Photo courtesy of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston

Wine & Dine begins with a reception followed by a seated, four-course dinner with rare wines from around the world, meticulously curated by Master Sommelier Brandon Kerne and award-winning Executive Chef Ryan Bouillet.

The evening also includes a fine wine pull and live auction. Proceeds from the event will assist Catholic Charities in providing food, shelter and many other services to vulnerable people of all ages and religious backgrounds.

Photo courtesy of Houston Arboretum

Houston Arboretum presents Sip & Stroll

The start of fall will be celebrated with the Houston Arboretum’s Sip & Stroll outdoor event. Participants will enjoy a quiet evening out on the Arboretum trails. The sunset walk will include two glasses of wine or Saint Arnold beer, cheese and charcuterie offerings from GRAZE HTX, and a specialty wine glass to take home.

New to this year’s event, participants will enjoy an additional wine tasting featuring a variety of wines from The Cause Urban Winery, founded by Jennifer Rossi. Each of her wines supports a different local charity. Guests will get a chance to taste her newest wine, Caprifolia, which is a Trebbiano. Bottles will be available for purchase at the event, with a portion of the sales donated to the Houston Arboretum.

Photo by Julie Soefer

CultureMap Wine Guy Chris Shepherd spotlights the star behind Bludorn and Navy Blue's stellar programs

wine guy wednesday

Editor's note: Long before Chris Shepherd became a James Beard Award-winning chef, he developed enough of a passion for wine to work at Brennan's of Houston as a sommelier. He maintains that interest to this day. When Chris expressed interest in writing about wine-related topics for CultureMap, we said yes.

In this week's column, he shares his love for the wine programs and upcoming and events at red-hot Houston restaurants Bludorn and Navy Blue, led by wine director Molly Austad. Take it away, Chris.

What’s happening, team? It’s been a minute! Sorry for the delay, but you know, it’s been hot and I have been on the road talking Southern Smoke with people. Shall we all raise a glass to — August, I guess!

Anyhoo, I had the opportunity to sit down with Molly Austad, wine director for Bludorn and Navy Blue to talk wine lists, what she’s drinking, and some new exciting things that are coming up really soon. I never thought I would get a jump on Eric Sandler when it comes to breaking news, but yep, I think I did it! More on that in a minute.

I have been a fan of both wine lists and wanted to know more about Molly’s thought process when curating the lists.

If you haven’t been, let me give you a run down about Bludorn and Navy Blue and then question what you have been doing! Bludorn just turned three years old this week (Eric was the first to report its opening) and has been cruising along since day one. It’s a favorite spot for my wife and me to go for date nights which are generally Mondays.

Aaron Bludorn Victoria Pappas Bludorn Kentucky Derby 2023Aaron Bludorn (pictured with wife Victoria Pappas Bludorn at the 2023 Kentucky Derby) can do no wrong with is two hot restaurants. Photo courtesy of Aaron Bludorn

It’s what Aaron [Bludorn, chef and co-owner] called ‘Contemporary Luxury’ and I feel like that is exactly what it is. You can have delicious oysters, pasta, fish dishes, and amazing meat dishes (don’t sleep on the chicken).

What we truly love is the depth of choices on the list. Massive wine by the glass, a variety of well known producers and smaller production wines, and different grape varietals. Wrap that up with a bow — it’s a great list.

Navy Blue has a seafood-focused menu with the same feeling. Instead of a burger and a chicken dish you get a fried grouper sandwich and a roasted Dover sole. This wine list is smaller and focused on the food just like at Bludorn, but it’s more in tune to whites and other chilled wines. It also has a selection of red wines. Just like the chicken and steak on the menu that offer an alternative to seafood, the reds are delicious and well thought out.

What is Molly sipping on these days? Spanish Verdejo and Australian Grenache, obscure and delicious and I say "hell yes!" to that. She also has some cool plans coming up as well. Big Bottle Wednesday at Navy Blue will kick off soon, which you will probably catch me there for that. You know I love large format wines with their longer age ability and killer flavors. She will be pouring cool stuff from 3-liter bottles with a changing rotation.

Now for some really amazing and breaking news (Editor's note 2: Way to go Eric Sandler on this, Chris!). Starting in September, Navy Blue will host dinners on specific Monday nights that will teach consumers about wine. Want to learn more about how to taste wine, smell wine, enjoy wine, and just be all around more knowledgeable about wine while eating a paired dinner so you can learn about pairings too? GENIUS!

Now you can go on a deep dive with a professional and learn what it is you truly love about wine, which will help you start to expand why you love it and to branch out to new things. Are you a Chardonnay lover? But why? What is it about that wine you love and how do you discover more wines like it?

This is a bowl full of knowledge that most folks don’t get to have without tasting all day every day, which quite frankly isn’t easy but I would be willing to give it a try. Having access to multiple wines with dinner and someone to guide you through it helps you to respect wine more. I approve.

