Photo by © F. Carter Smith

Renowned photographer F. Carter Smith trained his lens on CultureMap's fabulous Fifth Birthday Party and found a lot to look at.

Great photographers just see things differently. Through their lens, a party comes alive. That was the case with longtime Houston photographer F. Carter Smith [https://twitter.com/fcarters], who trained his camera on CultureMap's Fifth Birthday Bash [http://houston.culturemap.com/news/society/10-12-14-the-ultimate-underground-party-culturemaps-anniversary-bash-rocks-h-town-in-hot-new-downtown-hotel/] and came up with these unposed photos that captured the spirit of the party that people are still talking about several days later. ----------------------- This guest agreed it was a swinging party.

Photo by © F. Carter Smith
Great photographers just see things differently. Through their lens, a party comes alive. That was the case with longtime Houston photographer F. Carter Smith [https://twitter.com/fcarters], who trained his camera on CultureMap's Fifth Birthday Bash [http://houston.culturemap.com/news/society/10-12-14-the-ultimate-underground-party-culturemaps-anniversary-bash-rocks-h-town-in-hot-new-downtown-hotel/] and came up with these unposed photos that captured the spirit of the party that people are still talking about several days later. ----------------------- This guest agreed it was a swinging party.
Photo by Michelle Watson/CultureMapSnap

Revisiting J.J. Watt Pizza Boy, Jeremy Lin discrimination & Beren's good fight: CultureMap's top sports stories

J.J. Watt Pizza Boy Revisited

When I was first brought onto CultureMap a few months after the site first launched and tasked with helping increase the readership of a publication already high on quality content, I wasn't sure if sports would be part of the equation. At that point, we were still defining what our definition of "culture" would be and hadn't arrived at the what people are talking about in the city litmus test that's steered this grand adventure so well for years now.

No back then, I thought I might be done with sports after having spent more than a decade reporting on it professionally. The whole everyone writes the same story, everyone's afraid to break from the herd, aspect that often defines modern sports writing had grown tiresome. Luckily for sports to succeed at CultureMap, they'd have to be done differently. No writing scared. No doing a story just because somebody else is doing it. No limitations.

Five years later, Sports is one of the most read sections in CultureMap — with sports stories all over the most read CultureMap stories of all time — and it's the section that draws the most reader comments, inflaming plenty of passion. More importantly, CultureMap Sports is unlike any other sports section in the city.

This pleases many loyal fans and drives many haters — who are even more loyal — absolutely crazy. I even enjoyed the guy who wrote in that I was a waste of sperm. It's all part of fun. It's sports after all. It's supposed to be fun.

Looking back on five years of CultureMap Sports has been more enjoyable than that guy starting out wondering if it'd part of the equation ever could have imagined. With that in mind here are five of the most compelling CultureMap Sports stories ever. Somehow nothing on Arian Foster — my favorite athlete to cover about during this run — made the cut. (I have to work on writing about Arian as memorably as Arian talks about anything more important than football.)

Freelancer Kim Davis' interview with Calvin Murphy on his return to being involved with Houston Rockets' broadcasts and his frank thoughts on the child abuse accusations that pushed him out of game before his acquittal also deserves special mention.

5). Meet the big name partners of new Astros owner Jim Crane: Other power players involved in the deal

One of CultureMap's first big sports scoops came when we uncovered the other major partners in the Jim Crane-led new Houston Astros ownership group. This story showed some of the real behind-the-scenes power involved with the Astros and made it clear that Crane would be expected to run the franchise like a true business with cost limitations rather than as a vanity toy.

"I'm not a baseball fan," one of the investors told us then. "I don't go to the games. I'm actually doing it because of Jim Crane.

"I'm betting on Jim. I believe in him. I think he's a good manager. He has a good track record."

"I'm not a baseball fan. I don't go to the games. I'm actually doing it because of Jim Crane."

Yes, Jim Crane is expected to make some high-powered people some major money as he rebuilds the Astros. That dynamic is still very much in play today. And it plays a factor in almost every move the Astros make. Or don't make.

More recently, CultureMap was the first outlet in the country to identify Bill O'Brien as the Texans' clear No. 1 target in their head coach search. A source close to the search detailed Bob McNair's fascination with O'Brien to me and CultureMap followers read it first.

We don't have the sports staff size to be first on every hamstring pull and minor level roster move (and that's not really CultureMap's mission either), but for major sports news that changes the course of franchises, we'll break more than our share.

