Photo by Michael Anthony

One of Houston's most popular patio bars has opened its third location. Kirby Ice House has arrived in The Woodlands.

First announced last year, the new Kirby Ice House occupies a prime location at 1700 Lake Robbins Dr. that's near The Woodlands Mall, Market Street, and the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion. With 10,000-square-feet of interior space and an 18,000-square-foot patio, the massive bar has room for 700 people.

Photo by Michael Anthony

Kirby Ice House has opened in The Woodlands.

The interior features a 141-foot-long bar, which dwarfs the 120-foot bar at the Memorial/Spring Branch location and is touted as the longest bar in Texas. Follow all the games on 61 HDTVs or a 300-inch jumbo screen. Interior details include Kirby Ice House signatures like vintage posters of actors and actresses and Texas signage. A 30-foot tall live oak tree provides shade on the patio.

Drink options start with 51 rotating beer taps along with wines by-the-glass and bottle. Cocktails include a cucumber-lime Moscow Mule, blood orange paloma, and lemonade Old Fashioned. Food trucks — including Satellite Pizza, Lupe Tortilla, Hearsay on the Go, Mr.Sizzles, and Boot Shooters BBQ — will be on-site daily.

"We’re so excited to finally be a part of the vibrant Woodlands community,” partners Danny Evans and Russ Morgan said in a statement. “This is a prime location with incredible proximity to residences, businesses, hotels, and attractions, and the casual indoor/outdoor format is a perfect match for the relaxed vibe of the area. We look forward to being a central, neighborhood-centric place to gather — whether it’s for an office happy hour, birthday, sporting event, pre-gaming for a concert, or just hanging out with friends.”

Courtesy of Camp Margaritaville

New Galveston-area beach club and RV resort revs up with Texas-sized pool, restaurant, dog parks, and more

Wastin' away

An RV resort near Galveston Island is getting a major upgrade. After a comprehensive series of renovations, the property currently known as Bolivar Beach Club & RV Resort will become Camp Margaritaville RV Resort Crystal Beach.

Located on Bolivar Peninsula, the 150-acre property features ocean views and over 200 RV parking spots. The facility also features a concert venue, "Texas-sized" pool with swim-up bar pool-side cabanas, and a turf playing field. Upgrades will include the addition of the Fins Bar & Grill restaurant and a bar called License to Chill.

RV drivers will find amenities such as electric, water and sewer hookups, complimentary Wi-Fi, dog parks, a gym, and facilities for showering and doing laundry. The location gives visitors close proximity to 27 miles of beaches along the peninsula.

"We’ve seen incredible success and excitement around our existing Camp Margaritaville RV Resort locations and are thrilled to expand our presence in the state of Texas,” Margaritaville COO Brad Schwaeble said in a statement. “As more and more people are finding new ways to travel and explore, Camp Margaritaville Crystal Beach will provide everything needed for a getaway for all ages.”

Camp Margaritaville joins the company's existing Margaritaville Lake Resort, Lake Conroe. Opened in the summer of 2020, it features 335 suites, an 18-hole golf course, a three-acre waterpark with a lazy river and outdoor pools, and more.

Photo by Michael Anthony

Bludorn team reveals chef and menu details on highly anticipated new Rice Village seafood restaurant

navy blue-dorn casts off in rice village

Aaron Bludorn’s next restaurant is starting to take shape. The chef, along with his wife Victoria Pappas Bludorn and partner/general manager Cherif Mbodji are ready to reveal some details about Navy Blue, the new seafood restaurant they’re opening in Rice Village.

Scheduled to open in November at the former Politan Row space (2445 Times Blvd.), Navy Blue will be, well, the Bludorn of seafood restaurants. That is, a modern fine dining restaurant with highly polished service and an eclectic menu that pulls from a wide range of influences: everything from classic Gulf coast fare like blackened snapper to East Coast favorites and French-influenced dishes.

“Here’s the thing about Bludorn. I don’t think we came down here to open a French restaurant,” Aaron Bludorn tells CultureMap. “Fried chicken and prime rib would tell you otherwise, although it’s rooted in French cuisine. At Navy Blue, we’re leaving it open. We’re calling it American seafood.”

To lead the kitchen, Bludorn and Mbjodi recruited chef Jerrod Zifchak, who worked with them at New York’s Cafe Boulud and took over as executive chef when Bludorn left for Houston. He also brings experience from Le Bernadin, New York’s legendary three-star Michelin seafood restaurant.