Get on the mailing list or put your ears to the ground to follow them so know when the announce these special dinners. Trust me, dining and learning is key.

Well played, Molly. I like your style.


Contact our Wine Guy via email at chris@chrisshepherdconcepts.com.

Chris Shepherd won a James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southwest in 2014. The Southern Smoke Foundation, a nonprofit he co-founded with his wife Lindsey Brown, has distributed more than $10 million to hospitality workers in crisis through its Emergency Relief Fund. Currently, he's working on a new TV show called Eat Like A Local that will air on KPRC beginning in September.

Courtesy of Fiora's Bottle Shop

Stylish new Montrose wine bar blending sips and sandwiches pops open in hood's hottest hub

introducing fiora

The Montrose Collective mixed-use development recently welcomed its latest culinary destination — a wine bar with a stylish aesthetic, an eclectic selection, and a passion for sandwiches.

Meet Fiora’s Bottle Shop. Located across the development’s courtyard from Austin-based restaurant Picnik, Fiora’s comes from partners Natalie Navi and Amir Sed. Navi brings experience from her time as a general manager at Paulie’s while Sed has worked extensively in multiple hospitality concepts in Houston. General manager and wine director Sean McNeely worked at Camerata before working for a wine distributor.

For Navi, Fiora’s provides her with an opportunity to combine two of her favorite things — wine and sandwiches.

“I felt like there wasn’t really a place in Houston that had wine plus sandwiches,” she tells CultureMap. “I wanted it to have a kind of natural aesthetic that was still fun with a good vibe for the city.”

The sandwiches are hefty specimens. Served on breads from Houston’s Slow Dough Bread Co., they include options such as mortadella, prosciutto, and capocollo on foccaccia, a deli-style turkey and Swiss, and Boquerones with vegetables and burrata on a baguette.

A true show-stopper is The Goat — a 14-inch long combination of salami, mortadella, applewood smoked ham, pepperoni, and capocollo that’s topped with vegetables, two kinds of cheese, and more. Navi doesn’t hesitate when asked about the necessary components for a good sandwich.

“Good bread, good meat selection, definitely cheese, and heat,” she says. “We’re using local bread, fresh ingredients. All of our aiolis are made in house. They’re big. They’re large and flavorful and unique.”

Those sandwiches are paired with selections from McNeely’s wine list. With between 15 and 18 by-the-glass choices and a rotating inventory of approximately 50 bottles, the list covers a range of regions, styles, and production methods. As its name implies, people can drink their wines on site or take them to go.

“As far as what I look for, I am never dogmatic,” McNeely explains. “Not everything is going to be a natural wine nor a super conventional wine. I’m open to great wine that’s authentic. I like to highlight sometimes overlooked regions and varieties that are not the most well known.”

McNeely wrote a Master’s thesis at the University of Houston’s Hilton College on the need for more sustainability in wine, so Fiora’s happy hour selections will feature wine in alternative packaging such as cans, kegs, and boxes. He wants to remove some of the stigma from wine that’s not served in traditional glass bottles.

In terms of design, Fiora’s channels the spirit of a backyard garden party with lots of plant life and floor-to-ceiling windows — some of which will be open once the weather cools off. Details include brass shelves and rose gold lighting fixtures. The interior seats about 40 with more tables available on a two-sided patio.

“I like to mix things up. I didn’t want to stick to one specific theme, but everything fell together with the brass and the gold,” Navi says. “I wanted it to have a feminine touch with the arches. The greenery brings that outdoor feeling.”

Currently, Fiora’s is open daily from 4-12 pm. By the end of August, the partners hope to open at 11 am. Other plans include expanding their catering and private event business. If all goes according to plan, the first Fiora’s won’t be the only one.

“We’re looking to open three or four in Houston,” Sed says. “Then Dallas, possibly Austin. It’s going to be a six year project. We’re really adamant about sticking to our core and putting Fiora’s brand out there.”

Fiora's bottle shop wine bar

Courtesy of Fiora's Bottle Shop

Partners Amir Sed and Natalie Navi with general manager Sean McNeely.

Photo by Chris Shepherd

CultureMap Wine Guy Chris Shepherd journeys to Sonoma County to sample region's best wineries and restaurants

where to eat and drink in Sonoma County

Editor's note: Long before Chris Shepherd became a James Beard Award-winning chef, he developed enough of a passion for wine to work at Brennan's of Houston as a sommelier. He maintains that interest to this day. When Chris expressed interest in writing about wine-related topics for CultureMap, we said yes.

In this week's column, he shares his favorite wineries and restaurants in Sonoma County, California. Take it away, Chris.

