Best Belly of the Whale
The I-35 Reconnection Project

For every public works project there are naysayers, but woe be to those who call Cotera+Reed's “whale rib" lights anything less than glittery spotlights on downtown Austin. When these behemoth cantilevered rods were first being installed, passersby were treated to the optical delights of a full array of ever-changing LED possibilities. Since then, those lamps have helped people get back to their cars safely, served as a spindly awning for Sunday church services for Austin's Christian homeless, and effectively stitched together the West and East sides. And … you know … that spot, placed squarely between “dirty Sixth" and “even dirtier Sixth," is just ripe for a Nineties-style rave. Glow sticks at the ready!

Cotera+Reed, 812 San Antonio St. #406, 512/472-3300,

Best Domiciles for Eccentric Bats
Barbara Attwell's Bat Houses

These ploppy, upside-down, vase-shaped containers on stilts are well-suited to house the most discerning of flying furry friends. Think of it as a bat B & B - where the bats who just want to get away from the colony can go. Oh, and that stuff they excrete, guano, is good for garden soil. A two-fer.

Barbara Attwell, 2012 E. 16th, 512/263-2054,

Best Glitter-Encrusted Venue
Beauty Ballroom

Barely a year old, Riverside's rebirth of the late Beauty Bar has become a sparkling hot spot, drawing in local, regional, and touring acts, proudly carrying on the tradition of its Red River ancestor with a come-one, come-all, genre-hopping ethos. The new ballroom's 750-capacity trades the old salon for a modern, saloon-style venue, but the real standout is the glitz. Enough glitter to fuel a drag ball coats the walls, adding extra twinkle and punch to light shows and a great air of fabulous refinement.

Best Grandstandin'
Miró Rivera Architects at Circuit of the Americas

Why do they call it a stand if it's got seats? UT architecture professor Juan Miró and his partner Miguel Rivera designed the canvas-shaded grandstands for the Circuit of the Americas. If Texas winters keep getting hotter, they'll be the best place to keep yourself cool while the cars are burning up the track. While they stop your brain from boiling, the design duo will be busy at work on the new observation tower and amphitheater.

Circuit of the Americas, 9201 Circuit of the Americas Blvd., 512/301-6600,

Miró Rivera Architects, 505 Powell, 512/477-7016,

Best Makeover
Commodore Perry Estate Restoration

Well-trimmed like an Italian Renaissance giardino, but 100% Texas, the Commodore Perry Estate looms on the edge of Hyde Park like a friendly and stalwart sentry. Since its first incarnation as a private residence, it's seen a number of private schools and public events pass between its walls. In 2011, this chunk of property was snatched up and rescued, excavated, and renovated back to its 1928 glory. Now its all promenade, balustrade, tiled magnificence, and a Gothic-revival chapel to boot. Dreams of future milestones, elegant soirees, and sunset walks in a lovely garden: We feel like we'll be revisiting this story soon.

Commodore Perry Estate, 4100 Red River, 512/628-4100,

Best Organized Chaos
Cathedral of Junk

It's baaaaccckkk – bike wheels, wrought iron gate panels, discarded lamp parts, and all. After struggles with the city of Austin over building permits due to safety and accessibility concerns, Vince Hannemann's 33-foot-high, 60-ton Cathedral of Junk returns to delight and stimulate the senses. Heaven can wait when a monetary donation grants entry into these pearly gates.

Cathedral of Junk, 4422 Lareina, 512/299-7413,

Best Outdoor Museum With a View
Graffiti Park

Somewhere there is a castle on a hill. Moats of grass line broken concrete abutments. Walls and surface abound in a vertical arrangement, all open to the elements. Every square inch, it seems, is covered with graffiti. The site indexes every marker, spray can, and paint brush that touches it, and these marks overlap and accrete, building a truly cacophonous visual statement. Snarky, cartoonish characters sit next to expressions of stenciled undying devotion, and we think we spy the hands of some local artists in the mix, too. Terraced for your viewing pleasure (there's a majestic, undisturbed sight line to the Capitol), this is one of those 'condemned' spaces we never want to see developed. Walk among the ruins and see the world anew.

