Here’s your rundown of the most outrageously fun and conspicuously captivating diversions for a red-hot Houston summer—VIP all the way!
1. Fly High
Summer nights are taking off. Literally. Helicopter Services (Hooks Airport, 19931 Stuebner Airline Rd., 281.370.4354) has pre-packaged date nights that include a 40-minute chopper tour that loops around the Downtown skyline, followed by a five-course meal at Perry’s Steakhouse & Grille (9730 Cypresswood Dr., 281.970.5999). “You get off the helicopter like a movie star and walk right into dinner,” explains the charter company’s Robin Crossland. After your meal—crabmeat-topped asparagus and pork chops with herbed garlic butter, anyone?—your airborne chariot awaits to ferry you home. $899 per couple, not including alcohol with dinner or the pilot’s gratuity
2. Roll the Dice
The Hotel Sorella (in CityCentre, 713.973.1600) has a package that includes gaming at L’Auberge Casino Resort in Lake Charles, La. The weekend-long, $8,800 Sky’s the Limit package includes two nights in a suite, with a chef-prepared meal served in-room one night, and a helicopter ride to L’Auberge for some day gambling the next day. For an up charge, stay a few hours longer and then zip back to H-Town for VIP service at Sorella’s lounge—or stay over at L’Auberge and fly back the next morning.
3. Say “Aloha” with Audacity
Have a unique gourmet get-together in Galveston. Lance Fegen, the culinary director and co-owner of River Oak’s red-hot new restaurant Liberty Kitchen & Oysterette (4224 San Felipe St., 713.622.1010), can arrange a lavish luau at a private seaside home or on an isolated stretch of sand. He’ll send the setup and the staff. And his catering menu includes a long list of Hawaiian specialties you can choose from, like whole roasted pig; Haleiwa sweet shrimp with garlic and black sea salt; and Da Kine chicken with ginger, sesame and coconut milk—all of which can be prepared on the beach with a traditional sand oven and a wood-burning grill. Costs start at $220 per person, not including drinks. For extra authenticity, have Lexis Florist (6102 Skyline Dr., 713.774.8080) send down men’s leis ($75 each) or shorter women’s ($65 each) fashioned from fresh orchids.
4. Go Gaga
Little Monsters all over H-Town will descend upon the Toyota Center for the concert of the summer, as Lady Gaga’s artRave tour makes a stop in Houston July 16. The concert—tons of over-the-top costume quick-changes are expected to take place in an anything-goes atmosphere— may be best enjoyed stageside. This is possible thanks to a VIP option that includes an elevated viewing area with seating that will be situated just feet from the pop star. (There’s also a private cocktail lounge backstage where you can hang with Lady Gaga after the show.) Tickets, going fast at press time, are $3,900. Toyota Center, 866.446.8849
5. Show Some Pride
June means Pride for Houston’s gay community—and for anyone who loves a parade! The city’s second largest parade, and one of the world’s only nighttime Pride parades, draws 400,000 spectators along Westheimer Road between Dunlavy Street and Montrose Boulevard, starting at 8:15pm on June 28. You can beat the heat and avoid the crowd crush with a $125 VIP pass, available at pridehouston.org. It entitles you to bleacher seats, an open bar and, that greatest luxury for any parade-goer, private air-conditioned bathrooms. The party continues at the official Pride afterparty at South Beach discotheque (810 Pacific St., 713.529.7623), where the Martini Lounge and brand-new patio cabanas are available for VIP groups willing to commit to bottle minimums as required by management. The club has invested $20,000 in sound-system enhancements for the party, at which star DJ Drew G will spin. Sobe, as it’s known, is also stocking up on Veuve Clicquot and Cristal for the bubble-minded, although hunky new bartender Rich Marraudino, 24, excited about working his first Pride night, has a better idea. “Come to me and order a margarita on the rocks,” he says, winking. “I make them fast. I make them tasty. And I make them strong.” By the way, is he worried about handling the expected huge waves of tippling, flirtatious customers? “Nah. I just let them do their thing. And make sure I stay safely behind the bar.”
6. Rewrite History
For an upscale take on the pub crawl, hire a driver and take a limo tour of some of the city’s oldschool cool—and recently renovated—bars. Begin with Dean’s Downtown (316 Main St.), the reimagined Dean’s Credit Clothing that reopened a few months back as a masculine, wood-swathed den with a new drinks menu. Then load everyone back in the stretch and head down the street to the remodeled Alley Kat (3718 Main St., 713.874.0722), where live music awaits. End the night at Marfreless (2006 Peden St., 832.954.7019). The Houston institution, infamous for the illicit canoodling it seemed to inspire, closed last year to mournful jeers. Happily, it wasn’t down for long, having reopened in January. Find a fresh mod look with new furniture and, for the first time, VIP bottle service upstairs. But some things never change: The iconic blue front door remains.