I don’t need to tell you this, but it has been hot. When it’s hot, it’s time to get outta town! I love to venture out to wine growing regions for relaxation. My wife and I recently hit up Sonoma County for some new experiences and new places to try.

Our first stop was a winery that I have forever wanted visit — Rochioli, which is near the Russian River. You must book a tasting there prior to arrival, but it’s worth it because of its majestic views of the vineyards, lots of knowledge, and four killer wines — Sauvignon Blanc, a rocking Chardonnay, Rosé of Pinot, and the Estate Pinot Noir.

They refund the price of admission if you purchase two bottles, which you should. They make other wines that are very special and only go to their wine club, which I attempted to join and was informed that they will reach out to me in 5 years when my allocation is ready, so . . . I will be waiting. And waiting. I’m still waiting. It will be worth it. I know it. I’m still waiting. It will be delicious.

For lunch, we went to the new Montage Hotel for a quick bite, and it was a beautiful setting. I’m going to need some lottery money to stay there, but it was really pretty. The rooms seem to amazingly float in the trees overlooking the valley. The chicken schnitzel and a burger did fine to keep us going and on our to our next spot.

A bunch of tasting rooms are nestled away on the square in Healdsburg, but we were on our mission to taste at Marine Layer. It’s only been around for a few years, but they have it dialed in. Let me run you through the lineup. Vermentino that I would absolutely love in very large formats because it was delicious and so easy to drink as well as rosé, three different Chardonnays, three different Pinot Noirs, and a sparkling rosé.

I was really impressed by what they are doing in such a short time. Each wine definitely shows its terroir. And they have a very reasonable pricing structure. If you get your hands on them, you won’t be sad about it.

Next, head on over to Sebastopol for a winery I have loved from afar for quite some time. Pax Wines is doing amazing work and has a deep portfolio of wines. From very classic wines to fun and funky — a little bit for everyone. Go there for Trousseau Gris, Vermentino, Chenin Blanc, some of the finest Pinot Blanc in all the lands, Charbono, and some Grenache-based wines, but you can’t come here without tasting the Syrah. So well balanced and delicious, I would say Pax is one of the kings of Syrah making. This was an absolute terrific experience.

We were recently invited to a winery party at Cruse Wine Company. Michael Cruse is a young, super talented winemaker. He has some of the best sparkling wine skills I have ever tasted. He gets it.

Some people make sparkling wine and it’s good. He makes stunning sparkling wine. From the Cruse Tradition to the Cruse Sparkling Rancho Chimiles Valdiguie, they are all elegance in a glass. He is also the guy that makes the uber-elusive Ultramarine. Good luck finding that but when you do, get it! It’s like when angels open their wings and sing Dead & Co songs to you, just heavenly.

Michael also produces still wines that are full of depth and flavor. Monkey Jacket should be on every by the glass section of all wines lists. It’s a blend of Valdiguie (think Gamay), Petite Syrah, and Carignan. The blend changes every year and, at $25, you should crush this. He also produces some Tanat and Syrah that are very elegant and fantastic food wines. They’re great with tacos. How do I know? He had one of Oakland’s best taquerias there serving beautiful tacos.

We must not only drink wine — we must eat as well! We stopped in a local charcuterie producer that I really like called Journeyman. They produce some of the best salumi around, and little did I know they have a salumi club where they ship you meat! Hell yes, I signed up! Didn’t know meat clubs were a thing but I’m sure as hell happy they are!

The last meal we had in Sonoma was a special one. It’s a place that I have been waiting to try called Animo in the city of Sonoma. There isn’t a lot of info on their website because they don’t have one. It’s really small — maybe eight to 10 tables. Animo is Korean- and Basque-influenced with a stunning wood-fired grill with food that is all meant to share. Definitely my kind of place. The flavors are subtle but deep and developed.

Our first bite was grilled hen of the woods mushrooms served with a dome of yuzu and warm egg yolk. Then cacio e pepe with uni, followed by the Manila clams with chorizo, saffron aioli, and banging nuoc cham!

Entrees are big and bad ass. Whole crowns of slow-roasted duck that are cooked over that beautiful fire and plenty of steaks, but the thing that caught our eyes was the whole turbot fish. It was perfection with crispy skin, the meat was so filled with gelatin, and the sauce was so light and clean. With a side of kimchi fried rice with Katz’s Deli pastrami and a fried egg put us right where we needed to be. They offered one dessert only, a Basque cheesecake that was so creamy it must have been made from the tears of unicorns. It was a fantastic meal.

All in all, get to Sonoma County. It’s big and spread out with so many microclimates and amazing food. You want Pinot Noir and Chardonnay? Go to Russian River and the Coast. You want Zinfandel? Head up to Dry Creek Valley. You want Syrah? Go see Pax on those Sonoma hillsides. It’s a beautiful place of wineries, orchards, cheesemakers, farmers and fisherfolk. Ever heard of Hog Island Oysters? Yep, that’s Sonoma too.

