pumpkin Spice Latte (makes 2 servings)
2 cups milk
1 tsp Torani Pumpkin Spice Syrup (using two tablespoons of
   canned pumpkin would suffice)
2 tbs sugar or sugar substitute
2 tbs vanilla extract
1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 or 2 shots espresso (1/2 cup of superstrong brewed coffee if
   you don’t have an espresso machine)
In a saucepan, combine milk, pumpkin, and sugar. Cook on medium heat, stirring, until steaming. Remove from heat, stir in vanilla and spice, transfer to a blender and whip until foamy (about 15 seconds). If you don’t have a blender, whisk the hell out of it. Pour into mugs. Add the espresso on top. Top with whipped cream and sprinkle pumpkin pie spice, nutmeg, cinnamon on top. Up the glam factor by adding orange-colored sugar as well.

Talk about Your Little Thunderbolt Pose!
King Dancer Pose. Monkey Pose. The Warrior. Lotus Pose. These evocative names for the body-bending and soulstirring stretches take on a whole new meaning if lucky enough to be included in the oh-so-exclusive Nude Male Yoga Group. The classes are totally legit and, naturally, they portray the entire nudity angle as merely a symbolic process of shedding your outer garments as you strip off your inner . . . yeah, yeah, whatever, man, you’re all naked. Still, so many in the group swear by the regime’s purifying and energizing properties that it’s looking like a studio space is inevitable, so look for it. Or don’t. Nude yoga has been a mainstay in Dallas, LA, and Boston, which begs the questions: how does the big hair hold up? How do all of those El Lay egos fit in the room? And, finally, are baked beans really such a good thing before doing downward dog? Try to make the cut by e-mailing [email protected]

And One Big Bitch
Granted, there are a lot more weightier issues to call attention to. Ryan White. The terrifying deficit. Iran’s nuclear lust. So in the grand scheme of things, this one’s pretty trivial. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t piss us off any less. So here it is, our One Big Bitch: the damn debate between the Spec’s on Washington and the city of Houston. This silly soap opera has been going on forever and now has, at long last, shuttered the bastion of booze. Spec’s wisely segmented the store to color inside the lines of Texas’ ridiculously antiquated Blue Law, putting liquor on one side, beer and wine and mini gourmet grocery on the other. That way, when Sunday rolled around, they’d keep the hard stuff locked up but could still cater to the winos and gourmands in the neighborhood. (The closest grocery is two miles away.) And while they were a bit slick on using a restaurant-friendly loophole in the law to skirt a key issue, Spec’s was up front about doing so. They asked the city for the permit, and the city said, “Cool.” Then someone actually measured the distance, realizing the liquor store was less than a thousand feet from a school. That made the city look like a bunch of chumps, so egg-faced Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan cried foul and went on the offensive.  Spec’s, permit in hand, fought back, which gave way to paid lawyers and political power freaks to fly more threats than a Serena Williams tennis meltdown. Oh, the school in question? An elementary school. We’re not talking high school here—we’d totally get that. Granted, our hormone-laced kids look older these days, but, really, does anyone think little Suzie or Billy is going to even get inside a Spec’s, much less walk out with a fifth of Grey Goose? Give us a break. As one desperate housewife—and mother—wisely noted, “If the city really wants to protect our kids, they should close down that Shipley’s across the street.” So help save our Spec’s. If not for the booze, for the seven-herb bread and duck paté! Call to politely plead some sense into Pam Holm at 832/393-3007 (e-mail is [email protected]) and Ed Gonzalez at 832/393-3003 ([email protected]).

Steven Foster profiled Lifetime’s JoAnn Alfano in the September issue of OutSmart magazine.


Ste7en Foster

Steven Foster is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.

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