“Rarely in this industry do you find people you really like to work with,” Zifchak explains about his decision to team up with Bludorn and Mbodji. “We meld really well together. When I heard about this opportunity, it was really enticing. The fact that it was going to be seafood, and I wanted to get out of New York and go to a new city. That’s how it all started.”

Jerrod Zifchak Navy Blue restaurant Executive chef Jerrod Zifchak.Photo by Michael Anthony

The trio aren’t quite ready to discuss specific dishes that will be served at Navy Blue, although Bludorn acknowledges he doesn’t want any overlap between his two restaurants. Still, he shared some thoughts about the menu’s approach, which will be built around a la carte proteins that can be paired with a wide array of sides. Another detail he adds is that Bludorn’s ability to let people order oysters three ways — raw, baked, or fried — could be expanded to other ingredients such as shrimp, lobster, clams, or even fish.

“What I love to see at Bludorn are four people at a round table and it’s just covered: for the appetizers, for the main course,” Bludorn says. “It’s way more food than you need. It feels like a feast. It’s very lively. That’s the kind of dining I enjoy. I think this menu will make that even more accessible to do with seafood.”

“It’s not going to be limited to Gulf seafood, Zifchak adds. “It’s going to be heavily-inspired with whatever we can get from the Gulf Coast, but we are going to play around with a lot of different things that aren’t necessarily from the Gulf.”

In terms of service, Mbodji says he will apply the lessons he’s learned over the past two years. For example, he knows that drinks need to arrive quickly and parents who are paying babysitters don’t typically want to allocate three hours to their meal. Valet parking will be available for those who don’t want to search for an open meter or a spot in the nearby garage. Other lessons will reveal themselves once the restaurant opens — such as the best path from the kitchen to the dining room to allow for synchronized delivery.

“We know it’s going to be very hands-on. It’s going to be very detail-oriented,” Mbodji adds. “There are elements we’ll bring into play to elevate service as much as possible.”

All the eating will take place in a room with a very different layout than Bludorn. Since it’s essentially a large rectangle, the design began as a blank slate. Expect a private dining room that can also be used for regular service, a bar that’s in the middle of the dining room instead of off to the side, and an open kitchen. At 7,100-square-feet, Navy Blue is slightly smaller than Bludorn, but the shape will allow it to seat approximately the same number of people.

Having grown up in the Pappas Restaurants family, Victoria Pappas Bludorn knows a little about serving seafood to Houstonians. She sees Navy Blue as being a good fit for the city.

“Pappadeaux has their finger on Cajun, and I think they do it super well. Navy Blue has the opportunity to define what they do really well,” she says. “My dad would say he didn’t know how popular Pappadeaux was going to be. It’s left up to Houstonians to decide what’s going to be Navy Blue’s most popular item.”

Courtesy of Andiron

Talented Top Chef veteran with Michelin cred heads up sizzling new steakhouse on Allen Parkway

Andiron's hot new chef

One of this fall’s most eagerly anticipated new restaurants has found a leader for its kitchen. Andiron has named Louis Maldonado as its executive chef.

Owned by Sambrooks Management Company, the restaurant group behind barbecue favorite The Pit Room, Tex-Mex restaurant Candente, and Heights-area seafood concept 1751 Sea & Bar, Andiron will be a modern, live-fire steakhouse. Scheduled to open in December, it will be located at 3201 Allen Pkwy, which is the historic Star Engraving Company building that’s also home to BlendIn Coffee and Clarkwood, the lively bar that’s made a splash since its opening late last year.

SMC owner Michael Sambrooks tells CultureMap that the company found Maldonado after a national search. Although he had a brief run on the New Orleans season of Top Chef, what really stood out about chef Maldonado is that he earned one Michlein star in 2008 as the executive chef at Cortez restaurant in San Francisco. More recently, Maldonado has been working for Michigan’s Pulpo Group at the Dixboro Project, a three-concept venue in Ann Arbor.

“He’s got a record of building teams and achieving extremely high levels of success in the kitchen,” Sambrooks says about Maldonado. “He’s got some wood-burning experience. He likes cooking proteins . . . He’s willing to go on a deep dive into wood-burning techniques with us.”

That experience working with live fire will be essential at Andiron. As Sambrooks explains, the restaurant will serve simply prepared meat and seafood dishes with carefully-sourced, high quality ingredients.

“It’s a pretty deep dive into live fire techniques and sourcing.” he says. “It’s a very ingredient-driven concept. You’re not going to see 15 components on a plate.”

