Editor's note: What an eventful year in Houston, as the Bayou City bid farewell to our beloved President George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara. Houston also celebrated a Noble Prize winner, suffered massive construction changes, and enjoyed sizzling new restaurants and hot spots.
It's been an honor to deliver this daily news and CultureMap promises to be at the forefront of reporting on the culture, lifestyle, and buzz of this glorious city in 2019. As Houstonians look forward to a new year, here, then, are the most popular and talked-about stories of 2018.
1. Surprise school surpasses Rice as best university in Texas. In Houston academia, it's widely accepted that the Rice Owls rule the roost. But a report that Trinity University beat out Rice and the University of Texas as best in Texas sent (minor) shockwaves throughout the Bayou City's collegiate circles. Researchers at College Consensus crowned Trinity best in class based on data and scores from respected publications such as U.S. News & World Report and Forbes along with rankings from student review sites.
2. Inner Loop chicken fried steak favorite prepares to say farewell after 31 years. For more than 30 years, Houstonians have packed Hickory Hollow on Washington Avenue for the massive — and legendary — chicken fried steak. CultureMap was first to report that Hickory Hollow owner Tony Riedel, in business for 50 years, felt it was time to step back and sold the property to developer Braun Enterprises. The chicken fried steak institution will close on January 13, 2019.
3. Houston scientist wins Nobel Prize for breakthrough cancer treatment. Dr. Jim Allison, simply put, is the hero we needed. In these oft divisive times, the news that Allison won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was a moment every Houstonian — indeed, American — could rally around. Allison, the chair of Immunology and executive director of the Immunotherapy Platform at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, won for his work in launching an effective new way to attack cancer by treating the immune system rather than the tumor.
4. Houston's first rooftop theater announces opening schedule featuring Houston and Texas films. What's better than catching the latest flick? Catching it outside, with a beer, a hot dog, and lounge chair overlooking Post Oak Boulevard. That's the idea behind Rooftop Cinema Club, which already boasts popular locations in London, Los Angeles, San Diego, and now, Houston. Locals lined up (virtually) for news of the club's opening schedule, a showcase of Texas and Houston-themed movies such as Dirty Dancing, Reality Bites, and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.
5. Here's how long Galveston's surprising crystal clear water will last. Locals and visitors regularly bemoan Galveston's lack of clear, blue water— unfairly comparing the Gulf to oceanic beaches in California and Florida. That all changed in May, when the "nutrient-rich" (read: brown) Gulf turned blue, thanks to clear water moving up from the south. Tens of thousands of visitors packed the beach for a view and dip in the crystal waters.
6. Iconic Heights club closes after 42 years with rocking set of farewell shows. Outside of Numbers in Montrose, few Houston music venues enjoy the iconic (and sometimes controversial) status of Fitzgerald's in The Heights. Champions of local music and preservation were aghast when owner Sara Fitzgerald announced she was selling the beloved bar and club to developers. Amid cries of "selling out" and "gentrification," owner Sara Fitzgerald was blunt in her defense: "I’ve been here 42 years, and I’m tired," she told CultureMap.
7. These are Houston's 6 best restaurants for 2018. Every year, readers devour CultureMap's Tastemaker Awards, the city's most definitive list of the best and brightest in Houston dining. While the many categories (best bartender, neighborhood restaurant) generate serious interest, fans most search the best restaurant bracket. "After all," writes CultureMap food editor Eric Sandler, "people always want to know two things: what’s the best restaurant in Houston right now? Who’s the best chef?"
8. Bizarre Houston murder mystery twists revealed in Dateline episode. The bizarre murder mystery of Houston couple Jaime and Sandra Melgar received a dramatic, true crime treatment in a January NBC Dateline episode. In 2012, Sandra Melgar was found guilty of stabbing her husband, Jaime, to death and tying herself up — in an attempt to stage a fatal home invasion in the couple’s northwest Harris County home. The Dateline episode featured a surprise appearance by the Melgars' daughter, Elizabeth Rose, who has long championed her mother's innocence.
9. Houston, get ready for 8 months of construction closures on the West Loop. It's the news no Houstonian wants: more traffic. But that's what greeted locals in April with the announcement of eight months of closures at Loop 610 and Post Oak Boulevard. The construction is meant to create bus-only lanes that stretch from the Northwest Transit Center, down 610 and onto the bus-only lanes on Post Oak. But that's hardly comforting to the drivers who now face up to three times their average commute time due to the construction.
10. Stylish new Mexican restaurant serves up excitement in The Heights. Diners in The Heights suddenly have a slew of Mexican and Tex-Mex offerings, thanks to the newly opened Calle Onze (the name pays homage to 11th Street). Launched by the team behind popular Northside bar Edison & Patton, Calle Onze offer a mix of Mexican and Tex-Mex dishes in an atmosphere that’s a step up in fit and finish from Edison & Patton. Evidenced by the packed dining room and long lines, Heightsites have been hungry for Calle Onze.