Safe travels, my friends.

Sonoma wine bottle

Photo by Chris Shepherd

Sonoma wineries produce many styles.


Contact our Wine Guy via email at chris@chrisshepherdconcepts.com.

Chris Shepherd won a James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southwest in 2014. The Southern Smoke Foundation, a nonprofit he co-founded with his wife Lindsey Brown, has distributed more than $10 million to hospitality workers in crisis through its Emergency Relief Fund. Currently, he's working on a new TV show called Eat Like A Local that will air on KPRC beginning in September.

Brenner's on the River Walk/ Facebook

Cherished Houston steakhouse carves out first San Antonio location on River Walk


Talk about a prime location. On July 20, storied eatery Brenner’s Steakhouse opened its first location outside of Houston on the banks of the San Antonio River Walk.

The new restaurant, located at 215 Losoya St., is only the third location under the Brenner’s name. Herman and Lorene Brenner founded the concept as a casual café in 1936 before the construction of the Katy Freeway spurred a change of location. A second outpost followed in 2007 after Landry’s Restaurants owner Tilman Fertitta revitalized the name.

Though officially part of a conglomerate that includes touristy spots like Rainforest Café and Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., the new Brenner’s takes a more upscale approach. Steaks range from a six-ounce A5 Wagyu filet to an intimidating 36-ounce tomahawk, all of which can be dressed with tony accompaniments like cognac-peppercorn sauce, foie gras, or truffle butter.

For less decadent days, executive chef Abel Sanchez offers plentiful alternatives from pan-roasted chicken breast to braised short rib in mole. Naturally, the restaurant also serves plenty of surf to go with the turf, including bacon-wrapped shrimp, a pair of sushi rolls, and an indulgent seafood tower layered with king crab, lobster, oysters, mussels, shrimp, caviar, and more.

While deciding on their entrée selection, guests can rifle through a wide-ranging wine list including more than 300 bottles. Additionally, the full bar includes beefy tequila and whiskey selections, beer, and cocktails ranging from tried-and-true classics to originals like a coconut-rose riff on ranch water.

If the menu didn’t offer enough clues, fanciness is also the MO of the interior. The walls are sheathed in limestone and exposed brick, accented with dark wood. Of course, each of the three levels, containing a mezzanine, patio, bar, and main dining room, offer sweeping views of the River Walk.

As CultureMap Houston food editor Eric Sandler notes, this scenic/waterfront setup sounds similar to the posh Brenner's on the Bayou, which features a prime location next to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston's iconic Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens.

To add frisson, a live pianist will tickle the ivories. Though a press release promised a variety of music genres, surely jaws would drop if they busted out a few bars of “WAP.” Guests should also be aware that Brenner’s does not have the come-as-you-are laxity of most San Antonio joints. The dress code prohibits gym attire, beachwear, and baseball hats — presumably, even the $600 Loro Piana cashmere cap seen on Succession.

Those who don’t mind getting gussied up can visit the Brenner’s bar starting at 3 pm daily. Dinner service begins at 4 pm and extends through 10 pm most days and 11 on Friday and Saturday.

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Beyoncé reigns supreme with Megan Thee Stallion cameo in jaw-dropping Houston Renaissance Tour opening night

bey run the world

How much does Beyoncé love Houston? Enough to turn the first of her two-night H-Town concert tour stop into an all-out and unforgettable celebration of her fans, friends, and her beloved hometown.

Late Saturday September 24 at NRG Stadium, Queen Bey proved once again that she rules all in a night boasting a Megan Thee Stallion cameo, fellow native Houstonians Lizzo and original, founding Destiny’s Child members in the crowd, and a three-hour, jaw-dropping, sometimes breathtaking journey.

Houston’s love for their queen was so palpable on Saturday, September 24 at NRG Stadium that even the usually grouchy traffic cops became hype men. “I can’t hear you: who’s ready to see Beyoncé!?” bellowed a middle-aged traffic Metro officer.

The crowd entering NRG formed a sea of sparkling sequins, silver cowboy hats, and silver boots, per Beyoncé’s request for silver or shiny looks for her worldwide Renaissance Tour stops. It was as much a fashion show as a concert: sequin dresses, denim skirts, mesh tanks, fringe masks, bootie-revealing shirts, and high heels on Beyhive members of every gender and age. Beyoncé didn’t need an opening act: the spontaneous singalongs made for the perfect pre-party.

After a giddy wait, Beyoncé rose from under the stage, positively resplendent in a black polka-dot dress, pearls, and white gloves as wind blew through her blonde locks. Opening with the dramatic “Dangerously in Love 2” from the album that launched her career, she held long, drawn-out notes as the band went silent, reminding all that she’s more than an icon, she’s a supremely talented vocalist.