4). Jeremy Lin benching reaches new heights of insanity: McHale's dooming the Rockets to first round failure

Jeremy Lin's one of the most compelling and most misused athletes who's ever donned a Houston uniform and the Houston Rockets' often inexplicable treatment of him became regular column fodder. There are a number of pieces I could have picked for this slot. The secret story of the angry Leslie Alexander phone call that pushed the Rockets to resign Lin in free agency only months after cutting him is an old favorite. It soon seemed apparent that Daryl Morey and Kevin McHale never truly wanted Lin back themselves and their resentments would haunt the Rockets for seasons to come.

But it's this column from last January when I detailed how McHale's absurd benchings of Jeremy Lin and related coaching blunders would doom the Rockets to a first round playoff loss that is the most representative.

At the time, Rockets honks (including several team employees) rushed to leave comments mocking the very idea of a James Harden and Dwight Howard team bowing out in the first round. What happened against Portland months later, again?

Sports commentary is not always about being right, but when the signs were so obvious and so many willingly and eagerly blatantly ignored them in fits of Lin Only Hate, there's something to be said for not following the crowd.

3). Hard work and love: How Rice became football champions after 56 years and one monster betrayal

When I reached out to MoiseKapenda Bower and asked him to become a CultureMap contributor, I was surprised he hadn't been locked up in an exclusive contract by some big money outfit. Bower's a unique, thinking man's sports writer. He's on top of the sports analytics movement and he often brings out a stat you may not have considered.

The Houston Chronicle's loss and blunder has turned into CultureMap readers' big gain. All of Bower's gifts are on full display in this column on the Rice University football team's first conference championship in 56 years. While others only saw the celebratory Gatorade bath that coach David Bailiff joked he wished was chicken soup, Bower looked back and put it all in perspective by detailing how far Rice had crawled since the deception of a "traitorous former coach."

This one's worth reading again.

2). Texans will rue the night they took Pizza Boy J.J. Watt over Nick Fairley, Houston lover

My draft-night deadline column arguing that the Texans made a serious blunder by picking the high-character J.J. Watt over maverick Auburn superstar Nick Fairley is certainly one of the major flash point CultureMap stories of all time. J.J. Watt's talked about it motivating him to work even harder in interviews (you're welcome, Houston!) as if this ultra-driven force really needed an extra push. It's also one of the most read and commented on CultureMap articles ever.

Houston's sports radio giant 610 AM was filled with Watt questioning talk from its hosts on the night of the 2011 NFL Draft. Those hosts just don't admit it now. I do.

Yes, I turned out to be colossally wrong on Watt. But the people who think I should be ashamed over that amuse me to no end. Do you think Peter King is torn up over having picked Brooks Reed to be the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in a season in which Reed ended up finishing with a paltry 27 total tackles and two and a half sacks?

Sports writing isn't about predicting the future ( if it was, we'd all be in high-rollers suites in Vegas not high up in the rafters of NRG Stadium). Sports Illustrated's almost made it a point of honor to get its championship predictions spectacularly wrong. Heck, SI likely dubbed the Houston Astros the "2017 World Series Champs" just so that cover will be brought up again and again when it doesn't happen.

Sports commentary's about offering compelling takes with the information you have at the time. That's what I did in that J.J. Watt draft night column. Plenty of other media voices railed against the Watt pick at the time. Fans booed the Watt selection at the Texans official draft party. Houston's sports radio giant 610 AM was filled with Watt questioning talk from its hosts on the night of the 2011 NFL Draft. Those hosts just don't admit it now.

I do and still own that column years later. You'll be able to still read this Watt column, and laugh if you want, on CultureMap's 10th anniversary too. You should still be able to read it when J.J. Watt's inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

And I'll still get a little thrill and smile whenever anyone comments on it and calls me an idiot all these years later.

1). No lost night: Beren Academy creates one of the classiest scenes in sports even as the cameras flee

A tiny Orthodox Jewish day school's quest to be able to play in the state high school basketball tournament while staying true to its religious beliefs captured national attention. The New York Times, CNN and NBC Nightly News were just a few of the major outlets that swooped into Houston to cover Robert M. Beren Academy's fight against Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools (TAPPS).

It was a stand for religious freedom, with the Beren kids standing strong on their vow to forfeit their once-in-a-lifetime state semifinal run if TAPPs insisted on making them play on the Sabbath.

CultureMap stayed a step ahead of the story all the way, becoming the first outlet to call for TAPPS to reverse its small-minded decision and providing a rare look behind the big gates of the school. But it's a column about the aftermath of Beren's heartbreakingly close loss in the state championship game — the end of the opportunity they fought so hard to get — that stands out as the most powerful CultureMap sports story of all time.

This is a story about a kid's heart and what happens when the cameras flee.