Sambrooks adds that he’ll be working with Maldonado and chef de cuisine Mario Da Silva to finalize the opening menu. He estimates they have six weeks to define the menu’s different sections, establish seasonal dishes, and develop the recipes the kitchen will use. For his part, Maldonado is ready to get started.

“Andiron’s commitment to only the best in terms of the room, service. and cuisine aligns with where I want to be,” Maldonado said in a statement. “I couldn’t be more excited to deliver Andiron to the diners of Houston. I also look forward to settling into Houston, an area where I have friends and family close by.”

Courtesy of Zanti Cucina Italiana

Favorite Woodlands Italian restaurant blooms with new River Oaks locale

Woodlands fave coming to River Oaks

A popular Woodlands restaurant is coming to River Oaks. Zanti Cucina Italiana will open its second location this November in the River Oaks Shopping Center (1958 W. Gray St).

First opened in The Woodlands in 2019 by founder Santiago Peláez, Zanti has developed a strong following for its Italian fare. The restaurant serves housemade pastas and Neapolitan style pizzas alongside a range of shareable appetizers and classic entrees. Popular dishes include beef carpaccio, truffle and cheese ravioli, and lamb osso bucco with saffron risotto. Pizzas come with a range of toppings, as illustrated by local food influencer Anthony Compofelice.


The beverage program begins with an Italian-oriented wine list that offers more than a dozen by-the-glass choices. Cocktails run the gamut from Italian classics like the negroni and Aperol spritz to kicked-up riffs on classics and zero proof options.

Chef and director of operations Stefano Ferrero, who grew up in Italy's Piedmont region, brings experience from hotels in Italy, Switzerland, and Mexico to the role. He'll work alongside executive chef Hilario Zamora and general manager Cristopher Perez to oversee the restaurant.

Overall, the expansive restaurant will occupy almost 7,800-square-feet with an approximately 1,200-square-foot patio. Plans call for it to serve dinner nightly and lunch Thursday-Sunday.

"We look forward to carrying on what we’ve created in The Woodlands and establishing ourselves in another home,” Ferrero said in a statement. “We were drawn to the River Oaks Shopping Center due to its location, unique flair, and walkability."

Houstonians have shown an almost limitless appetite for new Italian restaurants over the past year or so. In the last few months alone, the city has welcomed restaurants such as il Bracco, Davanti, and Numero 28. The months to come will see even more new options, including Underbelly Hospitality's Pastore and Tavola, a companion Italian concept to the renovated La Table.


Courtesy of Zanti Cucina Italiana

Fresh pasta Italiana.

Photos courtesy of 8th Wonder

Buzzy EaDo brewery fires up new cannabis dispensary and lounge

more h-town hemp

A popular Houston brewery and distillery has expanded its partnership with one of the city's foremost producers of hemp-based products by launching a new dispensary. 8th Wonder Cannabis will be a source for a wide range of products, including beverages, gummies, edibles, and more.

Located within 8th Wonder Distillery in EaDo (2201 Dallas St.), 8th Wonder Cannabis will serve as a dispensary and consumption lounge. Scheduled to begin a soft opening October 17, the facility aims to serve both experienced cannabis users as well as the "canna-curious," those who are still adjusting to the world of legal hemp-based products such as CBD and Delta-8 THC. It will sell products that 8th Wonder produces in partnership with Bayou City Hemp as well as those produced by brands such as Third Coast Blends, Mixer Elixir, and Leaf Life Wellness.

8th Wonder Cannabis deepens the partnership that began last year when 8th Wonder Brewing teamed up with Bayou City Hemp to produce Wonder Water, a non-alcoholic beverage available with either CBD or Delta-8 that has become the top-selling to-go product at 8th Wonder. Since then, 8th Wonder has expanded its line with different seltzers including Trillionaire, a watermelon-flavored, Delta-8 beverage produced in collaboration with Houston hip hop legend Bun B.


8th Wonder Cannabis Trillionaire seltzer Bun B Bun B partnered with 8th Wonder to produce Trillionaire seltzer.

“We firmly believe the future of the hospitality industry will feature cannabis quite extensively,” 8th Wonder president and co-founder Ryan Soroka said in a statement. “As stewards of the cannabis industry in Texas, Bayou City Hemp’s emphasis on innovation, quality, and collaboration not only produces the best products, but helps normalize cannabis in a safe and trusted way.”

Part of that trust comes from the use of both in-house and third-party laboratory analysis to ensure that the products contain what only as much CBD or THC as they are advertised to. In addition, 8th Wonder only sells its products to people who are 21 or older.