“H-Town, it's goin’ down...”

Flashing her million-dollar grin, the queen decreed, “Oh tonight, H-Town, it's goin’ down,” for the homecoming. “Thank you for your love and loyalty. This is my gratitude tour. I’m so grateful to be on this stage, back home in Houston, Texas.”

“I can travel to any country around the world, but you ain’t ever gonna take the country out of this girl. I represent y’all everywhere I go, and I wanna make you proud.”

She breathlessly went through “1+1” while kicking up a leg and sitting atop a piano. She rose and strutted across the long catwalk into the packed floor for “I Care,” and channeled Tina Turner in “River Deep - Mountain High,” which she dedicated to Turner, her “idol.”

A dazzling video interlude took viewers into a Sci-Fi journey of chrome mazes and robots riding rockets. When “RENAISSANCE” popped on the scream, the crowd shrieked as Beyoncé remerged, standing with her fist up in a shimmering silver catsuit, sunglasses, and tall boots, going into “I’m That Girl,” “Cozy” and the spacey “Alien Superstar” from the Renaissance album.

This wasn’t a typical show where fans sang back to classics and stayed silent during new material: fans sang back every lyric to every song, regardless of era. No surprise that NRG rocked when she broke in “Crazy in Love,” her 2003 hook-filled announcement to the world with (now) husband Jay-Z, and the ultimate girl powered “Run the World (Girls).”

It should cost a billion for these fits

And the costumes, oh, the costumes. In each sonic journey, Beyoncé emerged in radiant shine, camouflage, and even a flame-adorned cowboy hat. Nowhere is her “PURE/HONEY” lyric, “It should cost a billion to look this good,” more fitting than with these show-stopping fits.

Our Behyive was also treated to a “Thique,” “All Up In Your Mind,” and “Drunk in Love,” — fans and critics have tracked that Beyoncé has only performed those three songs four times on this tour.

Like a Method actress working through various roles, Beyoncé channeled a forlorn lover, a fierce empress (especially in “Break My Soul”), a sexy siren, an android goddess — she emerged from a robotic costume “case” that mechanically opened for her — and even a towering, metallic queen bee (see what she did there) TV anchor in “America Has A Problem.”

When she bellowed “I told you I’m a f*cking problem,” in “All Up in Your Mind,” she evoked screams of affirmation. When the gifted singer screamed into the mic — a throat killer for vocalists on tour — and went back into her flawless tones and surging, almost operatic vibrato, Beyoncé reminded that she’s a multi-faceted, complex, self-actualized woman and not just a mere brand.

Megan Thee Stallion and Blue Ivy, y'all

And she’s a proud mother who couldn’t hold back her glee when her daughter Blue Ivy came onstage, seeming almost shocked by the crowd roar. Blue Ivy flashed a heart-hands symbol and popped into dance moves as her mom cheered her on.

The proud mom also cheered on a fellow Houston native and pop superstar Megan Thee Stallion, who bounced onstage for a savage cameo in “Savage Remix.” Spitting rhymes, strutting, and flexing her signature dance moves, Megan waved to fans and paid homage to the queen, squealing “I love you, Beyoncé!” and spinning on the catwalk.

Breathtaking sounds and sights

Rarely has three hours passed so quickly, thanks to bumping video and music interludes, which turned NRG into a club. Cinematic imagery rivaled any movie, and the band’s solo chops — especially on guitar, bass, and drum — made for its own show. Her backup singers alone, who dropped a song in a break, could also be their own act

Dance has always been an integral part of a Beyoncé performance, led by Beyoncé herself, who’s as limber as a gymnast, and her awe-inspiring dancers like Les Twins — who mixed dance with Cirque du Soleil acrobatics — and the vamping, voguing diva Honey Balenciaga.

Owning the stage with the swagger of a champion, Beyoncé displayed the theatricality and edginess of Lady GaGa, the irresistible charm of Taylor Swift, and the ageless physical prowess of Jennifer Lopez. It’s mind-boggling that at 42, Beyoncé looks, moves, and sounds nearly half her age — but with grown-woman mastery.

All hail Queen Bey

In a blink, it was 12:30 am, and the the queen mounted the silvery disco horse — fans call it Reneigh — and soared over the crowd for “Summer Renaissance.”

“No matter where I go, I always keep Houston with me,” she told the screaming, weeping crowd,” like a fairy godmother floating away. “I will always rep for Houston.”

With one NRG Stadium show left on Sunday, September 24, fans from around the country have scored tickets. “I just knew Houston would be different,” a fan told us afterwards, who flew in from Washington, D.C. “I just knew it would be special.”

What better proof that pop’s reigning and undisputed queen will always rep for Houston.

Beyonc\u00e9 Renaissance Tour Houston NRG Stadium 2023

Photo courtesy of LiveNation/Beyoncé

Return of the Queen: Beyoncé was back in fierce form.