J.J. Watt has overcome any Pizza Boy doubts and dismissals to become a legit NFL MVP candidate.

Photo by Michelle Watson/CultureMapSnap
J.J. Watt has overcome any Pizza Boy doubts and dismissals to become a legit NFL MVP candidate.
Photo by © Chinh Phan/Fotowerk Group

The ultimate underground party: CultureMap's anniversary bash rocks hot new hotel, draws VIPs

Hot Underground Party

Nightlife denizens arm in arm with social swells, young professionals and media personalities found their groove underground on Friday when CultureMap inaugurated the new JW Marriott event space with a fifth anniversary blowout that rocked the night.

Yes, it's been a meteoric five years for H-Town's daily digital magazine — more than 21,400 articles, 45,000 Facebook fans, millions and millions of page views — and more than 750 ready-to-party guests joined the celebration. CultureMap's Fifth Birthday Bash, presented by Cadillac, was a night loaded with music, art, dancing, food and drink as well as fundraising for Casa de Esperanza.

Waves of guests followed the staircase that led down to the hotel's hip Gallery Level where IDT Band boosted the energy component on the Cadillac Concert Music Stage. Ramping up the party beat from the start were the Sonic Boom drummers, followed by the Fly Boys. Even after their hip-hop/power moves performance, the Fly Boys stayed on to join guests on the dance floor.

So many diversions, so little time particularly with the schmoozing required in the crowd that included a broad mix of Houston VIPs.

So many diversions, so little time — particularly with the schmoozing required in the crowd that included a broad mix of Houston VIPs — Houston Superbowl 2017 executive director Sallie Sargent, KHOU Channel 11's Lily Jang, KTRK Channel 13's Miya Shay, Tootsies' Mickey Rosmarin, International Best Dressed Hall of Famer Lynn Wyatt, hair stylist to the stars Ceron, uber philanthropists Sue and Lester Smith and CultureMap co-founder Lonnie Schiller with wife Candice.

"The original CultureMap was one of those middle-of-the-night ideas," Lonnie Schiller recalled. "Just a way to find restaurants on a really simple map. Mostly because, as a restaurateur, I could never think of new places to try.

"CultureMap really started to evolve when I got Tod Eason and John Thrash to be my financial partners. If any one person is the key, it was and has always been John. John not only funded most of it, but had the vision to get real writers and journalist on board."

One of those journalists on hand from the start is editor-in-chief Clifford Pugh, who noted, "It's hard to believe it's been five years since we started CultureMap. Every day has been a great adventure and to see readers so involved with the site has been amazing. I can't wait to see what happens in the next five years."

Another member of that early CultureMap team, publicist Mark Sullivan mingled in the crowd that included Yellow Cab president Roman Martinez and controller Erskine Black. That duo checked out the company's #HailAMatch Match Game while photographer F. Carter Smith made it a busman's holiday clicking away as he perused the eclectic party scene.

We loved the Bacardi Truth Booth where masked fashion police, delivered thumbs up and thumbs down to partygoers brave enough to put their looks on the line.

We loved the Bacardi Truth Booth where masked fashion police, delivered thumbs up and thumbs down to partygoers brave enough to put their looks on the line. And, thank you, Kendra Scott for the swag station where guests were gifted with her popular earrings.

Smilebooth contributed its photographic fun, much of the playfulness fueled by flowing cocktails and wines from Max's Wine Dive. At the Circulo Tequila Cocktail Lab, guests were instructed on making the perfect tequila cocktail.

The party action was endless as Neal Hamil models, under the watchful eye of Jeff Shell, worked the lounges with iPads, encouraging revelers to register to win the Cadillac Concert Series Giveaway. Esperson Gallery artists created artworks for sale. DJ Bizonee spun the discs. Various eateries offered up yummy taste treats.

The party crowd included Casa de Esperanza board president Ed Smith, David Peck, Joanne King Herring, Stuart Rosenberg, Valerie and Tracy Dieterich, Dr. Romy Mitchell, Neal Hamil, Annie Amante, Jared Lang, Monitrice Malone, Jeanne Ruberti, Ellie and Michael Francisco, Courtney Zubowski Haas and Dr. Eric Haas, Theresa and Dr. Lamar Roemer, Judy Nichols, Magen Pastor and so many more.

Christina Ghoson, from left, Kellie Vincent, Holly Gambini and Cristina Halliburton.

Photo by © Chinh Phan/Fotowerk Group
Christina Ghoson, from left, Kellie Vincent, Holly Gambini and Cristina Halliburton.
Photo by © Julie Soefer/Greater Houston Visitors and Convention Bureau

Houston's Biggest Restaurant Openings: The spots that are changing the way the city eats

Major Restaurant Openings

With CultureMap celebrating its fifth anniversary, we're taking a look back at some of the biggest food stories of the last five years. Today's column examines Houston's most significant restaurant openings during that span.