HOPE Outdoor Gallery, 1101 Baylor,

Best Place To Ponder Pacifism and Peace
Mirrored Gandhi and Virgin Mosaics

Boy, you better believe that Austin’s Eastside has some murals. But none so reflectively gorgeous as the ones gracing the walls of the East 1st Grocery. Mosaic-ist Stefanie Distefano’s imagining of international political superman Mahatma Gandhi is inspired. Mr. G’s facial features fold into roselike lozenges that refract Austin’s broadband sunlight, making the Indian icon truly beatific. The Virgin around the front corner of the building (whose folds are mirrored like Gandhi’s face) is also Distefano’s handiwork. Makes one wonder what the two would have to say to each other. … Virgin: "Paz!" Gandhi: "Shaanti!" The rest of us: "Amen!"

Best Recycled Fast-Food Joints
Hill-Bert's Burgers

We wonder if the folks at know about beloved Austin burger chain Hill-Bert's. For almost 40 years, the Maldonado clan has been serving up some of the best burgers, fries, onion rings, and shakes in town. But from the outside, there's always been something strangely familiar about the place. The first location was opened on North Lamar in 1973 in an old Burger Chef franchised by the family's patriarch. And when it came time to expand – first to locations on West 35th and Cameron Road, then most recently to North Burnet – each venture employed a distinct recycle-reuse ethos in a distinctive facade, reclaiming old, abandoned Taco Bell structures. Yes, they "used to be Taco Bells." And as our local heroes keep making us proud, ever-expanding and moving on up, maybe it's time to crank up

Hill-Bert's Burgers, 5340 Cameron, 512/371-3717,

Hill-Bert's Burgers, 1503 W. 35th, 512/452-3287,

Best Talk About Sex, Baby
The Sex Wall at the Q

Enter the Q and you're greeted by a Sex Wall. That's right. Prominently quivering on the shelf is a blue-haired Marge Simpson dildo, only outdone by a gigantic glitter number that spans the breadth of the shelf. This LGBTQ safe place has couches, games, and a kitchen, but it's also the community center to learn about safe sex and health issues. Top or bottom – errrr, we mean top to bottom – the wall is stacked with bins of condoms, sex toys, and other sex-talk objects, all for the perusal of the group meet-ups. If you can't make it to the Q's MGroup or drop-in hours, they'll even come to you. And that's no dirty joke.

Best Toilet Tableau
Radiant Plumbing & Air Conditioning

The triangular plot of land near the corner of Lamar and 29th Street is prime visual real estate, and the folks at Radiant Plumbing & Air Conditioning know how to spin a golden opportunity into a fantastical turd. Who can forget such colonic classic window displays as Harry Potty and the Deathly Bowels, timed with the release of the final Harry Potter movie? Outfitted with a poop-stache and a case of Dos Equis, the Radiant Toilet tells us (we can only assume in a Latinidad accent) to "keep flushing, my friends." Politics as usual is reformatted as a fece-off between a black toilet and his white challenger. "Give a crap! Vote!" – a tagline that makes you wanna cast your ballot over and over. Forget schadenfreude – scheissefreude is here to stay. In closing, we'd like to thank Radiant Plumbing & Air Conditioning for the opportunity to write a paragraph full of poop jokes/euphemisms; you keep us juvenile and regular. In short, you help us go.

Radiant Toilet & Plumbing, 2908 San Gabriel, 512/263-9988,

Best Urban Space for an Art Walk
East Cesar Chavez

If E.A.S.T. is like a body, East Cesar Chavez is its spine. Eateries, coffee houses, and taco-stands sidle next to libraries, art bookstores, and the Spanish-language newspaper, El Mundo. Pinaterias hold court alongside quirky gas stations and residences. New construction spaces – sometimes rendered as concrete and corrugated steel sheds – are just as common as old spaces (which initially used corrugated metal because it was inexpensive). It's a picture of a street in a state of transition. To truly keep East Cesar Chavez a beating heart of life, culture, and community, we can make this a true creative mix by honoring old and new.