Favorite Montrose brunch restaurant's major setback leads 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. Favorite Montrose brunch restaurant's highly anticipated return hits setback. The restaurant's reopening has been pushed back to 2024.

2. Houston's newest soup dumpling house sets opening date in familiar Midtown space. We're looking forward to future dumpling crawls to decide on our favorite.

3. Houston pizza maestro retools his wildly successful new Heights restaurant after overwhelming response. The chef says he'd be a "supervillain" if he figured out how to meet so much demand in such a short amount of time.

4. New York Times names 2 must-try Houston eateries to coveted 50 most exciting restaurants list. A new Southern restaurant and a classic Mexican establishment made the list.

5. Ken Hoffman applauds new Texas law that fines service animal impersonators $1K. "As much as I love my dog, I don’t impose her on others," our columnist writes.

Mega-celebrity photographer of Beyoncé's all-time favorite portrait holds court in Houston to honor Queen Bey

royal portraits

Only a select few humans — ever — have been photographed as often as pop culture’s undisputed queen, Beyoncé, over her illustrious, 26-year career. Even at her young age, Houston’s queen possesses a singular trait that elevates her above even the most apex celebrities: immortality.

Just how do the ultra-famous unlock the loftiest achievement of immortality? For many, it’s often through a single, transcendent photograph, which can transform a performer into an icon — and rocket a mere mortal into immortal status. And few photographers on the planet can bestow immortality on the globally famous like A-list artisan Markus Klinko.

To celebrate Beyoncé’s Renaissance World Tour homecoming — and his now legendary photos of her over the years — Klinko will meet fans from 1 pm to 3 pm Saturday, September 23 at Tootsies for a showcase of some of his most famed works — including the ultra-rare Beyoncé “Diamond Dust” series, on view at Nicole Longnecker Gallery.

A statuesque, towering presence (he’s six-foot-four) with chiseled features and a flair for fashion, the Swiss-born Klinko looks every part a celeb himself. That star quality has no doubt helped him break the ice when photographing superstars like our Beyoncé, David Bowie, Lady Gaga, Kim Kardashian, Jennifer Lopez, Will Smith, Britney Spears, Mariah Carey, Kanye West, Anne Hathaway, Kate Winslet, Naomi Campbell, and Iman — to name a few. Not a bad resume for a former professional classical harp soloist who — sort of amazingly — only fell into photography after a hand injury (more on that later).

Before she became a one-word brand, Beyoncé Knowles was just 22 when she experienced Klinko’s wizardry firsthand in 2003. Already drawing It Girl attention as a member of Destiny’s Child, the young Houstonian had met Klinko during a Destiny’s Child photo shoot for Vibe magazine in 2000. With his trademark, sixth-sense for superstardom, Klinko pointed to Beyoncé while she was lounging with the group and told her mother, Tina Knowles, “Her, she’s going to be huge.” Tina’s response: “We know.”

Three years later, Sony reunited Beyoncé and Klinko to shoot the cover of Dangerously in Love, Beyoncé’s now legendary 2003 debut solo album. The match, now, seems predestined: both Beyoncé and Knowles were in the early stages of their careers. Beyoncé and Klinko vibed immediately, and in a simple snap of his Fuji camera, Klinko shot the stunning and shimmering photo that Queen Bey recently told French newspaper Le Figaro is her most favorite of any portrait taken of her.

Staying true to his organic, in-the-moment approach, Klinko flawlessly captured Beyoncé’s effortless pose in her now-famed diamond top and created one of music’s most iconic celebrity photos and yes, helped cement Beyoncé’s immortal status. And it only cost him his pants. (More on that later, too.)

CultureMap caught up with Klinko ahead of his Houston appearance and fresh off the opening of his latest installation: His celebrity images are on display at the legendary Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino in, naturally, the vaunted Elvis Presley Suite. Perfect timing, then, for Klinko to star as a cover model in the familiar Tootsies window displays.

CultureMap: Congratulations on landing the Tootsies window display. It looks gorgeous.

Markus Klinko: Oh yeah, it’s spectacular, isn’t it?

CM: Quite! So, what’s it like seeing yourself as one of the main features of an exhibit — as opposed to being behind the camera?

MK: You know, I’ve never been in the window of a major fashion department store, so this is pretty fun.

CM: Never in the window, but you’ve certainly been the focal point of attention as an acclaimed harpist.

MK: Yes, I started my life on the ‘other’ side, and as you say, as a classical concert harpist. I was signed to EMI Classics and represented by Colombia Artists and traveling around the world making recordings. I was on television very often and on magazine covers and all that throughout my 20s and early 30s — everything from Italian Vogue and Vanity Fair and Harper’s Bazaar and GQ and all those fashion magazines for which I later worked as a photographer. So it’s not completely. new. But this is sort of a different twist.

