Morning, noon, or night, people find something special to eat or drink at Cork Grinders. As day breaks, cups of Katz coffee and custom-made breakfast sandwiches fill the room with their aromas to wake up anyone who walked in still sleeping. By night, the restaurant's team switches out their coffee drinks for wine and locally brewed beer and the room takes on a lounge-like vibe. Much the of the dining action surrounds the panini press, which grills tasty sandwiches such as the Nola with house-made crawfish and the Texan with bacon, cheddar, and barbecue sauce. But the room itself is a draw all on its own, too. With a drink in hand, diners ensconce themselves in cozy seating framed by distressed walls and high ceilings, often listening to musical acts play on the small stage.
Owner Valerie Johnson leads a team of dynamic dance and fitness instructors dedicated to keeping bodies energized and elegant with classes ranging from ballet and pointe to hip-hop and tap. In addition to teaching feet the difference between tangos and two-steps, the studio’s instructors nurture tuneful talents with music lessons in disciplines including drum, guitar, piano, and voice. The 3,400-square-foot studio also hosts Kindermusik programs, which inspire creativity in toddlers with song, dance, and alphabet recitation set to the overture of Don Giovanni.
In 1998, the clack of billiards balls met the clink of cold beers at the first Fast Eddie’s Sports Tavern and Social Clubs in Amarillo. Since then, 17 more Fast Eddie's locations have sprung up across Texas and Louisiana, each letting guests sink corner shots at 8- and 9-foot Olhausen pool tables while sharing a few drinks and snacks such as deep-fried hot dogs. Beyond the felt, home runs and touchdowns play out on multiple big-screen TVs as darts fly into targets and foosball tables re-create the exciting theatrics of gymnasts struggling to play soccer.
Hosted by the happy-hour champs at Lucky’s Pub, Halfway to St. Patrick’s Day douses eight bands and two DJs in green beer to welcome fall Emerald Isle–style. Atlanta duo Dead Rabbits puts a bluesy spin on vintage garage sounds, and local quartet Lost Element rocks crowds with a giant cradle while performing its latest EP, Back Again. Wielding metal riffs as sharp as they are funky, Downfall 2012 cuts grooves deeper than a fortune cookie on the ocean floor. Other highlights include rousing bagpipe jams and a performance by Eddie Peery & the Rattlesnakin’ Daddies, who blankets fans in comforting country covers.
"Don't worry if you don't know much about wine," Manager Mike Kurth told the Houston Press just after the restaurant's grand opening in 2010. "I'll find you something you like." Drawing from a palette of more than 170 wines, Cork Soakers' bottle-handlers exude a casual confidence in dispatching potions to pair with a menu of artisanal meats and cheeses. As they consider the flavor notes of herbed Da Vinci gouda, chévre goat cheese, and smoked duck breast, the wait staff never cross over from savviness into snobbery: as Kurth notes, "Anyone who says they know everything about wine is lying. You can always learn more."
While continuing to build their knowledge base, the Cork Soakers team marinates in an atmosphere of full-on wine culture: cork-covered tabletops and menus, wine-barrel light fixtures, and a giant grapevine slowly entrapping the kitchen staff. At the center of the rustic space, a big table carved from a single mighty tree trunk holds a scrumptious brunch spread every Sunday. In fine weather, diners can take their beverages and bites out to the expansive patio.