Best Way To Announce Yourself
Joe Swec Sign Painting

If you’ve seen the signs of Easy Tiger, Man Bites Dog, or a host of other neo-Austin institutions, then you’re already familiar with Swec’s handmade signs. Meticulously crafted and tailored toward building a strong visual brand, there’s nothing better a business could do than hire Swec to be its ambassador for the cruising gazes of Austinites.

Joe Swec Sign Painting, 805/453-8964,

Best Wildfire Phoenix
CCC Cabins in Bastrop State Park

The Civilian Conservation Corps put Americans to work back in the Depression era. The fruit of their labor can still be enjoyed today at the cabins of Bastrop State Park. These humble architectural gems (think Bilbo Baggins meets Gaudi) are back in action and boast toasty fireplaces for a fall or winter weekend getaway – all thanks to the heroism of scores of locals who worked to save the landmarks during the devastating Bastrop wildfires of 2011. The park's 5,926 acres may have been transformed by one of the worst conflagrations in Texas history, but they were not destroyed by it.

Bastrop State Park, 100 Park Rd. 1A, Bastrop, 512/321-2101,

Most Productive Rooftop
IKEA Solar Panels

Why aren't the Tea Partiers freaking out about Sweden? It is clear they are trying to take over the world. What's our proof? Take Swedish Fish, for example, or Robyn ... or trolls ... or logs. There's a massage named after them, for Sven's sake. And don't get us started on ABBA. For real. Sweden's got the Chinese quaking in their sweatshopped iPhones. Well, IKEA has sealed the deal for global dominance with 273,700 square feet of the largest privately owned solar farm in the state of Texas. Yep. Their entire rooftop is covered in energy-generating sun suckers, enough to create 2,398,500 kWh of clean electricity annually. Self-sustaining socialists.

IKEA, 1 IKEA Way, Round Rock, 512/828-4532,

Best Drum Circle, Line, Triangle, Rhombus, and Moebius Strip
line upon line percussion

Austinites with a yen to drum tend to form a ring, but here are three guys who dare to think outside the circle – and outside the drum, too. As line upon line percussion, Adam Bedell, Cullen Faulk, and Matthew Teodori have demonstrated over the past three years a remarkable commitment to banging on drums, cymbals, gongs, wood blocks, hubcaps, trash cans, triangles, bells, glasses, pipes, and anything else they can get an interesting sound out of. They're explorers in the realm of rhythm and aural texture, constantly searching for new and challenging music they can play. Thanks to their ambitious programming (a festival devoted to music by experimental composer Iannis Xenakis), collaborative spirit (working with the New Music Co-op, Fast Forward Austin, and the Austin Chamber Music Center), and some high-profile gigs (college tours, SXSW, and the Percussive Arts Society International Convention here in Austin), their drumbeats are starting to be heard around the world. Which means you may have to stand in line for line upon line.

line upon line percussion,

Best Emergent Art Collective

Besides having, in our humble opinion, the best group show title, OC/DC - a mash-up that seems to describe the fastidious and hard rock structure of EAST itself - Kitty_City's roster has us drooling. From Sarah Frey, droll doyenne of zine culture and .gif aesthetics, to Doug Pollard's hand-drawn Crumb-ish panels, this group of artists comes out of the fertile Aquarena Spring-fed grounds of San Marcos. Truly, this young upstart collective is a testament to the import of the aesthetics and energies of those who came before. On their first jaunt out as a group, Kitty_City is bound to impress … but hey, no pressure, guys.

Kitty_City, 68 Navasota

Best Film Programming
Violet Crown Cinema

Locally owned and programmed, this relative newcomer among Austin film venues regularly brings in movies that would otherwise go unseen on Austin screens. Recent examples include Wim Wenders’ 3-D documentary, Pina; last year’s Iranian Oscar-winner for Best Foreign Film, A Separation; Kelly Reichardt’s contemplative Western drama, Meek’s Cutoff; and Andrew Haigh’s multi-award-winner about gay relationships, Weekend. Moreover, these films are booked for weeklong runs, offering a viable, thriving home for arthouse films.