The last five years have been a dynamic one for Houston restaurants. Finally, the city has captured nationwide attention as a new generation of chefs, both homegrown and transplanted, have begun to utilize local meat, seafood and produce in dishes inspired by the city's many culinary traditions. While it's hard to compare the current wave to the period 30 years ago when Robert Del Grande and others made Houston a culinary hotspot for Southwestern cuisine, few would deny that it's a great time to dine in Houston.

Read on to see CultureMap's picks for the restaurants that have helped Houston stand proudly on the national stage. Hopefully, despite the immense challenges that cause even high-profile restaurants to close, they're still around for our 10th anniversary.

Honorable Mention: The rise of Houston barbecue.
For too long, Houstonians in search of smoky, fatty, Central-Texas style barbecue had to travel to Austin. Saucy East Texas barbecue had its champions with places like Williams Smokehouse, Thelma's Bar B Que and Pierson & Company Bar-B-Que, but Houston was a virtual barbecue wasteland for far too long. That all changed in 2010 with the opening of Gatlin's BBQ in the Heights.

Houston was a virtual barbecue wasteland for far too long. That all changed in 2010 with the opening of Gatlin's in The Heights.

Suddenly, barbecue fans had a consistent source of spicy sausage, ribs that didn't fall apart at first bite and fatty brisket. Since then, The Brisket House, CorkScrew BBQ, Brooks' Place and Killen's Barbecue have all raised the game.

Who needs to drive to Luling or Lockhart?

Honorable Mention: The class of 2014.
The biggest problem with taking a look back is that it's unclear how to measure what's happening now. The last year has been a dynamic one for Houston restaurants with several high quality openings that could earn a spot on a list of "The best Houston restaurants to open between 2009 and 2014" once we've had a better chance to assess their role.

Will Caracol help Hugo Ortega finally kick down the door and win a James Beard Award? Will Coltivare emerge as a staple of new Southern cuisine like Husk in Charleston or Empire State South in Atlanta? Will Common Bond realize chef Roy Shvartzapel's goal of becoming the best bakery in America? Will Killen's Barbecue dethrone Franklin Barbecue as the best in Texas? Will Pax Americana usher in a new wave of reasonably priced, ambitious neighborhood restaurants?

If the answers to those questions are yes, Houston will be an even better place to dine than it already is.

Brasserie 19
Since it opened in 2011, Clark/Cooper Concepts River Oaks restaurant has emerged as Houston's top see and be seen spot. Socialites flock there, jockeying for a prime position sitting in front of the restaurant's famous windows that overlook the never-ending parade of luxury automobiles that flood its valet stand. Long time general manager Shawn Virene presides over the madness, soothing egos and ensuring that every important guest is properly coddled.

Credit also goes to Clark/Cooper's famous, barely over retail wine pricing; Brasserie makes a point of selling the city's least expensive bottle of Veuve Clicquot champagne. While the food isn't very adventurous, it is consistent, with reliable salads, fresh oysters and steak frites always available.

Mala Sichuan
Whether you call it the colloquial Chinatown or the more accurate Asia Town, the stretch of restaurants on Bellaire Blvd from Fondren to Dairy Ashford (roughly) has been one of Houston's most dynamic restaurant rows, luring adventurous diners from across the city for seafood, dim sum and specialties unavailable anywhere else.

Mala sets itself apart in a few simple ways: A clearly written English menu that ensures diners understand what they're ordering; a well-priced, carefully curated wine list by former Oxheart sommelier Justin Vann; and rigorously authentic Sichuan cuisine that leaves diners lips pulsing with the signature mala tingle. Dishes like roasted prawns, red oil dumplings and four joy lionhead meatballs have become instant classics.

Finally, it has become the one restaurant where I always seem to spot members of Houston's restaurant industry — people who are constantly around food want to eat at this restaurant. Could there be any compliment higher than that?

The Pass & Provisions
That the dual concept restaurant from chefs Terrence Gallivan and Seth Siegel-Gardner manages to fulfill both its missions, casual neighborhood spot for pizza and cocktails (roughly) and conceptual, multi-course tasting menus, would probably be reason enough to include it on this list. Amazingly, it also continues to get better.

Earlier this year, The Pass added a full second menu that is both vegan and gluten-free, meaning it's accessible to diners with a wide variety of food allergies or dietary preferences. A recent meal at Provisions featured a gigantic, super crispy soft shell crab with a sweet-spicy Thai sauce that's as good a preparation of that protein as I can ever recall having.

