Photo courtesy of Visit Lubbock

In Lubbock, Texas, where locals have been pouring their livelihood into both the city and their craft, the community has created a Texas experience like no other. What sets apart a destination from others is the welcoming faces who meet travelers with open doors and a willingness to share the West Texas way of life with all who wander through.

CultureMap recently checked in with three Lubbock luminaries to learn what drew them to the city, what dreams they're making come true, and how visitors can take part in the magic.

Matt Bostick, sommelier and hospitality director of Llano Estacado Winery
Though his roots are in Texas, Matt Bostick found his passion for wine in Italy. While studying hospitality in Florence in 2011, he met Parisian sommelier Quinton Paillard, who encouraged his budding love of vino and set Bostick on the path toward becoming a sommelier himself.

After earning his degree in restaurant, hotel, and institutional management from Texas Tech University in 2012, Bostick joined Jackson Family Estates in Los Angeles. From there, he further honed his expertise as the lead sommelier for Pizzeria Mozza and Osteria Mozza, under the mentorship of Sarah Clarke A few years later, Bostick co-founded a restaurant called Baldoria and even developed a line of ready-to-drink cocktails with his business partner, David King.

"When David and I decided to create B&K Cocktail Company, our business venture brought us back to Texas," Bostick says. "With my family residing in Lubbock, it was a natural choice to settle here. Lubbock holds significant personal and professional values for me. It's my hometown, where I was born and raised, and where most of my family continues to live and contribute to this community."

Today, Bostick is the events director and sommelier at Llano Estacado Winery, Texas’ second oldest winery. Bostick guides visitors through a sensory journey, introducing them to the complexities of different wines, regions, and vintages while offering insights into history, production techniques, and the unique characteristics of each varietal.

"I help individuals identify tasting notes, appreciate nuances, and even recommend food pairings that enhance the overall culinary experience," he says.

Grape Day on October 21 is an ideal time to visit the winery to see Bostick in action. To celebrate the end of the harvest, which spans late July to early October, Llano features captivating self-guided tours, diverse art booths, delicious offerings from the finest local vendors, exciting games for kids, and a mesmerizing lineup of live music on the Lubbock Listening Room stage.

Admission is free, but for $35 attendees will receive a commemorative Grape Day wine glass along with two tickets redeemable for a glass of wine. Pre-sale drink tickets will also be available for purchase in a bundle of three tickets for $15 (otherwise each ticket is $8 at the event).

"Grape Day holds immense significance to me. It's a celebration that represents the culmination of hard work and a sense of community," Bostick says. "Llano Estacado Winery has not only been a pioneer in the Texas wine industry but has also contributed to our local community's growth. Events like this shine a light on the rich heritage and traditions of winemaking, connecting our community to a broader narrative of craftsmanship and appreciation for the finer things in life."

Ian Timmons, pitmaster and third-generation owner of Tom & Bingo’s BBQ
It's been called a West Texas legend since 1952, and as soon as you step inside Tom & Bingo's BBQ, you'll understand why. This old-school barbecue joint — and Lubbock’s oldest restaurant — is packed with nostalgia and dishes out authentic barbecue that would make original owners Tom and Bettye Clanton proud, and current owner Ian Timmons intends to keep it that way.

While studying at Texas Tech, Timmons worked under Dwayne Clanton (Tom and Bettye's son, who gained ownership of the restaurant in 1980) and earned hands-on experience as a pitmaster. Upon graduation, he moved to Denver with his wife, Kristi, where he worked at Denver Biscuit Company.

"I’ve always worked in restaurants," says Timmons. "From my first job at Dairy Queen to a local restaurant called Orlando’s, where I was a server and got fired for making pizzas during my shift."

Timmons' wife also happens to be Dwayne and Liz Clanton's daughter, making him the obvious choice to carry on the legacy when the couple was ready to retire in 2017.

Now, Timmons pays homage to Tom & Bingo's 70-year legacy by smoking modern bark-on-brisket, his own coarsely ground smoked beef sausage, and pork spare ribs on the original brick pits the predecessors used for decades. He's also expanded the menu to include scratch-made potato salad and slaw, but one item remains a constant since the early days of the restaurant: the steak burger.

"This fall we are switching from our legendary brick pits to a new Centex offset smoker, so it’s back to square one for us," reveals Timmons. "This fall will be a learning season for us! But we are excited to see what a new smoker can do for us."