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

Best Glass Blower
Jay Massey

Jay Massey hasn't lost his marbles; the glass just metamorphosed into other functions, like gun pipes, "Sherlocks" and bubblers, curvy, nude lady pipes, and other sleek and compelling figurines. His glass can be found at damn near every head shop within a 50-mile radius of Austin, and he happily shares his love for the profession through glass blowing classes at Austin Flameworks. Flame on, Jay!

JMass Glass,

Best Independent Fashion Education
Austin School of Fashion Design

Designer Mary Margaret Quadlander opened Austin School of Fashion Design a few years ago as an alternative to UT's apparel design program. Quadlander teaches all levels of sewing for children and adults, as well as draping and flat-patterning, with crash courses and summer camps. Pick the classes you want, or sign up for the entire program. What you'll get from Mary Margaret is sure to propel you further and higher into the sewing and design stratosphere.

Austin School of Fashion Design, 3216 S. Congress, 512/448-9636,

Best Indie Film Cred Boost
Cinema 41

After a brief hiatus, this homegrown group of movie nerds is back to cleanse us of summer blockbusters and feed us intellectually nutritious independent features. The nomadic collective hosts screenings and discussions wherever they can get their grubby hands on a screen and a projector, so check the website for screening dates and locations.


Best Movement Illuminator
Allison Orr

You may think your walk is, well, pedestrian, but there's one choreographer in town who sees it as art. Allison Orr has made a career of elevating and celebrating the movements of our daily existence – routine motions around the house or on the job – by putting them on the stage and showing them to us in performance. Isolated in the spotlight, their beauty and elegance is revealed, and even the simplest, most mundane gesture becomes artfully compelling. Whether working on an epic scale, as in The Trash Project, her justly celebrated work with the city's Solid Waste Services Department employees and their equipment, or in miniature, as in Solo Symphony, this past summer's haunting collaboration with Austin Symphony Orchestra conductor Peter Bay, Orr lets us see the grace in all the ordinary movement about us and so transforms our view of the world into a place brimming with dance.

Forklift Danceworks, 512/447-6405,

Best Place To Air Your Kiss-and-Tell (or, Perhaps, a Bit More Than That)
Bedpost Confessions

What's a more titillating delight than this monthly show run by the smart, sassy, and sexily literate Sadie Smythe, Julie Gillis, Mia Martina, and Rosie Q? Hear friends, neighbors, and complete strangers take the stage to dish on their own erotic lives between the, oh, steamiest readings by writers and musicians and actors and whomever else the quimmy quadrumvirate can coax into their revealing spotlight. You know you're in the right place, you omni-curious men and women, when the door prizes are brand-new sex toys and the crowd is no less likely to have tattoos of Bettie Page than they are of Shere Hite.

Bedpost Confessions,

Best Schtickers
Lipschtick Collective

We've often fantasized about how a band of performative queerballs would play in the Poconos. The most exciting thing about the queer, Jewish, feminist Lipschtick Collective is their borscht-belt brand of activism. Earlier this year, they were performing demented burlesque that cleverly disguised a double-horned critique of pop culture's insistence on depicting Judaism as quaint. Now, they've been trotting and grapevine-ing videos that abandon the notion of the dour activist. Inventive, heebish, and anarchic, Lipschtick continues to impress by making a revolution of the self. Oh, and try the liver, it's fantastic.