CM: You clearly had an understanding of being in the spotlight, and the butterflies-in-the-stomach pressure to put on a great performance and give of yourself to an audience. Did that experience help you relate to your celebrity performer subjects in a way that just maybe a Mark Seliger or an Annie Leibovitz — not disparaging either — could not? Do you have a window into these performers’ worlds where they relate to you, and you to them?

MK: You know, that’s an amazing question and I’m glad you’re asking me this.

I switched from my classical music career, which was very successful at that time, to becoming a photographer at 33 under dramatic circumstances. It was tragic; basically a hand injury forced me to abandon my career at the height of my success in the summer of 1994.

I was forced to cancel recording sessions, touring engagements and all of that. I had no clue where my income would be coming from, so it was not like the happiest moment in my life. It was actually sort of a panic-stricken time.

CM: And then came the moment.

MK: Yes, I had this epiphany that I will become a fashion photographer, actually had no intention at all to ever become a celebrity photographer. In the beginning of my photo career, I was 100-percent interested only in shooting models — mainly female models to be honest. I would have liked to be a Playboy magazine photographer or something.

So in other words, I just wanted to have fun. It was the last thought on my mind to help other musicians succeed.

CM: You almost seem like you were dragged into fashion and celebrity photography.

MK: A few years into my photo career, around 1999, I was still completely focused on shooting models, models, models. I wasconfronted with proposals from record labels and magazines to shoot covers for them. And I distinctly remember telling my agent at the time that I was not interested and that why would I shoot musicians, when I could just shoot models who are more beautiful in general. And that was that.

CM: And how did that go over?

MK: At some point my agent picked up the phone and screamed at me and said, ‘Markus, you’re an idiot! We have record companies wanting to pay you $100,000 a day and you would rather shoot some girl.’ And I said, ‘Okay, fine, I’ll try it.’ My first record cover shoot was Vitamin C; at that moment she had the biggest hit of the year.

I asked my friends from Interview magazine to style it and she was lovely and I had no problem with it. But about a month later, I got up in the morning and I went to the gym. As I walked through the streets of New York, there were thousands and thousands of posters of Vitamin. I saw my image of Vitamin C a million times on the way to the gym. And I was like, ‘Hmm, that’s not so bad.’

A couple of months later, GQ called me from the UK and wanted me to shoot these different celebrities. And I told GQ — it was very funny — I said under one condition, I’ll shoot the celebrity you want me to shoot, but I want you to let me shoot some nude girl for the centerfold of GQ. And they just said, ‘Okay, whatever you want.’ So I invented the GQ Pin Up 2000 and for a whole year as a reward of shooting some British pop star girl for them — who I couldn’t care less but whatever, I did it. But then I shot Little Kim and Molly Sims and a bunch of really big models and supermodels.

CM: And then you shoot the world’s biggest supermodel, Iman, for her book, which leads to shooting a rock god David Bowie — her husband — for his now-famous album cover [Heathens, 2002] in 2001. Talk about a word-of-mouth reference.

MK: By that time, I was already inundated with. requests from labels. I shot nonstop for different labels and then Destiny’s Child, Beyoncé, Britney Spears, Mariah Carey, Mary J. Blige, Jennifer Lopez. That all came as a reaction basically to that first celebrity shoot with Vitamin C, and I guess just my style. The way I shot models was very different from what was in fashion at the time. I just sort of did my own thing. And that really appealed to major advertising record covers, iconic photo shoots, big comeback shoots for artists like Mariah. Mariah really needed a big comeback shoot in 2005 when she launched The Emancipation of Mimi.

CM: Let’s go back to that magical moment in 2003 when you shot perhaps the most legendary photo of Beyoncé ever.

MK: Sony music called me and they said, 'Beyonce from Destiny’s Child is going solo and she requested you shoot her album cover. Apparently, you had worked with her before for Destiny’s Child and she wanted to only work with you for this.'

So then, Sony Music organized a phone call between me, Beyoncé, the Sony team, and her mom Tina [Knowles] who was styling it. Beyoncé on the phone mentioned specifically my photograph of Leticia Costa, the French supermodel and actor in the "Spider Web" shot. And she said she really loved that photo — She called it the Diamond Spider or something. And she said she would love something like that, but smaller on her. And to be honest, I had no idea what that meant, but I was just like, 'Okay.'

Fast forward to a week later when the photo shoot actually happened and they arrived in the morning. I noticed that there was this diamond top and I grabbed it and I went up to Beyoncé. I said, 'This is exactly what you were talking about. We could do this.' And then she said, 'Oh yeah, I was thinking about it, but my mom has these skirts and I don’t wanna wear those because it reminds me of a prom and I don’t wanna look like a prom on my album cover.'

