A Farewell Tour of Houston: Dive Bars and Skyspaces

No final week in Houston is complete without visits to Poison Girl, Istanbul Grill and the James Turrell installation at Rice.

By Hala Daher March 18, 2016

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Twilight Epihany at Rice University

Part 2 of a 5-part series on leaving behind the Bayou City after losing your job in oil and gas.

In the eight years I've lived in Houston, I can honestly say I've explored almost every inch of the city with the exception of a few small corners, thanks to the many adventurous friends I made during my time here. Despite this, I've found myself with a short bucket list of things I want to see before I leave town, starting with the James Turrell Skyspace on the Rice University Campus. This is an art installation that I've been looking forward to visiting since it opened, but it took until my last Sunday night in town before I tapped one of my good friends to join me on a final one-on-one hang to check out the Skyspace and have dinner and a drink after.

Pahl is a sculpture student at University of Houston and has an extensive art history background. Because of this, I've always enjoyed visiting cultural spaces things with him around town; he's good at explaining what we're looking at within historic context and, unlike some artistic types, is never condescending to not-terribly-artsy energy professionals such as myself.

Over the years, we've taken in other Turrell exhibits at the MFAH and the Magritte exhibit at The Menil Collection, we've enjoyed our share of picnics at the Menil, and I've found he's one of the few people who enjoys the Rothko Chapel as much as I do. Pahl and I first connected a couple of years ago when I moved back to Houston after a short stint in Norway, after which we began meeting every weekend at Blacksmith to chat about art, life and anything else that came up over coffee. He was the perfect date for this occasion.

We met at the Skyspace at 6 p.m., a little before sunset. The installation, Twilight Epiphany, is located on the Rice campus next to the Shepherd School of Music. From far away, it looks like an alien spaceship landed in an urban environment. The two-story open air structure is equipped with LED lights that shine on to the roof, which has a rectangular opening. The lights are meant to compliment the natural colors in a sunrise and sunset—though, unfortunately, we came on a day where the cloud cover was low and we didn't get to see much of a sunset. The installation was still beautiful and peaceful, however, leaving us both in a contemplative mood for the rest of the evening.

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A spread at Istanbul Grill

After the sun had gone down and the show was over, we decided to walk over to Rice Village for dinner at one of my favorite restaurants: Istanbul Grill. I've always brought visitors here—fitting that I should visit one last time, I thought—to enjoy its simple, sturdy Turkish fare, and I can honestly say that the food they serve is the best Middle Eastern food I've had in Houston (which is no small compliment here).

Pahl and I joined a lively crowd on the covered patio and ordered a few things to snack on while we chatted. We talked a bit about my options once I moved back home to Detroit. A move to a different city is a great opportunity for a clean slate in life and Pahl encouraged me to consider going back to school—this time, not for engineering or an MBA but to study something I felt truly passionate about. What will I do without his life advice? I wondered over our pide and tabuli.

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Poison Girl is famous for two things: whiskey and pinball machines

Image: Flickr / D.L.

To round out our night and knock off another item on my Houston bucket list, we headed to Montrose for a nightcap at Poison Girl. The little pink dive bar on Lower Westheimer was one of the first places I fell in love with when I moved here nearly a decade ago. It's a dark, casual dive with cheap drinks and one of the last great places remaining from an older, grungier and weirder Montrose. I especially love it on the few quiet nights when it's not over-crowded with people.

Poison Girl has one of the best whiskey selections in town, though I realized that evening I'd never actually ordered anything off the extensive whiskey menu in all the years I've been a patron. Pahl and I each ordered a whiskey neat on the bartender's advice, and off we went to the back patio to enjoy our beverages under the watchful eye of the giant Kool-Aid Man that's as much an installation here as the Skyspace is at Rice, to talk about how he needed a replacement coffee date in his life and I needed a replacement artist in mine.


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