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Culture / Newsy

Houston Declared the New Capital of Cool by National Magazine

Even Austin Can No Longer Compete with the Bayou City’s Authentic Swag

BY // 08.25.18

Houston’s got a starry-eyed new suitor. And with it, some much-deserved national street cred. The all-consuming crush comes with some very public courtship.

GQ magazine is expressing unexpected, undying love for Houston in its new September issue.

The declaration is a bold one, with a sweet headline: “Houston Is the New Capital of Southern Cool.” But we know — and GQ writer Brett Martin seems to know — that H-Town is more than just that. Bayou City cool has no regional cutoff.

“In its youthfulness, its diversity and explosive growth, Houston looks like the American city of the future,” Martin writes.

So, maybe step one is a starring role in the South. Nationwide cool comes next.

The article has sprawl to match Houston’s itself, easing from topic to topic, conversation to conversation.

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Martin hits the high points, dropping the kinds of names you’d expect a major magazine to hone in on. Montrose. The Menil. Chris Shepherd. Bun B. The Pass & Provisions. The Pastry War. But there’s something stirring about seeing them through a first-timer’s eyes.

And GQ turns its gaze to some Houston standouts outsiders may have never heard of: The Suffers, The Orange Show, Day for Night.

Ugly Houston Love?

There are a few hiccups, of course. No relationship is perfect. Martin calls Houston ugly, going so far as to specify that it’s not the kind of ugly with beauty mixed in.

In fairness, he’s mainly talking the stretches of strip malls. But still, not the best tactic to woo us. Maybe love isn’t blind after all.

The second snafu: he’s pleased that the Astrodome shuttered. Sure, it’s in reference to the endurance of The Orange Show, whose owner was against the odd, history-making sports stadium. Martin should still know you just don’t diss the Astrodome, though.

But on the other side, GQ gives Space City plenty of love, going way beyond comparing the city to a summer’s day. Which would feel like any day of the year in Houston, anyway.

“Maybe it’s the sense of defiance that ultimately defines Houston’s cool — the sense that a city where cool isn’t the primary commodity can afford to lie back and let the world come to it, whenever the world catches on,” the story reads.

Martin doesn’t try to pretend it was love at first sight. It’ s no secret that Houston wouldn’t fare so well in speed dating. We’ve got layers. But once you get to know us, there’s a lot to love.

The GQ writer gives credit where credit is due. He’s clear that his infatuation caught up to Houston’s cool.

“And Houston didn’t suddenly become cool just because outsiders started to take notice,” Martin writes at one point. Some hip historic signposts: Archie Bell & The Drells tightening up in the late 1960s, the bohemian boom of Montrose in the 1980s.

Xochi Hugo Ortega
Xochi is one of the Best New Restaurants in America.

We all know the way to a man’s heart is his stomach. It’s no surprise that food plays a major role in Houston’s cool status.

“We’ve been hearing the buzz for a few years now: Houston may, sneakily, be America’s best food city,” Martin writes. GQ’s endorsed that belief  itself, with Xochi and Theodore Rex cropping up on Martin’s list of America’s Best New Restaurants this year.

With culinary credentials in mind, Martin turned to a serious gourmand for a guide. Chris Shepherd acts as kind of a one-man Montrose microcosm in the story. His Westheimer “empire,” his ever-experimental dishes, his ravenous curiosity about all cultures, his penchant for Nigerian grocery store DD Vantage.

Martin and Shepherd take a tasty trip to Saigon Pagolac for Vietnamese crispy pancakes, then to Mike’s Seafood for Vietnamese crawfish.

But it’s the conversation, more than anything, that gives Martin a true taste of Houston. And so he carries one on with Bun B at the hip hop star’s go-to barbershop, discussing gentrification and the evolution of Houston’s rap scene. He chats underground barbecue with the mysterious owner of Bookity Bookity Boudain Man.

Houston’s the land of energy, GQ declares, whether you’re talking oil and gas or the nation’s fourth largest city’s sparking diversity, its kinetic, no-holds-barred “independent frontier wildness.” Martin loves us heart and soul. He calls it our “Gulf Coast Soul.”

The idea of the frontier courses through the article. To Martin, “There’s no zoning here” epitomizes identity, or “the theoretical ability for anyone to build anything anywhere.”

And that takes him to Axelrad, the eccentric, highly interactive beer garden with swaying multi-colored hammocks to one side, a technicolor-lit tree in the middle, a brick-oven pizza shop toward the back, next to a stage where all manner of acts act up in front of projected oldies or whatever you can think of.

That’s where you find Houston hipsters, but Martin would never confuse them for the Austin ilk. The writer finds the comparison between Austin and Houston “unseemly” for the disparity in diversity and discrepancy in size.

He never once comes out and says Austin is try-hard. But we Houstonians can read between the lines, and we know the difference.

One Houstonian put it best. “Houston is cool because Houston doesn’t give a f*** about being cool.”

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