You can also catch the eatery's new food truck out and about and look forward to more biscuit collaborations with Monomyth Coffee (inspired by Timmons' time in Denver, of course). "We'll also hopefully open a Biscuit Club location to help grow the breakfast scene in Lubbock," Timmons hints.

But perhaps the tastiest way to experience Tom & Bingo's, besides visiting the restaurant itself, is by sampling its goods at the Texas Monthly BBQ Fest in November. Held in Lockhart, November 4-5, the event helps raise funds for Feeding Texas and a network of food banks across the state.

Yung Cry Baby, aka Aaliyah Limon, resident artist with Charles Adams Studio Project
Full-time musician and vocalist Aaliyah Limon was born and raised in Lubbock, but when she was younger, she didn't feel the city had a place for her yet. After graduation, the aspiring talent took off to explore both coasts, working as a model and artist, but after a while realized she wasn’t as fulfilled as she had hoped and missed her family.

"I needed a break from my fast-paced lifestyle," she says. "I came back home to be with family, take a step back, and reassess what I really wanted to do with my life. When I moved back, my music took off much faster than I ever anticipated."

Now Limon is professionally known as Yung Cry Baby and serves as a resident artist with the Charles Adams Studio Project, a nonprofit that supports working artists in Lubbock.

"Because I'm passionate about it and motivated by the people who resonate with what I sing about, I've kind of kept with the momentum of things," Limon says. "I'm excited about what I do, and I love helping people heal through my music. Even if it only helps a little, it gives me a lot of joy knowing I can maybe help someone not feel alone."

Fans can see Yung Cry Baby perform not only at the karaoke bar she hosts at, but also at First Friday Art Trail, a monthly arts festival located in downtown Lubbock with a mission to bring together collectors, artists, and community friends for an evening of art, music, and fun. Participants are ever-changing, offering something for everyone.

"I love doing community-based things, especially when it comes to art," Limon says. "First Friday is always a blast for me."

Yung Cry Baby is currently working on her first full album, following the earlier release of her EP. Follow her on social media for updates.


Experience the people and places of Lubbock yourself by planning your next vacation here.

Llano Estacado Winery wine glass

Photo courtesy of Visit Lubbock

Matt Bostick helps visitors appreciate the wine at Llano Estacado Winery.

Courtesy of Feges BBQ

Houston's hottest pitmasters star  in 2023 Texas Monthly BBQ Fest returning to state's barbecue capital


For Texas barbecue fans, sampling the best can be a daunting job. There are the gas costs, of course, and all the waiting in line. Then road warriors must consider lodging. Rural towns may produce exceptional brisket, but few are well-known for luxurious linens.

Carnivores with less cultish levels of devotion know the best way to check out the scene is through a yearly pilgrimage to the Texas Monthly BBQ Fest.

The annual meatopia will blaze into Lockhart November 4-5. The juicy 2023 lineup, dropped on August 22, includes some of the most celebrated pitmasters in the state.

Drawing from barbecue editor Daniel Vaughn's "Top 50 BBQ Joints in Texas" list and the September "25 Best New and Improved BBQ Joints in Texas" update (which featured four Houston spots), the invitees reflect Texas' deep culinary traditions and growing diversity.

The shindig kicks off on November 4 with the BBQ World's Fair, a free street fair featuring live music, artisan vendors, cooking demos, and an array of vendors from Texas Monthly's barbecue lists and Taco Trail. Those wanting a more VIP experience can purchase an "Around the World" punch card entitling guests to exclusive bites from featured barbecue joints.

The honor roll includes the following, with more to be announced soon:

  • Barbs-B-Q (Lockhart)
  • Brix Barbecue (Fort Worth)
  • CM Smokehouse (Austin)
  • GW's BBQ (San Juan)
  • KG BBQ (Austin)
  • Khói Barbecue (Houston)
  • The Original Black's BBQ (Lockhart)
  • Sunbird Barbecue (Longview)

The weekend continues on November 5 with the giant Top 50 Picnic, a celebration of the finest craft makers in the state. The stellar lineup adds:

  • 1701 Barbecue (Beaumont)
  • 2M Smokehouse (San Antonio)
  • Baker Boys BBQ (Gonzales)
  • Blood Bros. BBQ (Bellaire)
  • Brett's BBQ Shop (Katy)
  • Brett's Family BBQ (Rockdale)
  • Brotherton's Black Iron Barbecue (Pflugerville)
  • Burnt Bean Co. (Seguin)
  • Cattleack Barbeque (Farmers Branch)
  • Convenience West (Marfa)
  • Dayne's Craft Barbecue (Fort Worth)
  • Desert Oak Barbecue (El Paso)
  • Eaker Barbecue (Fredericksburg)
  • Evie Mae's Pit Barbecue (Wolfforth)
  • Feges BBQ (Houston)
  • Goldee's Bar-B-Q (Fort Worth)
  • Guess Family Barbecue (Waco)
  • Hays Co. Bar-B-Que (San Marcos)
  • Helberg Barbecue (Woodway)
  • Hurtado Barbecue (Arlington)
  • Hutchins BBQ (Frisco)
  • Interstellar BBQ (Austin)
  • Killen's Barbecue (Pearland)
  • LaVaca BBQ (Port Lavaca)
  • LeRoy and Lewis Barbecue (Austin)
  • LJ's BBQ (Brenham)
  • Micklethwait Craft Meats (Austin)
  • Miller's Smokehouse (Belton)
  • Mimsy's Craft Barbecue (Crockett)
  • Panther City BBQ (Fort Worth)
  • Rejino Barbeque (Olton)
  • Slow Bone (Dallas)
  • Smokey Joe's BBQ (New Braunfels)
  • Snow's BBQ (Lexington)
  • Teddy's Barbecue (Weslaco)
  • Tejas Chocolate + Barbecue (Tomball)
  • Terry Black's Barbecue (Lockhart)
  • Truth BBQ (Houston)
  • Valentina's Tex Mex BBQ (Buda)
  • Zavala's Barbecue (Grand Prairie)

Although VIP tickets and weekend bundles have already been gobbled up, a few general admission tickets and punch cards remain for the weekend events. Snag them at texasmonthly.com.

Photo by Becca Wright

4 smokin' Houston spots heat up Texas Monthly's Top New and Improved BBQ Joints list

TxMo's best new bbq joints

The barbecue experts at Texas Monthly have once again shared their perspective on where to eat smoked meats statewide courtesy of a new list titled “Top 25 New and Improved BBQ Joints in Texas.”

Released every four years, the new and improved list recognizes restaurants that have either opened or made significant changes since 2021, which is when Texas Monthly last published its quadrennial ranking of the state’s 50 best barbecue restaurants — an occasion that combines the anticipation of receiving Christmas presents with the seriousness of attempting to pass the bar exam. Texas Monthly barbecue editor Daniel Vaughn traveled across the state to compile the list, which is presented alphabetically by city. Overall, he finds the state of the state’s barbecue is quite strong.

“No matter where I go, I find there’s no end to smoked-meat innovation,” he writes. “Thanks to ingredients and preparation methods from a medley of culinary traditions, we’re now blessed with dishes such as za’atar-spiced lamb, berbere-seasoned pork ribs, and brisket fried rice. It’s a glorious time to eat Texas barbecue, and I’m more excited than ever for what the future will bring.”

If the northern suburbs of Spring and Montgomery are included, Houston claims four spots on the list. Meanwhile, the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex earns seven of the 25 spots on the list, followed by greater Austin with five, while San Antonio gets one.

The Bayou City representatives consist of Brisket & Rice, an Asian-influenced restaurant in a far-west Houston gas station; J-Bar-M, the massive barbecue temple in EaDo; Montgomery’s Bar-A-BBQ; and Rosemeyer Bar-B–Q, a food truck in Spring.

Vaughn praises Brisket & Rice for its namesake, wok-fired rice dishes as well as house-made beef links. J-Bar-M earns praise for sides such as tomato salad and cauliflower au gratin. Both Bar-A-BBQ and Rosemeyer also receive recognition for their sausage-making skills.

The Metroplex representatives start with Arlington’s Ethiopian-influenced Smoke ‘N Ash and Dallas’s Douglas Bar and Grill, which operates as a steakhouse in the evenings. From there, Vaughn, a Dallas resident, dives into the suburbs, shouting out North Texas Smoke BBQ (Decatur), Heritage Butchery & Barbecue (Denison), Pit Commander BBQ (Van Alstyne). Hill City Chophouse (Tolar), and B4 Barbecue and Boba (Mabank).

Austin starts with Egyptian-influenced KG BBQ; Briscuits, a food truck that serves its barbecue on a biscuit; and Lockart’s Barbs B Q, the female-owned restaurant that recently starred on the New York Times’s list of The 20 Best Texas Barbecue Restaurants From the New Generation. The Texas Monthly list also includes Austin restaurant Mum Foods Smokehouse & Delicatessen and Rossler’s Blue Cord Barbecue, which is located in the small town of Harder Heights near Killeen.