Lipschtick Collective, 512/363-5566,

Best Valkyrie of the Set
Ia Ensterä

After you see the name credited with the set design in so many programs in so few months &ndash Middletown, Spacestation1985, The Twelfth Labor, Rose Rage, Rapunzel's Bad Hair Day, The Materiality of Impermanence, The Aliens, The Schooling of Bento Bonchev, Arcadia all in 2012, along with another half-dozen shows &ndash you gotta figure this Ia Ensterä must be some Scandinavian scene-building consortium, an IKEA for stage sets that's cornered the local market. Truly, how could one person design and construct that much scenic material in a year? Then you see her, this tall, sinewy Finn with the frost-colored hair and intense eyes, wielding a hammer like Thor, and you realize she can do all that by herself and more; this is a warrior woman right out of Valhalla. With an audacious imagination to match her fierce drive and construction skills, Ensterä has crafted several of the boldest and most memorable stage settings of the past few seasons, and in a short time has become a major force in the Austin performing arts scene.

Ia Ensterä, 512/914-2552,

Most Continuously Innovative Improv Troupe

Parallelogramophonograph shares a history that spans six years, 450 shows, a B. Iden Payne award, and a monthlong run at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. With that much “yes, and” being volleyed around, one might expect to see occasional repetition in their shows. Not Pgraph. With a range that spans French farce to GRIMM, film noir to period dramas, this funny foursome brings fresh insight into their organic narrative improv that moves audiences (and each other) to feel like it's their first time, every time.

Quirkiest Quarter-Life Crisis

Hey, what 25-year-old doesn’t freak out a little – quit his/her job to backpack through Guatemala, or maybe get an MFA. So what did aGLIFF, our city’s long-running festival of queer cinema, do when it hit the quarter-mark? Went and got itself a fancy new name with underground cachet. Taking its name from archaic British gay slang, Polari has risen from aGLIFF’s ashes … and baby, you’re a firework.

Austin Gay & Lesbian International Film Festival, 1107 S. Eighth, 512/275-6227,

Savviest Smeller
Alyssa Harad

Alyssa Harad's funny, galvanizing memoir Coming To My Senses: A Story of Perfume, Pleasure, and an Unlikely Bride explores the personal and the political of eau de parfum, and provides much food for thought about our own arbitrary lines in the sand vis-à-vis feminism and femininity. Call it scent and sensibility – and a sweet read, to boot.

Alyssa Harad,

Best Adult Hula Hooping
Lustre Pearl

Austinites love to hula hoop. At concerts, at home, with friends, in the prison yard. It's practically an all-American pastime. Lustre Pearl opens its spacious backyard for part-time hooping enthusiasts to perform impossible bends and jumps that put amateurs to shame. In this fashion, one can enjoy an ice cold beer and the urge to hoop free of judgment - sometimes both at the same time.

Lustre Pearl, 97 Rainey, 512/469-0400,

Best Bingo Hall
American Bingo

A lot goes into the making of a good bingo hall. American Bingo has it all - a decent snack bar with a friendly staff, great games, good payouts, and a fantastic caller (who has as much fun with the wild numbers as we do). Raffle drawing events include a cash blower, wheel of prizes, and Plinko, just to name a few. In addition, the hall features four Friday night sessions with cheap beer and wine, making it a perfect pre-show stop for Emo's East and Beauty Ballroom nextdoor.

American Bingo, 1919 E. Riverside, 512/448-2468,

Best Built-In Karaoke Backup Dancers
Ego's Bar

Ego's has earned its place among the ranks of top local karaoke joints, but the Congress Avenue dive bar offers something more - ass shaking. If you want an attentive crowd that hangs on your every note, this is not the place. If you are looking for a fun mix of regulars and wide-eyed newbies that always hit the dance floor, you've found a home in Ego's. Be prepared for stage crashers and instant Beyoncé-worthy backup dancers to add to your show.

Ego's, 510 S. Congress, 512/474-7091,

Best Cocktail Butter
Opal Divine's

Opal Divine's takes the theory that butter makes everything better and runs with it. They up the cocktail ante by adding the creamy, fatty goodness to a few of their favored featured drinks. For their Harry Potter Trivia Night, they conjured up Butter Beers - rum, butterscotch schnapps, cream soda, butter, and cream. Hot buttered rums have become holiday traditions for some, with as much real butter, spiced rum, and hot cider as you can shake a cinnamon stick at. Swirl the light layer of shimmering goodness while basking in seasonal cheer!