Try Provisions for brunch. It can be less crowded, and the homemade kolaches, biscuits and bagels show the same clever attention to detail that makes dining at this restaurant so much fun.

Yes, Justin Yu's 31-seat restaurant in the Warehouse District has innovative food that takes high quality local ingredients and filters them through a variety of influences, including Ubuntu, a Michelin-starred vegetarian restaurant in California, and a variety of stages across Europe that he and wife Karen Man documented on a highly readable blog. And yes, Man's breads and pastries add another layer of excellent technique to match the savory cuisine.

What I don't often hear people mention when they discuss Oxheart is the overall sense of hospitality that pervades the restaurant.

Still, what I don't often hear people mention when they discuss Oxheart is the overall sense of hospitality that pervades the restaurant. The staff is well aware of how far in advance people make their reservations, and they're passionately committed to delivering the best evening possible.

While the stripped down space with its bar seating, record player and wide open view of the kitchen may not be for everyone, I've never personally dined there with anyone who wasn't delighted by the experience.

By taking home Houston's first James Beard Award in 22 years, Chris Shepherd cemented his status as a bona fide celebrity chef and the face of Houston food. His restaurant Underbelly that tells "the story of Houston food" by bringing together the city's culinary cultures and locally-sourced ingredients with elevated techniques has become the face of the city's culinary scene for educated diners from around the world.

Even though he maintains a fairly rigorous travel schedule, Shepherd is still an almost constant presence at Underbelly (if he's not cheering for the Texans at Hay Merchant during away games). A new generation of sous chefs has emerged, and they're eager to protect the restaurant's reputation.

Meanwhile, Underbelly's ethos has spread throughout the Clumsy Butcher group, which means that the bar food at Hay Merchant (Korean-inspired gochujang wings, Japanese pork cutlet) and the cafe fare at Blacksmith (red eye gravy on the biscuit) all reflect Shepherd's culinary perspective.

Justin Yu's meticulous food has earned a lot of praise, but the spirit of hospitality pervades dining at Oxheart.

Photo by © Julie Soefer/Greater Houston Visitors and Convention Bureau
Justin Yu's meticulous food has earned a lot of praise, but the spirit of hospitality pervades dining at Oxheart.
Photo by Sandy Pictorica/NPG

5 best CultureMap celebrity spottings: Gaga in the pool, Beyoncé at Target, Manziel on the runway

CultureMap at 5

Face it, we love to read about celebrities. So when CultureMap spots a notable doing regular things in Houston, readers clamour for details. To celebrate CultureMap's fifth birthday, we look back at some of our best celeb spottings:

Lady Gaga

At the height of her popularity, Lady Gaga came to Houston for two concerts in the summer of 2010. But she didn't spend all her time in the Toyota Center, as we discovered.

Lady Gaga dines late at Spanish Flowers and goes unnoticed (published July 26, 2010)

"While Lady Gaga ignited plenty of excitement at Toyota Center on Sunday, she caused barely a ripple at Spanish Flowers after her show when she and her stage crew showed up for margaritas, nachos and platters of Tex-Mex," Shelby Hodge wrote.

Tracking Lady Gaga's Houston adventure: From the St. Regis pool to Dirt Bar (published July 27, 2010)

"The pop sensation stayed at the St. Regis (OK that's not such an eye-opener, there are only so many five-star hotels to go around). But Gaga's Monday afternoon fun in St. Regis' pool certainly was — with photos of it acquired by TMZ," Chris Baldwin wrote.

"Even after Lady Gaga finished her second high-energy, sold-out show at the Toyota Center Monday night, she still wasn't done with Houston. Post concert, Gaga hit Dirt Bar in the Heights, her second trip to the area in as many nights."

Anna Wintour

Vogue editor Anna Wintour regularly spends the Christmas holidays in Houston with her main squeez, Shelby Bryan, and his family. But we didn't expect to see her in the vitamin aisle at Central Market.

Celebrity on Aisle 9: Vogue's Anna Wintour spotted at Central Market — but not in the magazine section (published Dec. 24, 2012)

"In Christmases past, Anna Wintour has been spotted at the Avalon Diner, Tiny Boxwoods and the River Oaks Theatre. But who would have guessed that the icy Vogue magazine editor is a supermarket shopper? Our CultureMap spies snapped this grainy shot of Wintour in a print dress (at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week she often wears such short-sleeved dresses) and gold chain necklace, carrying her trademark Chanel sunglasses, as she perused the vitamin aisle virtually unnoticed," Clifford Pugh wrote.