Turning to San Antonio, Vaughn recognizes Reese Bros Barbecue, which updated its offerings with Mexican-influenced dishes such as brisket and the queso fundido sausage and a carnitas torta. Heading south, the Rio Grande Valley takes three spots: Vargas BBQ (Edinburg), El Sancho Tex Mex BBQ (Mission), and GW’s BBQ Catering Co. (San Juan).

Barbs B Q isn’t the only overlap between Texas Monthly and the Times. Brisket & Rice and Smoke N Ash also bask in both spotlights.

Photo courtesy of Goldee's BBQ

Where to find the most iconic — and best — meals in all of Texas

Hit the Road

Texans don't need much of a reason to hit the open road. Our state is brimming with natural beauty and charming small towns, but nothing motivates us to fill up the tank like a bonanza of regional foods.

There are renowned Texas flavors to be found throughout the entire state, from small towns like Round Top to the far west end in El Paso. And with meals ranging from Tex-Mex and barbecue to Frito Pie and kolaches, the Lone Star State is known for some of the most iconic foods in America.

When you hit the open road to explore (and taste) it all, know that a Hilton Hotel is nearby for a good night's rest. Whether you're traveling with family, friends, or as a couple, the right room is waiting with a warm welcome.

Hope you're hungry, because here is but a small slice of some of the best.

Goldee's BBQ, Fort Worth
Few barbecue joints in Texas can make a name without serving the holy trinity of brisket, sausage, and ribs. Still, the young chefs and pitmasters at this Fort Worth stop one-up the competition with unexpected sides like chicken rice and collard greens and crowd-pleasers like fish and chips.

Chicken Fried Steak
Babe's Chicken Dinner House, Carrollton
All Texans take their chicken fried steak with some degree of seriousness. We dare say this eatery — which originated in Carrollton and has locations all over North Texas — takes it the most seriously of all, with plenty of family-style sides to round out the table.

La Cocina, McAllen
Former oil worker Evin Garcia combines tradition and innovation at this McAllen haunt. Enjoy everything from birria tacos dipped in a luscious consommé to an octopus version served with traditional al pastor fixings like onion, cilantro, and grilled pineapple.

Elotes Fanny, Austin + North Texas
With locations in Austin, Fort Worth, and Garland, this snack shop mini-chain knows everything about corn. Get it by the cob or in a cup, and make sure to douse it in the fiery homemade Atomic Salsa.

Fried Chicken
Dolli's Diner, Nacogdoches
This diner does just about everything right, but the crowning jewel of the menu is undoubtedly the chicken fried chicken. It's served with mashed potatoes, gravy, and fresh veggies for color and is best enjoyed with funnel cake fries for dessert.

Frito Pie
RD's Burger, Cibolo
This casual stop does its namesake dish with aplomb, but found pure magic in its Frito Pie. It's served with no muss or fuss and occasionally on the insanely delicious burger.

Slovacek’s, West
When it comes to kolaches, any bakery in West will serve the real deal. Relative newcomer Slovacek's gets the vote for its dozens of fruit flavors and creative klobasnek (the meaty cousin of kolaches) filled with boudin, pepperoni, or kraut.

Royer's Round Top Cafe, Round Top
No trip to Round Top's famous antique fair is complete without a stop at this darling cafe. "Pie Man" Bud Royer makes every visit sweet with pies like buttermilk, pecan, and the multi-fruit Troy's Junk Berry.

L & J Cafe, El Paso
This El Paso tradition is by a graveyard, sure, but don't let that deter you from enjoying its queso. The miraculous concoction made with roasted green chile, tomatoes, and onions is served with just-fried tostadas.

Leal's Tamale Factory, Lubbock
A Lubbock classic, this mainstay doesn't go for newfangled tamale flavors like sweet potato. Order pork, chicken, or cheese and rediscover the fundamentals.

Viet-Cajun crawfish boils
Crawfish & Noodles, Houston
Who knows what James Beard-nominated chef Trong Nguyen puts in his secret sauce. What we do know is that it's one of the most intensely flavorful experiences in all of Houston.

Texas knows no bounds when it comes to to where you can go (and eat). No matter where your next foodie adventure takes you, a Hilton hotel is waiting for you.

With over 550 Hilton hotels spanning across the state of Texas, the possibilities to earn more while exploring the Lone Star State are endless.