7. Win in Rome
When in Houston, do as the Romans do? Well, this season anyway. After working up an appetite touring the Houston Museum of Natural Science (5555 Hermann Park Dr., 713.639.4629) show Bulgari: 130 Years of Masterpieces, which includes archival pieces lent by the Roman jeweler, have a decadent, customized dinner inspired by the ancient city, with wines paired per course, at Tony’s (3755 Richmond Ave., 713.622.6778). Roman specialties are among the restaurant’s stable of rotating classics, including artichokes seared with olive oil and lemon, and what owner Tony Vallone calls “real carbonara,” the cheesy, eggy pasta dish that eschews the U.S. addition of cream. Add a shaving of black summer truffles to anything, or everything.
8. Roar Some More
As Prohibition, the speakeasy whose Galleria location shuttered earlier this year, readies its massive new Downtown venue, other bars inspired by the Roaring ’20s open nearby. Brand-new Barringer Bar and Lounge (410 Main St., 832.786.1836) boasts an inconspicuous second-story side entrance and antique furniture set amid exposed-brick environs. And Landmark Hospitality Group, whose first Hearsay Gastro Lounge (218 Travis St., 713.225.8079) bowed in Market Square in 2009, has announced plans for a second Hearsay to open in August in the Embassy Suites Hotel. Expect the same handcrafted martinis at the new location, and a speakeasy-chic vibe similar to that which has consistently attracted local celebs like Texans and Rockets players. “People block off our upstairs balcony for private parties with bottle service,” says Landmark’s Kevin Smoot. “But then again, with those 30-foot ceilings, people like to sit downstairs and enjoy the food and cocktails, too. Our mixologists spend 10 minutes muddling those drinks with a mallet.”
9. Pop a Cork
Designed with an indoor-outdoor sensibility, and named after Paris’ airport, the new De Gaulle Champagne bar features rich red textiles and gold gilding, along with portraits of Marie Antoinette and other baroque accents. While the entire place has a VIP edge, you can enhance your experience by reserving the King Louis section and preordering caviar and, for $1,050, Ace of Spade Rose. 2811 Washington Ave., 832.704.8964
10. Get Fresh Air
If you can take the heat, take in some culture in the great outdoors. At Hermann Park’s Miller Outdoor Theater, sing along during a screening of the instant-classic Disney film Frozen July 5, or enjoy free performances by the Symphony or Theater Under the Stars. Or hit Downtown’s Discovery Green, for acts like Grammy-winning Zydeco star and Houston native Corey Ledet June 12. For an extra special night at the Downtown site, rent out the Grove restaurant’s rooftop terrace, The Treehouse, which overlooks the park. The Treehouse is exclusively available for private parties—or a very lavish dinner for two—before or during shows. Enjoy farm-to- table fare such barbecue-glazed jalapeno-pork meatballs with buttermilk dressing, or flattened chicken breast with salsa and ricotta salata. Treehouse rental starting at $9,500
11. Party Party
Explore Houston’s world-class art scene with gallerist Sonja Roesch’s new guided art tour. Requiring just a day’s notice, the outing includes a pickup from any location by Roesch herself—in a limo. She and her daughter, Ariana, customize the stops on the tour to your interests; an excursion might entail trips to the Station Museum and the Menil Collection before ending up at Roesch’s Midtown gallery for a private after-hours Champagne reception. Turn the lights down and clink glasses amid works like Soledad Arias’ cool neon-lit installations, and Regine Schumann’s florescent Plexiglas pieces. From $100 per person, Gallery Sonja Roesch, 2309 Caroline St., 713.659.5424
12. Get Main Street Wise
This summer, dress up and party down— Downtown, that is. The district’s resurgence, which began nearly two years ago with the arrival of Okra Charity Saloon and the renaissance of the pedestrian-friendly Market Square, continues as a new influx of bars like quirky Little Dipper (304 Main St., 713.223.0107) makes Main Street the most popular nightlife corridor in town. The art-infused Pastry War (310 Main St., 713.226.7770), a “mezcaleria” named after the first Franco-Mexican War, is another newbie that seems to have become an instant favorite, thanks in part to the inventive experiences available for VIP s and special occasions. For example, the bar’s creator, artisan-cocktail king Bobby Heugel and his colleague Alba Huerta—an agave-spirits expert who this month opens her own outfit called Julep on Washington, specializing in Southerncrafted cocktails—lead interactive monthly lectures on specific spirits. Think American whiskeys or French liqueurs. Additional private tastings can be arranged every other Tuesday night for VIP groups no larger than 12. Heugel and Huerta, who were named Bartenders of the Year by Imbibe magazine in January, personally run the tastings, too. Lectures and tastings $55
13. Kick It
Live the suite life in EaDo! The Houston Dynamo’s BBVA Compass Stadium has 33 suites, located just eight rows off the field along both sidelines—making the VIP setups among the closest-to-the-action of all professional sports stadiums. Or combine three of the suites—all of which boast flat-screens and catering options—into one giant party venue, perfect for cheering on the Dynamo, or watching a blockbuster summer concert, like the H-Town Beat Down featuring Kendrick Lamar, Trey Songz and more on June 20. Suite combination availability and pricing upon request. BBVA Compass Stadium, 2200 Texas St., 713.547.3000