Houston's favorite celebrity continually swoops into Houston, often without notice, to see family. But when she was in town two times for concerts, she was a little more high-profile.

Surprise! Beyoncé pops up all over Houston — the Target shopping trip is just the beginning (published July 15, 2013)

"Beyonce is hardly hiding out in her luxury hotel room on her visit home to Houston," Chris Baldwin wrote. "The music superstar is being spotted all over town in advance of Monday night's much-anticipated, sold-out show at Toyota Center. She hit the Galleria-area Target on San Felipe on Sunday, with incredulous fans snapping Twitpics of Beyonce browsing in the hats section as a bodyguard in a polo shirt and jeans looked on. Hey, one can never have too many reasonably-priced accessories.

Even if your net worth is an estimated $350 million."

Beyoncé and Jay Z's H-Town weekend: After-concert antics, art tour and brunch with Blue Ivy (published July 23, 2014)

Surprise! Beyoncé, Solange & Tina Knowles take a tour through The Menil, talk of new album (published July 3, 2012)

Johnny Manziel

Johnny Manziel's surprise Houston visit is full of meaning: Potential No. 1 pick wouldn't miss this night (published Feb. 4, 2014)

"It was a surreal evening with the A&M quarterback and a posse of rangers milling around a high-end women's department store," Shelby Hodge wrote.

Michelle Obama

Surprise! Michelle Obama and a friend enjoy a low-key meal at a trendy Houston restaurant (published April 10, 2014)

"As Triniti chef/owner Ryan Hildebrand understands the process for deciding which restaurant to visit, Obama's team selects six possible candidates, and then the First Lady chooses the one that's most appealing to her. Hildebrand found out she'd selected his restaurant around 5:30 p.m.," Eric Sandler wrote.

Honorable mention:

Lady Gaga frolics in the St. Regis Hotel swimming pool.

Photo by Sandy Pictorica/NPG
Lady Gaga frolics in the St. Regis Hotel swimming pool.
Photo by Robyn Arounty

Favorite CultureMap columns: Eva Longoria for president, scary chairs, chef shoes & a hometown bat

CultureMap at 5

To celebrate CultureMap's fifth birthday, we asked our merry band of contributors to pick their favorite CultureMap column since we first launched in 2009. Here's what they had to say:

Be afraid, be very afraid of a home too comfortable: A chilling tale of the wandering red chair by Tarra Gaines (published Oct. 28, 2011)

"It was difficult to pick a favorite so I chose one appropriate for October. The column was originally written for the "Comforts of Home" editorial series, so, of course, I wrote a true-ish Halloween tale that's about both my family's love of a good yarn and about the horrors of judgmental furniture," Gaines explains.

Houston's next real estate hotspots: Off-the-radar locales — former hooker haven included — are rising by Ralph Bivins (published Aug. 25, 2014)

"As a native Houstonian, I often drive around our city and look for places that have a lot of potential," Bivins explains. "This column, listing some of Houston’s lesser known up-and-comer areas drew a huge response from the readers and we had some interesting discussions.

"Within a few weeks after this column ran in CultureMap, we saw a number of new real estate deals happening in these zones, too. The geography of Houston is one of the great loves of my life and writing about our city for CultureMap is a pleasure."

Sole survivors: Houston's top chefs reveal their favorite footwear for racing around the kitchen by Marene Gustin (published Oct. 21, 2012)

"This column idea came to me when I was interviewing chef Randy Evans at the old Haven and we both noticed we were wearing cowboy boots," Gustin explains. "And I thought, huh, wonder if any other chefs cook in boots? So I started asking (Randy was the only I found) but I found a lot of interesting kitchen footwear!"

Anthony Rendon is turning into a true star, but his Rice University humbleness isn't going, going, gone by Moisekapenda Bower (published May, 2, 2014)

As a longtime sports writer, Bower doesn't like to play favorites. But when we pressed him for his best-liked CultureMap column, he chose a well-received feature he wrote on Washington Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon. "Having covered him extensively while he played at Rice, it was easy to predict his stardom. However, to see it all unfold according to plan is special nonetheless," Bower notes.

Steve Minatra sees the gems among the junk: A true craftsman shares his secrets by Katie Oxford (published Dec. 24, 2011)

Oxford, who writes a regular CultureMap column called Tattered Jeans, had a lot to choose from, since her topics have ranged from stories gathered from spending several months in Louisiana after the BP oil spill to her ire against leaf blowers. But something about Steve Minatra, a Houston craftsman who makes magic from what others would consider junk remains with her several years after she wrote the column.