And I said, 'Yeah, of course not. Let’s do it with denim.' And then Beyonce said, 'No, we don’t have any, we didn’t bring any denim.'

CM: And then...?

MK: And so I said, 'Oh, don’t worry, maybe you’ll fit into mine.' And she said, 'Oh, really? Can I try them?' And so that’s the story.

CM: I’m guessing you had another pair handy?

MK: Oh, sure, I just grabbed another pair from upstairs I had. You know, back then and until now, my favorite pair of jeans are always DNG — Dolce & Gabbana.

CM: I love the story of how she returned them to you.

MK: She brought them back a couple months later. She had dry cleaned them and she packed them into some sort silk paper thing and a ribbon. She brought him back and said, 'Please don’t sell them on eBay, ever.' And she laughed.

I thought that was really sweet and I just took them and I put them somewhere. This is crazy, but I’m actually talking to Botswana Diamond Dealers to fill up a bathtub at the Vegas suite and to put those Beyoncé jeans into the bling bathtub as a joke. You know, almost as a shrine.

CM: Markus, it certainly seems to me that right when you looked through the viewer and fired off that exposure, she went from Beyoncé Knowles from Houston, Texas to the immoral global brand all in one second.

MK: You are right, yes. Absolutely she did. I had a jolt in my, in my whole body when that moment happened. And I told her that right then as soon as I clicked that shot. I said, 'We got the cover, you’ll see.' There's alternate shots of that, which are all beautiful, and some of them will be in Houston.

CM: It seems you predicted her future while announcing her to the world. Is that fair to say?

MK: Well, the way I see it is with that image, I sort of anticipated who Beyoncé was going to become. I think that my job that day was to take a young girl from Houston, Texas, a member of an R&B group, and present to the world who she will be. And she would have become that regardless of whatever I did photographically, because she’s such an enormous, enormously talented musician and performer and icon. She’s a great actress. But, my opportunity was to showcase to the world quickly and immediately who she will be. And so that’s what I’m proud of.

CM: You have shot countless celebrity portraits — many the most memorable of said celebrity, like Britney Spears. How does it feel to hear that your 2003 shot is Queen Bey’s favorite of all time?

MK: The fact that Beyoncé is probably the biggest celebrity in the world today, and having photographed the most famous photo — of the most famous celebrity — is an honor that I take with great humility. I’m not saying that to show off — I’m saying that to thank God for the opportunity. I am glad that Beyoncé loves the photo so much. I’m glad that the world recognizes it as her most famous photo: It's been said many, many times that it is the most recognizable Beyoncé photo. So I'm very honored that people feel that way about it.

CM: What do you remember of the Beyoncé then, and the Beyoncé you've worked with since for other projects?

MK: I remember Beyoncé and being around her, seeing her as an extremely kind, very humble, very normal person. I’ve never felt any sort of diva behavior from her. Beyoncé was just really, really nice and normal. And she’s extremely hardworking, obviously extremely talented, not just with music and singing and acting, but also in the process of collaboration of a visual product such as these photographs I’ve done with her. She’s a very, very good collaborator.

There are people who are very famous, especially actors who sometimes, in front of the still camera, feel awkward. Sometimes comedians and actors need the movement, the momentum, the storytelling, the words in order to showcase their brilliance and their talent.

Not everyone is able in a 2/50th of a second to express all of that, but Beyoncé certainly has that incredible ability and I think that’s innate and subconscious and subliminal. She just knows where the light is coming from and she knows how to position it all in the most phenomenal way. And I guess I subliminally know how to catch it. So it’s really one of those very, very easy collaborations.

CM: Speaking of collaborations, you are able to crystallize a pop icon’s entire era in a single exposure unlike perhaps anyone I’ve ever seen. Did you know that Beyoncé, Megan Thee Stallion, and Lizzo are all from Houston — they all grew up just a mere 30 minutes from each other.

MK: Wow, I did not know that.

CM: Yes, we’re home to three of the biggest female pop stars in the world. So I wonder: Megan Thee Stallion is truly in the midst of her moment. Is she someone you’d like to shoot next?

MK: Well, let me answer it this way...I hope that Megan reads your interview, because I absolutely love Megan and I would love to work with her — and they should call me. I love her.

CM: I would be remiss if I didn’t ask: What is your favorite Beyoncé song?

MK: Oh, I would say “Crazy In Love” is one of my favorites. There are obviously many, but I'm probably biased to that album. That's one of my proudest collaborations, so, of course, I’m biased. Can you blame me? [Laughs]

Courtesy of Markus Klinko


Courtesy of Markus Klinko


Courtesy of Markus Klinko


Beyonc\u00e9 Dangerously in Love

Courtesy of Markus Klinko

Markus Klinko captured Beyoncé's favorite portrait in 2003 for her Dangerously in Love debut solo album.

Courtesy of Markus Klinko