Hemp-based products became legal in Texas with the passage of House Bill 1325, a law that followed a 2018 federal law that legalized hemp but kept marijuana legal. To qualify, a product must have less than 0.3-percent THC. Whether the Texas Department of State Health Services has the authority to ban Delta-8 is the subject of an ongoing lawsuit, the Texas Tribune reports.

Soroka acknowledges that 8th Wonder Cannabis would include marijuana products if they ever become legal in Texas. Polls show support for such a move, and gubernatorial Beto O'Rourke has made that part of his campaign platform.

"Some people still want to let loose and socialize as beer and spirits allow many people to do. Hemp and "cannabis products are also an option for people," Soroka tells CultureMap. "We want this to be done in a way that hopefully will include marijuana in the end game. Right now, the name of the game is hemp, and we’re going to continue in that path."

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Homey new art installation moves into Discovery Green this fall

Welcome Home

Remember the playful, larger-than-life spinning tops that took over Discovery Green in 2015? The team behind that public art installation is back with another unique, interactive exhibit.

Called Mi Casa, Your Casa 2.0, it features 16 glowing, house-like play structures on the Sarofim Lawn that create a space for Houstonians to sit, swing, relax, and come together as a community.

The installation from Mexican designers Esrawe + Cadena is inspired by the mercados of Latin America — lively street markets where human connections are made every day.

The goal is for visitors to make new friends, try new activities, dance to music, and enjoy the city’s diverse cultural and art experiences for the duration of the exhibit, which runs October 8-November 14, 2022.

But that's not all. To help bring Houstonians together, there will be public art programming inspired by the installation and sponsored by Houston Association of Realtors, starting with a big opening night celebration.

On October 8 from 6-10 pm, get ready for:

  • Two evening performances of Lifted by Mimbre, an all-woman acrobatic dance group from the United Kingdom on their first U.S. tour.
  • Houston artist Ange Hillz live-painting the newest President's Mural: Discovery Green from A to Z. Hillz will paint accompanied by DJ Monstaa and pianist DJ Pee Wee from The Too Laid Back Band. The painting will be on view through January 29, 2023.

"During the past two years, many Houstonians have felt isolated in their homes and have missed the opportunity to be part of a community," says Jennifer Wauhob, chair of the Houston Association of Realtors, which is sponsoring the public art programming. "Our 49,000 Realtors know how important community connection is and Mi Casa, Your Casa 2.0 creates a space where strangers can become friends in the comfort of an exhibit that feels like home."

Here's what else you can enjoy throughout the installation's six-week run:

  • Listen to a “Houston Strong” playlist courtesy of ROCO while enjoying the Mi Casa, Your Casa 2.0 art installation.
  • Catch two more performances of Lifted on October 9 at noon and 2:30 pm.
  • Watch the Houston Pride Band’s SaxWorx and Brass Tax quartet perform on October 14 from 7-9 pm.
  • Enjoy traditional Indonesian music from Gamelan of the New Moon performed live on October 21 from 7-9 pm.

And especially for children:

  • On Saturday, October 8, from 1:30-3 pm, kids can create a mini casa using toothpicks and gumdrops with the help of Girlstart STEM.
  • On Saturday, October 15, from 1:30-3 pm, kids can sing and dance along with Encanto characters Isabela, Mirabel, and Dolores.
  • On Saturday, October 29 from 1:30-3 pm, they can enjoy cultural crafts created by exhibitors visiting from different parts of Mexico.

Discovery Green is a 12-acre park that features sprawling lawns, a one-acre lake, an interactive fountain, a playground, public art installations, gardens, and an allée of century-old live oaks. Since opening in April 2008, the park has welcomed more than 20 million visitors.

As Discovery Green prepares to celebrate its 15th birthday party, Houstonians are invited to “discover themselves” at the park with free concerts, entertainment, relaxation, and more. More info at www.discoverygreen.com.

Photo courtesy of Creos

Esrawe + Cadena's Mi Casa, Your Casa 2.0 is on display October 8-November 14, 2022.

RodeoHouston reveals Conroe-born country star Parker McCollum as 2023 Opening Day headliner

parker saddles up for rodeo

A familiar face will headline the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo’s wildly popular Opening Day performance. Conroe native and country star Parker McCollum will take the NRG Stadium stage on Tuesday, February 28, 2023, the rodeo announced.