"The Louisiana stories are closest to my heart but so are those that I call understories," Oxford explains. "Like understory trees, they are usually not as visible but they are more beautiful in different ways."

As CultureMap editor-in-chief, I take executive preogative to add in my favorite column. too.

Eva Longoria for President! How this Desperate Housewife could win the White House by Clifford Pugh (published Nov. 11, 2013)

After observing the Desperate Housewives star charm a large group of admirers at the University of Houston, I thought, if Ronald Reagan can become President of the United States, it's not out of the realm of possibility that Longoria could have a storied career in politics.

It seems like I'm not the only one thinking along the same lines. A column in this week's Daily Beast titled "The Democrats' Secret Power Player" says this about Longoria: "From working behind the scenes in the midterms to making a new farm labor documentary, the former Desperate Housewife has emerged as a force to be reckoned with in liberal politics."

Save a place for me at the inauguration.


CultureMap is celebrating its fifth birthday with a big party on Friday from 7 - 10 p.m. at the new JW Marriott Houston Downtown, with a portion of proceeds going to Casa de Esperanza. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased online.

Ooh La La's Vanessa O'Donnell wears a pair of adorable cupcake decorated Toms.

Photo by Robyn Arounty
Ooh La La's Vanessa O'Donnell wears a pair of adorable cupcake decorated Toms.
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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Wildly popular Nashville hot chicken chain's big Houston cancellation heats up week's top stories

This week's hot headlines

Editor's note: It's time to recap the top stories on CultureMap from this past week.

1. Wildly popular Nashville hot chicken chain cancels plans for first Houston location. Construction costs and other issues scuttled the restaurant's plans.

2. Creative Heights burger joint quietly shutters after more than a decade. Fans of Sticky Monkey burgers and Buffalo fries will have to drive to Pearland or Galveston to satisfy their cravings.

3. Longtime Houston fast casual restaurant darts into The Woodlands with fresh new location. The restaurant serves the same updated menu as the recently-renovated River Oaks location.

4. Thriving drive-thru salad restaurant freshens up Houston with first outpost and more on the way. The Arizona-based restaurant's first three Houston-area locations are opening this month.

5. Towering downtown skyscraper and former headquarters for oil giant set for new high-rise apartment conversion. At the time of its opening, the building was considered the tallest building west of the Mississippi River.

'80s heartthrob Bryan Adams heads to Houston with Jett-setting rock icon for 2023 tour stop

Summer of '23

Canadian singer/songwriter Bryan Adams, who's been entertaining audiences on stage and screen for four decades, is coming to the Houston area — and he's bringing along a very special guest. Adams is teaming up with rock 'n' roll icons Joan Jett and the Blackhearts for his "So Happy It Hurts Tour," stopping at Sugar Land's Smart Financial Centre on June 28.

The U.S. tour kicks off on June 6 in Baltimore, Maryland, and ends August 3 with a show in Seattle. He'll visit just two Texas cities - Fort Worth and Sugar Land, outside Houston, for a show at Smart Financial Centre on June 28.Fort Worth on June 29, 2023.

Adams is touring in support of his 15th studio album, So Happy It Hurts, which was released March 11, 2022 via BMG. The album is nominated for Best Rock Performance at the upcoming 2023 Grammy awards, taking place Sunday, February 5.

Adams also is riding the wave as the lyricist for Pretty Woman – The Musical, the Broadway musical based on the famed Julia Roberts-Richard Gere rom-com. The touring musical draw huge crowds when it recently stopped in Houston for a limited run.

Barrier-breaking rock 'n' roll badass Joan Jett is known for Top 40 hits such as "I Love Rock 'N' Roll," "I Hate Myself For Loving You," and "Crimson and Clover." Joan Jett and the Blackhearts toured last year with Def Leppard, Motley Crue, and Poison. Bad Reputation, a 2018 documentary about Jett's life, is now streaming.

Tickets for the "So Happy It Hurts Tour" go on sale at 12 pm Friday, February 3 via ticketmaster.com.

Beyoncé adds second Houston date to highly anticipated world tour due to massive surge in ticket demand

back-to-back bey

Houston Beyoncé fans, rejoice: Queen Bey has added another show to her just-announced Renaissance World Tour.

As CultureMap previously reported, Beyoncé is returning to her hometown in a show originally planned for September 23 at NRG Stadium. Now, due to surge in ticket demand, a second show at NRG has been added for the following day on September 24.

This comes as tour organizers have added seven new dates to the North American leg of the tour, based on Beyhive buzz.

According to LiveNation, fan demand for Beyoncé's Renaissance World Tour now exceeds the number of available tickets by more than 800 percent, based on current registration numbers in the Group A cities.