Opal Divine's Penn Field, 3601-K S. Congress, 512/707-0237,

Opal Divine's Marina, 12709 MoPac N., 512/733-5353,

Opal Divine's, 12709 N. MoPac, 512/369-3709,

Best Indescribable Rakish Crooner

Fantasy is just as likely to sing a Whitney Houston cover as s/z/he is to scream "Suckmahdiiiick!" Yes, he is the local bon vivant with the bon mots. Birthed in the self-styled swagger of Downtown karaoke halls, dirty dance nights, and more recently, his very own "Show & Tell" nights at Cheer Up Charlies (think Skillshare on a small scale), this troubadour's vocal diphthongs (and we assume, very real thongs) are clarion canary calls to the queerest of the queer. Wanna show off your crocheted vag? No probs. Or learn how to tie a scarf multiple ways? Sure. Who is Fantasy? No, sweetums, the question is what is Fantasy? Whispered and revered, Fantasy is gender thrown into a Crock-Pot, slow-cooked and melted down - a casserole of costumery. Most sundaes are topped with a cherry, but this freaky treat is topped with the white-powdered mop of a London barrister or any one of his multicolored man merkins. Suck my D, indeed.

Best LGBTQ Bartender
Garold Bates

Who can take a bear down with a smile? Who can take a nothing drink, and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile? It's the Chain Drive's Garold Bates, who you can always count on for a stiff drink, a wink, a flirt, and a squirt … of fun, that is.

Chain Drive, 84 East Ave. (I-35 access road), 512/480-9017,

Best Meshes of an Afternoon, Evening, or Dead of Night

Sure, we love the clean lines and cool twists of graphic designer Laurel Barickman's print and website projects, from Ume to the ND, from Her Space Holiday to Holy Mountain. And not much sets us more afloat than her (soon-to-be) hubby David Milner's cheeky Yacht Rock-themed DJ nights. But these kids take it to another level. In addition to their print and aural curatorial sweetness, Recspec does video – specifically video collages and projections for shows. Now, Austin is a town with deep psychedelic roots, from the days of the Vulcan Gas Company to the freakshows of the Butthole Surfers. So if you're gonna throw something up on a wall behind a band or during a DJ set, you'd better know your B-movie footage from your phosphene daymares. And Recspec does. We believe Maya Deren, the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, and maybe even Jim Franklin would be proud.


Best Neighbor to the Newsroom
Twin Liquors

We won't lie. We are biased. For last-minute tipsy gifts,bar must-haves, "Twin Deals" discount two-fers, party kegs, enticing product tastings, and really difficult upcoming meetings with the boss, the Hancock Twin Liquors is the go-to of many a staff member of a certain alternative newsweekly. Anyone who reads us (for example!) with some modicum of regularity should be able to parse out which of our esteemed senior staff keeps a fifth of hooch in his/her/zir desk drawer. How did they come up with that amazing concept/cover/blog/advertising copy/hard-hitting and touching news story? We're not telling, but if you must know, see the Huffington Post's incisive 2008 essay, "Why Chain-Smoking Boozehounds Make the Best Journalists," and you may get a whiff of where we're coming from.

Twin Liquors, 1000 E. 41st, 512/451-7400,

Twin Liquors, 519 E. Seventh, 512/476-9982,

Twin Liquors, 8030 Mesa, 512/346-1861,

6 more locations

Best New Fetish Group
Austin Gears

There is a fetish renaissance going on in the queer community, and at the heart of it all is the Austin Gears. Slowly but surely, the Chain Drive's Gear Night has grown to become the hottest night of the month to don kinky, gay apparel in a safe, judgement-free environment. So if you're freaky, let your hanky fly; the Gears invite you to come out to play, whatever color you flag.