Photo by Robert Jacob Lerma

New York Times showcases 5 smokin' Houston spots in hot new 'Best Texas Barbecue Restaurants' list


The New York Times has shined its spotlight on the new faces of Texas barbecue. In an article titledThe 20 Best Texas Barbecue Restaurants From the New Generation,” the paper considers restaurants that opened after 2011 and are serving more than the traditional brisket and ribs with cole slaw and potato salad. List author Brett Anderson visited Texas seven times in two years to compile the list, according to the Times.

The greater Houston and Austin areas lead the way with five restaurants each. Dallas-Fort Worth has three spots, and San Antonio claims two. The other five restaurants span the state, covering Beaumont, Marfa, Weslaco (near McAllen), and two towns near Lubbock: Slaton and Wolfforth.

Houston's searing spots

Houston is represented by Blood Bros. BBQ, the Asian-influenced restaurant in Bellaire; Brisket & Rice, an Asian-influenced restaurant in Northwest Houston; Gatlin’s BBQ, the staple Black-owned restaurant featured in Netflix’s High on the Hog documentary series; Ray’s Real Pit BBQ Shack, a Black-owned restaurant in Third Ward; and Truth BBQ, the Washington Avenue restaurant ranked third in the state by Texas Monthly.

Truth BBQ barbecue tray
Photo by Robert Jacob Lerma

Truth Barbecue makes the list.

Each entry gets a brief profile and suggestions for what to order. Anderson's recommendations include gochujang-glazed pork ribs at Blood Bros., barbecue fried rice at Brisket & Rice, the fried chicken biscuit at Gatlin’s, smoked oxtails at Ray’s, and burnt end boudin at Truth.

In the companion essay, Anderson dives a little more deeply into his Houston selections by highlighting Brisket & Rice, a restaurant that’s operated in a Phillips 66 gas station on FM 529 since 2022. He praises its brisket, describing it as “juicy, with a tight, salty crust, and best eaten … over rice, with a drizzle of tomato-based sauce.”

“This is the epitome of Houston barbecue. We don’t care if the nerds show up,” Houston Chronicle barbecue columnist J.C. Reid tells the Times about Brisket & Rice.

Austin and Dallas mentions

The Austin-area representatives consist of Distant Relatives, known for incorporating flavors of the African diaspora; Japanese-influenced Kemuri Tatsu-ya; farm-to-table food truck LeRoy and Lewis; and Valentina’s Tex-Mex BBQ, which just opened its new location in Buda last month. Anderson also includes Barbs-B-Q, a restaurant in Lockhart that only opened at the end of May but whose three female owners boast serious resumes.

The Metroplex is represented by Goldee’s Barbecue, ranked number one on Texas Monthly’s list; Smoke ‘N Ash Barbecue, which has earned acclaim for its use of Ethiopian flavors; and Vaqueros Bar-B-Q, which serves barbecue-influenced takes on Mexican dishes such as cochinita pibil and birria tacos. Similarly, San Antonio is represented by two Mexican-influenced spots: 2M Smokehouse and Burnt Bean Co., the restaurant in Seguin whose owners Ernest Servantes and David Kirkland earned nominations for Best Chef: Texas in this year’s James Beard Awards.

Leading the way in the “New Generation”

Some guidance for the criteria used to identify the members of the “New Generation” comes via Anderson's companion essay. Titled “Texas Barbecue Is the Best It Has Ever Been. Here’s Why,” he explains that Texas barbecue has evolved beyond its Central Texas, European-inspired roots to include a more diverse set of influences.

“It is a malleable cuisine, one that is open to newcomers and includes the traditions, notably Black and Mexican American styles, that have long thrived here,” he writes. “The new Texas barbecue gives voice to a population that has been diversified by new arrivals from other states and countries, and to a cultural dialogue between rural and urban artisans; much of it nods to American barbecue’s origins in the live fire cooking of Indigenous people and enslaved Africans.”

The Swinging Door/Facebook

Iconic Fort Bend barbecue restaurant will soon shutter after 50-year run

historic bbq joint prepares to shutter

A historic Houston-area barbecue joint will soon extinguish its smokers. Richmond staple The Swinging Door will close in the next few weeks, owner Steve Onstad announced via Facebook.

“We have been blessed to have been of service to this area. However, this old BBQ guy has decided to move on to another chapter in life, that being said Swinging Door is closing its doors,” Onstad wrote.

Unlike most other barbecue restaurants, the Swinging Door uses pecan wood, rather than post oak, to smoke its meats, giving them a distinct flavor. Those meats, paired with the homemade-style sides and desserts, have been luring Houstonians and Fort Bend County residents to the restaurant since 1973.