Even with these added dates, LiveNation expects a majority of interested fans "will not be able to get tickets because demand drastically exceeds supply," per a press announcement.

Beyhive fans who miss the second Houston show can try to catch Bey in Dallas two days prior to the Houston show, where she'll play AT&T Stadium on September 21.

Ticketing for the world tour dates go on sale Monday, February 6. BeyHive members will enjoy an exclusive presale, while other fans can register now with Ticketmaster’s Verified Fan technology here. Those interested can score tickets, schedules, and more information at beyonce.livenation.com and tour.beyonce.com.

Note to jet-setting Houstonians: The queen kicks off her world tour on May 10 in Stockholm, Sweden at the Friends Arena. She'll dot Europe with big stadium shows through June 27, where she'll play Warsaw, Poland.

Her North American tour starts July 8 in Canada, where she'll play Toronto's Rogers Centre. Beyoncé will trek the U.S. through the summer and into September; her Dallas and Houston shows are the sole Texas performances.

In a bit of a head scratcher, the Houston native will end her tour in New Orleans (Caesars Superdome) on September 27.

The world tour comes as Beyoncé is awash in Grammy glow: in November, she was nominated for nine Grammy Awards, tying her with her husband (neé Shawn Corey Carter) for the most nominations in Grammy history. Critics and fans have lauded Renaissance, her first solo work since the wildly popular and deeply personal 2016 effort, Lemonade — even through its minor controversy.

Here is the entire world tour schedule:


May 10, 2023 – Stockholm, SE – Friends Arena

May 14, 2023 – Brussels, BE – King Baudouin Stadium

May 17, 2023 – Cardiff, UK – Cardiff Principality Stadium

May 20, 2023 – Edinburgh, UK – BT Murray Field Stadium

May 23, 2023 – Sunderland, UK – Stadium of Light

May 26, 2023 – Paris, FR – Stade de France

May 29, 2023 – London, UK – Tottenham Hotspur Stadium

May 30, 2023 – London, UK – Tottenham Hotspur Stadium

June 08, 2023 – Barcelona, ES – Olympic Stadium

June 11, 2023 – Marseille, FR – Orange Velodrome

June 15, 2023 – Cologne, DE – Rhein Energie Stadion

June 17, 2023 – Amsterdam, NL – Johan Crujff Arena

June 21, 2023 – Hamburg, DE – Volksparkstadion

June 24, 2023 – Frankfurt, DE – Deutsche Bank Park

June 27, 2023 – Warsaw, PL – PGE Narodowy

North America

July 8, 2023 – Toronto, ON – Rogers Centre

July 12, 2023 – Philadelphia, PA – Lincoln Financial Field

July 15, 2023 – Nashville, TN – Nissan Stadium

July 17, 2023 – Louisville, KY – L&N Federal Credit Union Stadium

July 20, 2023 – Minneapolis, MN – Huntington Bank Stadium

July 22, 2023 – Chicago, IL – Soldier Field Stadium

July 26, 2023 – Detroit, MI – Ford Field

July 29, 2023 – East Rutherford, NJ – MetLife Stadium

Aug. 01, 2023 – Boston, MA – Gillette Stadium

Aug. 03, 2023 – Pittsburgh, PA – Acrisure Stadium

Aug. 05, 2023 – Washington, DC – FedEx Field

Aug. 09, 2023 – Charlotte, NC – Bank of America Stadium

Aug. 11, 2023 – Atlanta, GA – Mercedes-Benz Stadium

Aug. 16, 2023 – Tampa, FL – Raymond James Stadium

Aug. 18, 2023 – Miami, FL – Hard Rock Stadium

Aug. 21, 2023 – St. Louis, MO – Dome at America's Center

Aug. 24, 2023 – Phoenix, AZ – State Farm Stadium

Aug. 26, 2023 – Las Vegas, NV – Allegiant Stadium

Aug. 30, 2023 – San Francisco, CA – Levi’s Stadium

Sept. 02, 2023 – Inglewood, CA – SoFi Stadium

Sept. 11, 2023 – Vancouver, BC – BC Place

Sept. 13, 2023 – Seattle, WA – Lumen Field

Sept. 18, 2023 – Kansas City, MO – Arrowhead Stadium

Sept. 21, 2023 – Dallas – AT&T Stadium

Sept. 23, 2023 – Houston – NRG Stadium

Sept. 24, 2023 – Houston – NRG Stadium

Sept. 27, 2023 – New Orleans – Caesars Superdome

As always, Beyoncé will create activations, programs, and giveaways via BeyGOOD, the foundation she created in 2013.