Austin Gears,

Best Periodic Glam-splosion
The Shows of Coco Coquette

A couple of times a year, the style maven from the Cesar Chavez wig shop, Coco Coquette, applies her magic fingers to a full stage show. It's a themed exposition of Austin's rarest talents, paring designers with choreographers and dancers, importing the hilarious Chris Lane from New Orleans as emcee, and topping it all off with her own eye-popping perukes. The result is a vignette-style runway show like you've never seen before, with more talent, beauty, humor, and sparkle motion than should properly exist at one point in space and time. To wit: The pageantry of her 2012 show, "12 Ways To End the World," was Allyson Garro's most elaborate tour de force to date: A stunningly magnificent procession of performers illustrating the many ways the end of days has been predicted, replete with polar bears, robots, space aliens, ice queens, and an it-was-only-a-dream grand "Bohemian Rhapsody" finale made it "12 Ways To End the World Divinely." Garro is a magician, with the ability to wave her wand and correlate the brightest denizens of Austin's creative class into an enchanting and riveting evening of spectacle, time and (end of) time again.

Coco Coquette, 2109 E. Cesar Chavez, 512/344-9173,

Best Place To Level Up
Arcade UFO

Live out your own Scott Pilgrim fantasy in Austin's own Japanese-style coin-operated arcade. New games are brought in regularly; rhythm games, puzzles, Ninja Turtles, and good old-fashioned combat. If your hand-eye coordination is lacking, you can always watch the pros play a tournament, or come after midnight on a weekend, when the hardcore contingent is out.

Arcade UFO, 3101 Speedway, 512/380-1725,

Best Places To Suck at Karaoke
TIE: Austin Karaoke Studio, Bernadette's Lizzy Caroloke

So you think you can't sing? Too bad. There's a song with your name on it, and probably one in your heart if you dig down deep into that darkness. And whether you choose the intimate embarrassment of a small room format, or simply enjoy making a fool out of yourself in front of perfect strangers, we've got your number. North Lamar's Austin Karaoke has a hall of private rooms and a karaoke menu full of songs we've never heard of – and most of them in a language we can't read. So, why not randomly type a number and let the karaoke gods chose for you? This is how we learned we knew every last nuance of Soulja Boy's "Crank That (Soulja Boy)." Now, if you prefer to spread your karaoke "talent" across a broader (cess)pool, might we recommend the huggable, loveable dive bar Bernadette's? Lizzy Carol hosts Austin's darkly lit and supportive crew of goofy hump day regulars – now with a recently expanded karaoke song list (it now goes to infinity). Just don't pick "Because the Night." That's E's song.

Austin Karaoke Studio, 6808 N. Lamar Ste. B-120, 512/323-9822,

Bernadette's, 2039 Airport,

Best Rebirth
Emo's East

After 20 years reigning over Red River, the original Emo's closed its doors forever, only to manifest in a big way over on Riverside. Emo's East opened its doors a little more than a year ago, and the cavernous venue has upped the capacity and the ante, drawing in premier acts from all over the world. Want to see hip-hop superstars fire up a crowd? Emo's East has got it. What about death metal legends? Emo's has that, too. Varied acts and a crystal clear sound make the fledgling Emo's the new zenith of Austin venues. Papa Emo would be proud.

Emo's, 2015 E. Riverside, 888/512-7469,

Best Straw Man
Brian Brushwood

We wonder if Austin homeboy Brian Brushwood, progenitor of the web series "Scam School" and "NSFW," as well as multiple guest slots on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, has paid an ear, nose, and throat specialist tens of thousands of dollars to deviate his septum, so that he can pass a clear tube up through his nose and out his mouth to perform his "Human Crazy Straw" bit. Relax, it's just a trick. Right? Ewww-ewwwww! Right?!?

Brian Brushwood,

Best Way To Say Boo to Cancer
Scare for a Cure

You can't scare cancer away, but Scare for a Cure does the next best thing. The annual charity haunted attraction, headed by APD Detective Jarrett Crippen (aka "The Defuser," the winner of Stan Lee's Who Wants to Be a Superhero? reality TV show), and assembled by a massive team of volunteers, scarers, blood-letters, and gore-getters, raises thousands of dollars every year for cancer research. By the pricking of our thumbs, something wicked, and wonderful, this way comes.

