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2013CriticsArts & Culture

Best Coffee Ceremony
Taste of Ethiopia

Owners Woinee Mariam and Solomon Hailu serve up their Ethiopian fare with tons of love and care, and bring all that authenticity and attention to their coffee ceremony as well. Guests are taught the history of this sensory stimulating ritual with frankincense and roasted beans wafting in the air. The coffee is lush, rich, and earthy – a most relaxing and delicious way to end your meal.

Taste of Ethiopia, 1100 Grand Avenue Pkwy., Pflugerville, 512/251-4053, www.tasteofethiopiaaustin.com

Best Eclectic Boogaloo
The Museum of Natural & Artificial Ephemerata

The funk of yesteryear never smelled so ... eclectic. Its remains lie in the Museum of Natural & Artificial Ephemerata, a place that harkens back to the days of dime museums and traveling carnivals. Touted as one of the few remaining in-home, family-run museums in the nation, Ephemerata first began in Tucson, Ariz., in 1921, before being moved to Austin by the original co-founder's great-grandnephew. Community themed shows and traveling exhibitions supplement the museum's impermanent collection, which includes the human "horns" grown on the head of a New Jersey woman. Were the horns caused by Satan or scar tissue? You be the judge, and let co-curators Scott Webel and Jen Hirt be your guides.

Museum of Natural & Artificial Ephemerata, 1808 Singleton, 512/320-0566, www.mnae.org

Best Improvement on Perfection
Violet Crown Cinema

Everything about this venue is so right: the film selection, the cozy theatres, the food, and the drinks. Watching movies here is so sublime. Then nirvana gets interrupted by the sweat of the ice cubes in our drinks dribbling down our arms or the sound of a highball glass sliding off one of those collapsible tables and shattering on the floor. But now: cup holders! Permanent cup holders were smartly retrofitted into the seats and we couldn't be more thrilled. Detroit’s next best invention after Motown, the lowly cup holder, is now the crown jewel in the Violet Crown experience.

Violet Crown Cinema, 434 W. Second, 512/495-9600, www.violetcrowncinema.com

Best Inaugural Festival
Protos by Austin Museum of Digital Art

It only took AMODA 16 years, but their first legit conference, Protos Digital Art & Prototyping Festival, entered the Austin festival world in May 2013. Electronic artists from all over the globe flocked to the Long Center, demonstrating and experimenting with new art forms in the digital spectrum. Some local gurus teamed up with performers from overseas, and the result was a conglomeration of transformative sounds and images worth spending money on. Four days and nights of panels, showcases, performances, and general badassery solidified Protos as one of the best this year.

Austin Museum of Digital Art, 809 E. 44th, www.amoda.org

Best Place to Coast By
South Austin Gallery

Feel free to condensate all over iconic city imagery with South Austin Gallery's ceramic coasters. Co-founders Jennifer and Joseph Worth began creating functional art pieces after a 2005 trip to Europe, where the couple collected more than 5,000 photographs. While those photographs have yet to be edited, the Worths have spent their time documenting city life worldwide. The gallery also sells cutting boards in the same vein as the coasters that are sold at numerous Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio locations. If photography just ain't your thing, the gallery also sells canvases, vintage clothing, vinyl records, and offers framing and photo booth party services.

South Austin Gallery, 507-A W. Mary, 512/680-4018, www.southaustingallery.com

Best Place to Get Buzzed on Poetry
Free Beer Friday at Write Bloody

The way Austin’s literary scene is booming these days, you could find an event at a different indie bookstore practically every day of the week. May we suggest you reserve Fridays for Write Bloody, the tiny but colorful bookstore tucked away in the parking lot next to Juan in a Million on East Cesar Chavez? Brought to town by formidable slam poet and performer Derrick Brown at the turn of the year, Write Bloody stocks a bevy of titles from his successful indie press alongside mugs, T-shirts, and retro-quaint writing supplies that make great gifts for the versifier in your life. Between the impeccably designed volumes that crowd the shelves and the local poets who hang out there, you'd be hard pressed to find a more fun or friendly entrée into the world of poetry. But if you're still feeling shy, Free Beer Friday, an afternoon of free brewskis and spoken-word ballads, will loosen you up. Hey, around the sixth beer you may discover you're a slam poet, too.

Write Bloody, 2306 E. Cesar Chavez, 714/403-8006, www.writebloody.com

Best Roving Street Festival
HONK!TX

For three years running, HONK!TX has staged all-out musical warfare on the streets of Austin. Bringing the best community brass bands in the country (think klezmer, New Orleans brass, samba) together to collaborate and perform on stages and in both organized and spontaneous parades across these city streets. This volunteer-organized event, hosted by Austin's own Minor Mishap Marching Band, celebrates the street band movement, and the end result is a party that truly gives life to the harmonious cacophony of the power of the people. It's loud, it's exciting, and it's impossible not to dance along.