Back then, the restaurant’s location on FM 359 felt so far away from central Houston that a nearby field served as a landing pad for helicopters for energy company executives and Bum Philipps invited Luv Ya Blue-era Houston Oilers players there for dinner, the Houston Chroniclereported in 2016. (Jewish Houstonians of a certain age may remember seeing it pass by on their way to summer camp at the Jewish Community Center’s shuttered Gordon Campsite, but I digress.)

Now, bustling Richmond neighborhoods like Pecan Grove and Grand River surround the property, providing it with an enthusiastic customer base.

After a 2015 visit, Texas Monthly barbecue editor Daniel Vaughn praised the restaurant’s ribs, “excellent sides,” and blackberry cobbler. “With so many good options for barbecue popping up in Houston, you don’t have to drive out this far, but there’s just enough good stuff on the menu to make it worth the trip,” he concluded.

The restaurant’s Fort Bend County neighbors share a similar sentiment. The Facebook post announcing the closure has swelled to hundreds of comments that range from people who have been eating there for almost the entirety of its run to newer arrivals who had their first taste of Texas barbecue from its pecan-fueled pits. It will undoubtedly be missed by many.

“Being a huge part Fort Bend County the past 50 years I want to give a big THANK YOU to all of our wonderful customers, customers that became friends, friends that became family and especially all my employees throughout the years that created the backbone of this establishment,” Onstad added. “It has been a honor to be a part of the last 50 years of memories.”

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Ken Hoffman's bold prediction on the latest plan to transform The Astrodome

dome's day scenario

Like the swallows returning to Capistrano or Congress threatening to shut down the government, it’s become an annual event: a group comes forward with a plan to renovate the forlorn Houston Astrodome and turn it into a … something.

Ever since the Astrodome closed its doors in 2008, and was officially condemned a year later, groups have floated ideas to convert the one-time Eighth Wonder of the World into a casino, museum, resort hotel, movie studio, ski jumping facility, amusement park, indoor golf, waterpark, archery range and a million other things.

Some of the ideas were realistic. Some were cockamamie. One group took floating an idea literally and said why not flood the Astrodome floor and recreate history naval battles?

The latest Dome's-day scenario

The latest plan making the media rounds is presented by an LLC called Astrodome reIMAGINEd. The idea, as we reported, is to use private funds to create an entertainment complex with restaurants, shops and even different-sized football fields on the floor.

The proposal has Houston catching Astrodome fever again. What to do with Houston’s most famous landmark? It’s an emotional issue that gets people all worked up with no place to go.

This time around the Astrodome buzz has a new wrinkle. Some are pondering publicly if the Astrodome, just by sitting there, is preventing NRG Stadium from being awarded another Super Bowl. As though the NFL is threatening Houston, either renovate the Dome or tear it down if you want another Super Bowl.

I’ll tell you what’s going to happen to the latest plan, just like what happened with all the other plans:


And I’m calling BS on NFL Super Bowl deciders making the Astrodome an issue. While the Astrodome may be an offensive eyesore, it hasn't stopped more than 1,000 events from booking NRG Stadium, including:

Three Final Fours (2011, 2016, 2023), WrestleMania 25, the Rolling Stones, Taylor Swift, Beyonce, One Direction, U2, Coldplay, MLS All-Star Game, two international Jehovah’s Witnesses conventions, Texas Bowl, plus next year's College Football Playoff National Championship Game, and FIFA World Cup in 2026.

Oh, and two Super Bowls (2004, 2017). So much for the NFL hating on the Astrodome in the past.

A lot of issues under one Dome

The Astrodome currently sits empty, a shell of its former shimmering structure. The gutted building doesn’t have an air conditioning or plumbing system. Most of the rainbow-colored seats are gone. Its only inhabitants reportedly are cats and rats, and back when, a few adventurous young explorers. Let’s call them trespassers.

It currently costs taxpayers somewhere in the range of $150,000 to $400,000 a year to cover the Astrodome’s utilities and insurance bills. It would cost taxpayers an estimated $30 million or more to bulldoze it.

The Astrodome is owned by Harris County and is operated by the Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation. Harris County Commissioners Court has final say what, if and when anything is done with the Dome.

And there’s the rub. County commissioners don’t seem to have the Astrodome on their front burner. In fact, the Astrodome isn’t even in the commissioners’ kitchen. The five-member court appears more interested in dealing with flooding issues, healthcare, and criminal justice reform. I agree those are more pressing problems.