Scare For A Cure, 14219 Littig Road, Manor,

Best Baby Hummus
Baby Zach's

This hummus is no baby (it does, however, taste so good it may make you cry like one). The Austin-based brand's quirky and accessible approach to the traditional dish – with flavors ranging from smoked Thai curry to black bean – has grown into a full-blown consumer-packaged food company in two years. Zach Gultz, founder and UT alum, may have a hand in changing the way some meat eaters view vegetarian food options. Think outside the chip and take a dip (or two, or three) into Baby Zach's hummus, available at an H-E-B or Wheatsville (among others) near you.

Baby Zach's Hummus, 512/522-9227,

Best Banana Frappe Dizzle
The Hideout Coffeehouse

This faux-healthy drink is so good – the best $4 we spend waiting for the bus – that Metro drivers will allow it to be taken on the bus, and people on the street will continually demand to have a sip. OK, that is our specific experience, and the mileage you get out of this flavor-laden frothy breakfast bevvy may vary. It's one part banana, two parts chocolate, and four parts love blended together in perfect harmony.

The Hideout Coffeehouse, 617 Congress, 512/443-3688,

Best Campus Area Coffeehouse Treats
La Tazza Fresca

College students, try as they might, cannot live on coffee alone. Luckily, La Tazza Fresca boasts an extensive menu of treats that have fueled them through many a marathon study session. Favorites include the samosa-like breakfast burritos (available with and without meat), the samosas themselves, and the chocolate banana smoothies. The real stars of the show, however, are the delicious baked goods like cheesecake and cannolis, made by the owner in her home kitchen. Everything, from the sandwiches to the ice cream sundaes, tastes even better when paired with the broke college student's staple: a bottomless coffee.

La Tazza Fresca, 519 W. 37th, 512/454-1894

Best Coffee Bean
Texas Coffee Traders

The key to a good crema starts with the bean. Home baristas rejoice! Whole beans are roasted daily for superfreshness and come in a myriad of varieties. Whether you have a fancy espresso setup, a hand grinder, or a plunge and press, these are your dealers, you addicts. Hidden back on East Fourth Street, the shop front opens into a gigantic warehouse stacked with burlap sacks of organic fair trade beans waiting to be roasted. You can choose by blend, roast, or country of origin. May we suggest the Lone Star Blend?

Texas Coffee Traders, 1400 E. Fourth, 512/476-2279,

Best Green Acres Without Having To Buy a Farm

With the stress of city living, it's easy to want to pick up and move to greener acres. But few of us really want to get up at rooster's crow to milk a row of Bessies. That's why we have Lenoir. Everything inside the jewel-box eatery is just-picked fresh – from the repurposed farmstead décor to the sweet potato salad. Sit at the community table and order one of everything. At only $35 for three courses, it's cheaper than a drive to the country.

Lenoir, 1807 S. First, 512/215-9778,

Best King Cake

Sure, size isn't everything, but the girth of Bakerman's thick and filling King Cake would make at least two out of the three muses blush. And it'll make you smile, especially if you order ahead of the King Cake's big day, Twelfth Night (so-dubbed for its placement 12 days after Christmas), January 6, the official kickoff of the Mardi Gras season. This big ol' melt-in-your-mouth yeasty boy is laden with purple, yellow, and green sanding sugar, beads, and, of course, the baby.

Bakerman's Patisserie and Chocolatier, 120 E. Seventh, 512/476-0060,

Best Kombucha

Mmmm... Fermented fizzy tea! Yes, it's loaded with all kinds of natural health buzzwords: spirulina, goji, gotu kola, yerba maté, mugwort ... wait, mugwort? Wunder-Pilz is local and all over town. You can get it on tap (what up, Cheer Up?) or in a refillable jug from the markets. Heart, Energy, Strength, and Calm: Health-nut hippies have four types to choose from, depending on their mood ring.


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