HONK! TX, www.honktx.org

Best Screen Play
Mexic-Arte Museum's Screen It! Program

The closest we ever got to a screen printer as children was homemade iron-on decals depicting the members of former boy band 'N Sync. We're still reppin' the Lance Bass T-shirt, but the teens enrolled at the Mexic-Arte Museum's Screen It! program have created unique calavera de azúcar (sugar skull) designs, among others, using Adobe Photoshop. Youth ages 10-17 learn screenprinting techniques from practicing art educators and have the opportunity to sell their goods in the museum's gift shop.

Mexic-Arte Museum, 419 Congress, 512/480-9373, www.mexic-artemuseum.org

Best Something Old, Something New
The Hidden Room Theatre

When the Hidden Room makes theatre, you'd best be prepared for either a blast from the past or future shock – Original Practices Shakespeare, staged with all-male casts in Elizabethan dress (and dresses), or experimental new plays with actors on different continents performing together via Skype, or audiences scanning QR codes to learn plot details. But we'll gladly suffer the time-travel whiplash of the company's split personality when the results are as captivating as the marathon mounting of the Bard's Henry VI plays, Rose Rage; the transatlantic romance You Wouldn't Know Her, She Lives in London; or the history-warping mystery The Girl With Time in Her Eyes. No matter what era Artistic Director Beth Burns is working in, she always makes it feel like the present. The action is happening now, and we are there.

The Hidden Room Theatre, www.hiddenroomtheatre.com

Best Spirit of Schroeder
Michelle Schumann

Of all the Peanuts gang, Schroeder was the most dedicated; his devotion to Beethoven and the piano outshone even Charlie Brown's unflagging commitment to baseball. We see a lot of that comic-strip prodigy in Michelle Schumann, and not just because she plays a mean toy piano (as she's shown at her annual Happy Birthday, Mr. Cage concerts). As artistic director for the Austin Chamber Music Center and its yearly summer festival, she's shown a Schroeder-like enthusiasm for music of all kinds, from Bach to the Bad Plus (including Beethoven, natch), and sought to share its beauty with everyone. Listening to her effuse about Brahms or play a Schubert sonata is to be won over to the classical cause. And Schumann went full Schroeder last December, playing the entire Vince Guaraldi score to A Charlie Brown Christmas (a treat she'll repeat this year). Her joyful, jazzy performance had our inner Snoopy dancing.

Michelle Schumann, Austin Chamber Music Center, 4930 Burnet Rd., www.austinchambermusic.org

Best Visionary Change on the 40 Acres
Landmarks

Once the 20th century started, the clock pretty much stopped on what we had to look at besides buildings on UT's campus – realistic statuary (chiefly of dead white guys) and little else. Since 2008, that's all changed as Landmarks, the public art program directed by Andrée Bober, has been seeding the 40 acres with abstract and conceptual artworks from the last 65 years. The dynamic shapes and colors of the pieces – which include 28 sculptures on long-term loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Mark di Suvero's huge, red Clock Knot, a Sol LeWitt wall painting and sculpture, and Ben Rubin's luminous textual tribute to Walter Cronkite – transform the spaces they're in and open our eyes to the campus in new ways. The October debut of a James Turrell Skyspace on the Student Activity Center rooftop has us looking forward, much as Landmarks does all the time.

Landmarks, 512/495-4315, www.landmarks.utexas.edu

Best Way to Lose Yourself
Lose Your Own Adventure

Losing is just half the fun in Austin-based Despair, Inc.'s "Lose Your Own Adventure" adult parody series. Let author Justin Sewell guide you through your homecoming in Dallas in the series' first book installment, Who Killed John F. Kennedy? Even though you're destined to fail, it's all about the journey, not the numerous destinations, which all lead to dead ends. No pun intended.

Despair.com, www.despair.com

Film Fanatics' Favorite New Clubhouse
AFS at the Marchesa

When they set up camp this spring in the underused Marchesa Hall & Theatre in Lincoln Village, the Austin Film Society made a sanctuary for the movie-mad to congregate and celebrate a shared passion. Whether it’s a visiting director giddy to show her film on 35mm, a sharp-as-a-tack programmer introducing an underseen gem, or the super-savvy audiences who lap it all up, everybody gets a holy kind of feeling at the Marchesa. Amen to that, our brothers and sisters in cinephilia.

AFS Cinema, 6226 Middle Fiskville, 512/322-0145, www.austinfilm.org/cinema

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