Individual tickets for McCollum’s Opening Days show start at $25, plus a $4 convenience fee and are on sale at 10 am on Thursday, October 6 via rodeohouston.com. As always, an Online Waiting Room will open at 9:30 am; customers who join the Waiting Room from 9:30 to 9:59 am will be randomly selected to purchase tickets at 10 am. (A place in the Waiting Room does not guarantee tickets.) Customers can purchase a maximum of eight tickets.

McCollum, who boasts more than 3.3 million followers on Spotify with favorites such as “Pretty Heart,” “To Be Loved by You,” and “Hell of a Year,” has won fans with his mix of Americana and country, infused with a bit of blues, soul, and folk rock. Currently touring with country crooner Thomas Rhett, McCollum is a natural choice to open the 2023 RodeoHouston concert series, as the singer-songwriter drew a crowd of 73,243 at last year’s rodeo, marking the fourth-highest paid rodeo/concert attendance in 2022.

Fittingly, custom-designed caps commemorating Opening Day and McCollum’s return to RodeoHouston will be available for purchase online.

New for 2023, a special Opening Day celebration will feature a performance by a local band on the Stars Over Texas Stage before McCollum’s show. Special giveaways will include 10,000 custom-made Howdy bobbleheads for early arrivers that morning (starting at 10 am). Visitors can expect a host of activities including an Opening Day Parade at NRG Park.

As for the highly anticipated 2023 RodeoHouston entertainer will be announced at a later date, plus more Opening Day details, per the rodeo.

“Everyone looks forward to the upcoming Rodeo season all year long, and we hope all Rodeo fans will circle Opening Day on their 2023 calendars, as this will be a day you won’t want to miss,” Chris Boleman, rodeo president and CEO, noted in a statement. “February 28 will truly be a Houston-themed celebration, as we kick off the 2023 Rodeo season with Houston’s-own country music star Parker McCollum closing out the day with another unforgettable RodeoHouston performance.”

The 2023 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and all RodeoHouston performances are scheduled for February 28–March 19, 2023 at NRG Park.

Houston high schools score high marks as Texas' best in 2022

A+ rating

Several campuses in the Houston area have earned extra credit as the best high schools in Texas.

In the latest rankings from education review website Niche, Houston's Carnegie Vanguard High School and Debakey High School for Health Professions come in No. 4 and No. 5 respectively among the state's best public high schools.

Meanwhile, Awty International School comes in at No. 2 (up from No. 3 last year) on the list of the state’s best private high schools.

Here's how Houston schools scored:

  • Houston ISD’s Carnegie Vanguard High School, No. 4 among public high schools
  • Katy ISD’s Seven Lakes High School, No. 5 among public high schools
  • William P. Clements High School, No. 5 among public high schools
  • Houston ISD’s Debakey High School for Health Professions, No. 5 among public high schools
  • Houston ISD’s Kinder High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, No. 9 among public high schools
  • The John Cooper School in The Woodlands, No. 6 among private high schools
  • The Village School in Houston, No. 7 among private high schools
  • The Kincaid School in Houston, No. 10 among private high schools
For those interested in private schools, here are the top Houston institutions this year.
  • The Awty International School
  • The John Cooper School
  • The Village School
  • The Kinkaid School
  • Strake Jesuit College Preparatory

“Some of the biggest decisions that parents face have to do with their children’s education,” Luke Skurman, founder and CEO of Niche, says in a news release. “We strive to put as much power in their hands as possible so they can make informed decisions with confidence.”

Niche says that while traditional rankings rely heavily on metrics like test scores and academic performance, its rankings combine ratings from current students, alumni, and parents with data from the U.S. Department of Education to evaluate teachers, resources, facilities, extracurricular activities and more.

Here’s how other Texas schools and school districts fared in this year’s Niche rankings.

Austin area

  • Austin ISD’s Liberal Arts & Science Academy, No. 2 among public high schools
  • Eanes ISD’s Westlake High School, No. 6 among public high schools
  • Round Rock ISD’s Westwood High IB World School, No. 8 among public high schools
  • St. Stephen’s Episcopal School in Austin, No. 4 among private high schools
  • Eanes ISD, No. 1 among best school districts
Dallas area

Dallas ISD’s School for the Talented & Gifted tops the list of the state’s best public high schools, and St. Mark’s School of Texas in Dallas leads the list of the state’s best private high schools. Both schools ranked first on their respective Niche lists last year.

San Antonio area

  • Keystone School in San Antonio, No. 9 among private high schools
  • BASIS Texas Charter Schools in San Antonio, No. 4 among school districts

Rio Grande Valley

  • South Texas ISD in Mercedes, No. 2 among school districts