History on its side...for now

Besides, it isn’t just Commissioners Court that would have to sign off on any Astrodome plan. The building, or what’s left of it, has been designated a Texas Historical Landmark and a Texas Antiquities Landmark. The Astrodome also is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Try convincing the Texas Historical Commission, hey, let’s turn the Astrodome into an amusement park. We’ll put the bumper cars and spinning tea cups where George H.W. Bush accepted the Republican nomination for president.

Many of the previous proposals to renovate the Astrodome failed because sponsors were unable to find private financing. You may have heard that interest rates are up and money is tight. You also might remember that there was an election in 2013. Voters did not approve a referendum that would have authorized $217 million in bonds to convert the Dome into a convention and event complex.

Contrary to what many believe, the vote was not about keeping vs. demolishing the Dome. It was about spending public funds to renovate it. The Dome lost. So it sits.

Do something

Like every hard-hitting journalist, I wrote several columns about the bond proposal and Astrodome’s future during 2013. What cheesed me off, a book about the Astrodome’s iffy future was published later and the author listed me as a media member helping lead the charge to demolish the Dome.

That wasn’t true. My position then, and now, is something needs to be done with the Astrodome. I’m good with fixing it up. I’m fine with tearing it down. What is unacceptable, however, is leaving the Dome in its current decaying state. Something needs to be done.

But you know how things work around here.

What do you think should happen to the Dome? Let Ken know at ken@culturemap.com or on Twitter.

Beyoncé brings dazzling Renaissance Tour to big screens with new concert film

big-screen bey

“The goal for this tour was to create a place where everyone is free ...and no one is judged.”

So declares Queen Bey in a just-released trailer for RENAISSANCE: A FILM BY BEYONCÉ, a new documentary and concert film coming to major movie theaters on Friday, December 1 across the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. The new film chronicles Houston-born Beyoncé's journey from concept to performance as she treks across the globe in her worldwide, 56-performance, 39-city Renaissance tour.

Houstonians are still buzzing from the two-day H-Town homecoming (read our review here) that near-capacity crowds pack NRG Stadium for the often breathtaking, three-hour shows that featured a cameo by fellow Houston-born superstar Megan Thee Stallion.

Tickets for the concert film — a joint production between Parkwood Entertainment and AMC Entertainment — are on sale now at amctheatres.com and Fandango.com. Fans can also find tickets at Cinemark, Regal, Cinepolis and Cineplex, all of which will screen the movie. Tickets will also be available at numerous movie theatre circuits in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico later this week, according to an announcement. Admission for all standard showtimes will start at $22, plus tax.

RENAISSANCE: A FILM BY BEYONCÉ is a must for any Beyhive member — as well as those who want to reminisce attending the epic shows, or those who missed her tour stops. The big-screen treatment is fitting: short of seeing the shows live, there is no better way to take in the Renaissance tour's dazzling effects, lasers, and pyrotechnics, mind-bending visuals on huge screens, unforgettable costumes (A.I.!), Megan's surprise, and of course, Queen Bey riding through the air atop a glittering Reneigh, her trusty, mirrorball, shimmering steed.

Fans can look forward to multiple showtimes daily on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, for a minimum of four weeks, according to press materials.RENAISSANCE will also be available in IMAX (the ideal viewing) at AMC and Dolby Cinema at AMC, and other branded premium large format screens.

Kicking off atthe opening show in Stockholm, Sweden and documenting each stop to the grand finale in Kansas City, Missouri, the film captures rarely seen, behind-the-scenes moments of a Beyoncé tirelessly working and preparing and sharing tender moments with her children and family.

Meant to further articulate her “everyone is free/no one is judged” mantra, scenes will depict the more than 2.7 million fans from around the world who dressed in silver and shiny outfits, took part in her Joy Parade, and nailed the Mute Challenge at each show.

Call us biased, but we can't wait for the up-close Megan scenes and backstage action before and after she shocked NRG Stadium — and all of Beyoncé's Houston moments as the queen returned to the kingdom where it all started.


Find RENAISSANCE: A FILM BY BEYONCÉ tickets at at amctheatres.com and Fandango.com.

J.J. Watt, wife Kealia, and his family and friends ring it in at Ben Berg's swanky supper club

turned up for watt

Houston celebrated J.J. Watt’s triumphant homecoming this past weekend, as No. 99 was fittingly inducted into the Houston Texans Ring of Honor during the team’s 30-6 win Sunday, October 1 over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Watt donned the Texans red jacket during halftime, officially joining the late Houston Texans founder/owner/CEO Robert “Bob” McNair and NFL Hall of Fame nominee (and Watt’s former teammate) Andre Johnson.