14. Beer Me!
Grab a few dozen of your closest friends and plan the ultimate boys’ night out: a private tour and dinner party among the casks at Karbach Brewing Co., which recently broke ground on a $15 million two-story brewery and a German brewhouse adjacent to the current brewery in the Oak Forest neighborhood. (The new facility will allow for three times the beer production, and will also include a quality-control lab and public tap room.) In the meantime, for $325 an hour, Karbach will rent out the existing brewery for special events, accommodating up to 150 guests and allowing any sort of off-site catering your occasion requires. Available Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays, Karbach Brewing Co., 2032 Karbach St., 713.680.2739
15. Play Ball
It may not be the most glamorous time to be a Houston Astros fan, but supporters can still watch nine innings in high style, thanks to Minute Maid Park’s newly renovated Diamond Club. Tickets in the section—a favorite of President George H.W. Bush and former all stars like Craig Biggio—include a pregame dinner in the dugout-level lounge behind home plate. Here, there’s a wall of wine, expansive bar and a 30-foot panoramic projection screen so you don’t miss the first pitch. Celeb chef Bryan Caswell consulted on the menu, so expect gourmet bites to appear alongside ballpark classics. Once the ’Stros take the field, you take your seat, and a waiter happily will bring you another glass of vino—or even an ice cream sundae. Meanwhile, the Sam Houston Hotel, located a mere three blocks from the stadium, offers an out-of-the-park $169 baseball package, with a pregame bucket of beer and appetizer, and overnight valet, so feel free to cheer on the team till the very last out without having to worry about the drive home. Diamond Club tickets from $375. 713.259.8350
16. Hit the Road
For a marvelously mobile dining experience, get a move on. No, really. Get on wine guru and caterer Monsterville Horton’s luxury coach— with a “wine bar on board,” as he puts it—with up to 29 friends, and strap yourself in for a moveable feast. The progressive dinners start at the Houston location of your choice and typically proceed to three different top restaurants such as Kiran’s or Le Mistral, for a total of five courses. Each course is paired with a fabulous wine about whose provenance and significance Horton may wax expert. Previous guests have likened the roughly five-hour evening, with generous tool-around time between stops, to “an upscale, high-end frat party,” Horton laughs. “You can get loose and really let your hair down.” From $250 per person, Monsterville’s Catering & Events, 13655 Bissonnet St., Suite 201, 281.530.4800
17. Take the Stage
Jones Hall is the home of the widely celebrated Houston Symphony, and also a popular venue for many a large-scale concert or charity event. But, for a fee, the space can be yours for the night—even the stage itself. With additional costs, an ensemble of Symphony musicians will serenade you and your guests, and Jones Hall’s in-house catering team will develop a customized dining experience. (They can whip up a multicourse meal, or even create an ice sculpture or a waterfall on the stage.) Space rental from $10,000, Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana St., 713.853.8141
18. Make a Musical
Houston has plentiful picks for the showgoing type; on any given night, the Theater District boasts a lineup of productions second only to New York. But maybe the best show in town this summer will be one that’s written just for you! Cay Taylor and the rest of the gang at the cabaret-style Music Box Theater, which writes and performs four original musical comedies at their Upper Kirby-area venue each year, can also be commissioned to write a show based on any subject matter of your choosing and perform it in a more private setting. “Whatever show we do, we build the show around popular music of a certain era, and write sketch comedy to tie it together,” explains Taylor, 31, a music therapist by day and wife of Houston Symphony exec Glenn Taylor. She says that when the Music Box company—which also includes Luke Wrobel, Kristina Sullivan, and husband-wife duo Rebekah Dahl and Brad Scarborough—is asked to tailor a show for a particular patron, it’s a good time. “Sometimes, we’ll sit around and go, ‘This is so weird,’” she laughs, noting that they take time to get to know the client, who most often has requested a show for an anniversary with a significant other or for a holiday gathering. Commission fees upon request, Music Box Theater, 2623 Colquitt St., 281.513.1504
19. Pamper Yourself
Tanglewood-area Fiori Spa, which will soon break ground on a 6,000-squarefoot expansion, is one of the only day spas in town that could also be called a night spa. The wine garden, which will also be revamped this summer with a lush, Mediterranean feel and lounge chairs, can play host to a private party after a serene spa experience. Enjoy a 100-minute Fire and Ice stone massage, a dip in the underground thermal pool and a chefprepared meal before meeting girlfriends for an after-hours private wine tasting in the garden. Wine Garden from $600, plus treatments fees, 2613 Potomac Dr., 713.244.0070
20. Hit the Deck
A new lounge in Montrose makes the famously long wait for a table at Uchi a breeze—literally. The two-story Rosemont Social Club (910 Westheimer Rd., 832.530.4698), which bowed next door to the sushi star in the fall, boasts a rooftop terrace and cocktails like the summery frozen mai tai with almond syrup and Cointreau. With a $400 minimum tab, reserve one of the Moroccan cabana with bottle service for the night, or head back down for Japanese fare at Uchi, where a premium private dining room can seat up to 26 and offers a tasting menu with hand-selected sake pairings.