“It feels like you’re at a family reunion and it feels like I’m back with all my family in a place that feels like home and I’m just loving it,” Watt told the packed NRG Stadium. “The fans have been great, the McNairs have been great, the whole organization has been really, really great and I'm just thankful to have my whole family here. My wife and my son are here, my parents are here, my brothers are here. It’s my mom’s birthday so it all kind of culminates into a great day today.”

Texans Chairman and CEO Cal McNair placed the jacket on Watt’s mountainous shoulders as Johnson, Watt’s family, and nearly 90 former Texans players cheered him on for his induction. Adding to the memorable day, Watt’s brother T.J., currently on track to be 2023’s NFL Defensive Player of the Year at very least, served as the Steelers opposite our Justin James as coin toss team captain.

The Watts and crew ring it in

While Houston showed up and out for Watt, where did No. 99 celebrate? He and his family and friends opted for Ben Berg’s famed, swanky speakeasy supper club, Turner’s.

The Berg connection comes from Watt’s retirement announcement dinner last year, where he and some close friends and teammates celebrated at B&B Butchers. “So the Texans reached out to us and asked if we could do a dinner at Turner’s for J.J. and his family,” Berg explains to CultureMap.

Watt posted photos on Instagram with his lovely wife Kealia sitting in his lap, he and his brothers Derek and T.J., mom Connie and dad John, and their close friends at Turner’s, which Berg closed for the private celebration.

“It’s a big honor,” Berg notes. “You know, when you create these spaces, the goal is to be a memorable part of people’s lives. And so the fact that we were chosen for him to celebrate with his family, loved ones, and his closest friends — for such a huge accomplishment and huge honor — was a big responsibility.”

What’s J.J. eating?

For the big bash, Berg and company crafted a special — and beefy — steak-stacked menu, with special treats for Connie, who was celebrating her birthday — and her son’s big day. While Berg and the staff didn’t create specific themed items — like, say, the Onion Rings of Honor that Trill Burgers fried up for the weekend — “we made sure we brought over some of his favorite dishes from B&B,” says Berg.

Those dishes included the A5 Japanese Wagyu Katsu Sando, the always popular Carpet Bagger on the Half Shell, Chef Tommy’s Bacon slabs (served with blue cheese and truffle-infused honey), and more of No. 99’s favorites. Other items included buttermilk fried quail, Maine lobster gnocchi, and a feast of sides like mac and cheese casserole. Sweet finishes included a signature triple chocolate layer cake, a walnut caramel tart, and the Berry Butter Cake from B&B.

Though we’d have imagined tearing up a Porterhouse or massive ribeye, Berg reports that Watt ordered the Wagyu Filet Rossini (decadently dressed up with foie gras and spinach truffle jus) and the IYKYK classic Turner’s Wedge salad.

Speaking of orders, partiers ordered up some song requests from Turner’s resident vocalist and pianist Thomas Cokinos, who’s always on fire at the supper club, but really turned up for Watt. No. 99, an ol’ softie, requested Beatles classic “Here Comes the Sun” for Kealia (also writing “I love you” on the ticket — well played, J.J.), while others opted for tracks by country stars Zack Brown and Morgan Wallen.

Derek Watt requested Lil’ John’s “Get Low” with a shout out to his two brothers, leaving us disappointed that nobody asked for “99 Problems” in honor of J.J. (Next time, gents).

Ryan Reynolds + J.J. = goals

J.J. Watt Turner's Houston songs family friendsHey J.J., something you wanna share with the rest of us? Photo by Thomas Cokinos

Our favorite shout out? One “Ryan Reynolds” requested the bro singalong classic “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling” by the Righteous Brothers. Watt fans will recall that he buddied up with the handsome Canadian actor and soccer fan and backer when he and Kealia announced their investment in UK football side Burnley FC. (Kealia also seems to be a big fan of Reynolds, as we reported in May).

Berg made sure to let Watt and Co. enjoy themselves until late, but also made sure to stop by and greet his VIP guests. “I wanted to say hello and thank you; it was really an intimate affair for him, his family, his brothers, and really close friends,” says Berg.

“J.J. is just a super nice guy and just super down to earth,” Berg adds. “And, you know, he’s really big.”

J.J. Watt Kealia Watt Turner's Houston

J.J. Watt/Instagram

Hometown hero J.J. Watt and his wife Kealia pose at the Turner's party.