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Art Cars & Margaritas

A weekend in Houston for the Art Car Parade was well worth the trip.

by Erin Z. Bass

Houston’s Art Car Parade dates back to 1984, when artist Jackie Harris covered a Ford station wagon with plastic fruit. The “Fruitmobile” was auctioned off at The Orange Show Foundation’s annual gala, then donated back, symbolizing its first official “art car.” After the Lawndale Art Center featured two art cars in an exhibit that same year, art cars began driving the streets of Houston. This led to a parade of cars down Montrose Boulevard two years later, finally culminating in a “Road Show” of 11 art cars, including the Fruitmobile, on June 29, 1986. The official Art Car Parade was born in April of 1988, consisting of 40 cars and an estimated 2,000 spectators.

Today, the annual parade attracts over 250 vehicles (I use this word loosely) from 23 states and an audience of over 250,000 people. Parade entries include anything on wheels, whether it be an actual car, van, bus, bike, go-cart or rolling port-o-let (pictured right). Since 1991, the event has also included a pre-parade caravan of art cars called the Main Street Drag that stops at schools, hospitals and community centers. The Art Car Ball also got its start that year, rounding out the full “Art Car Weekend.”

Deep South headed down to Houston last Friday afternoon, arriving just in time for bowls of margaritas and enchiladas at Cyclone Anayas Mexican Kitchen. Named after the Champion Mexican wrestler who married a former Miss Houston and eventually entered the restaurant business, Cyclone Anayas is known for its “fine Mex” dishes, like Lobster Enchiladas in Chardonnay Cream Sauce and Lump Crab Nachos. The food was excellent, as were the ‘ritas of course, but two was my limit that evening.

Pre-parade, we lunched at The Broken Spoke Cafe, a surprisingly authentic and charming Belgian restaurant that looks more like a seedy bar from the outside. One look at the menu and its croque monsieurs, crepes and mussels seven different ways lets you know this is serious food. I ordered the spicy mussels, which came arranged in a circle and covered with a very spicy tomato sauce that doubled as a dip for the accompanying bowl of frites. Plenty of sustenance for parade day.

We then headed over to Allen Parkway, not sure what the parking situation was going to be like. Another surprise, it was no big deal and we parked in the lot of a medical center complex on the end of the route. Like any good Southern boy with a pickup truck, my husband had foldout New Orleans Saints chairs in the back, so we grabbed those and walked over to the parkway. Families sitting blankets and couples in chairs with ice chests were spread out on the grass on either side of the median for several blocks. We found a prime spot in front, set up the chairs and waited. About 30 minutes later, police sirens signaled the arrival of the parade on our end.

Our photos and video help a little to convey the whimsical, wacky qualities of this parade, and I have to say Grand Marshall Dan Aykroyd (pictured at bottom) and surprise guest Larry the Cable Guy were overshadowed by the quality and variety of art cars, but this is one parade you’ve got to see for yourself. After viewing a VW Bug covered in an afghan, truck depicting the two sides of Vincent Van Gogh (cheery sunflowers and bleeding ear; see video below with the creator) or car adorned with fish with flapping tails and chomping lobsters, the car in your driveway will seem way too boring. In between cars, bikers, wagons and rickshaws provide additional entertainment, as did those participants with trailers of live music floating behind their art cars.

After a good two hours of hundreds of proceeding cars, exiting the parade area was just as easy as entering, and the fun continues on the way out as art cars begin to enter regular traffic. After a cat nap, we were ready to hit the streets of Houston again. The guys decided on an Astros game, while the girls headed over to Max’s Wine Dive.

With a slogan like, “Fried Chicken and Champagne … Why the Hell Not?” I couldn’t resist. In true dive form, Max’s is small and dark, but the comfort food coming out of the kitchen is anything but. My Fried Egg Sandwich – three eggs drizzled with truffle oil and sandwiched between two pieces of ciabatta with a little bacon and gruyere – has stayed with me, despite the many bottles of wine that followed.

We did start off with a glass of Prosecco in line with Max’s slogan, but moved on to a California Chenin Blanc, which the waiter said would pair well with my sandwich, and then several reds. At the bar, our waiter was also good about giving us small tastes of wines we were interested in, despite Max’s $3 taste list – its version of a flight. Knowledgeable staff, good wine, even better food and an unpretentious atmosphere is about all you can ask for in a wine bar. Some hula hooping and ping pong on the back patio at Pearl Bar down the street rounded out the night.

Sunday, it was time to come back home, but the next time Friday rolls around after an extremely hectic week, it’ll be comforting to know that a short drive to Houston can have me sipping margaritas, eating great food and enjoying some big Texas hospitality in no time.


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  • Mallory - Miss Malaprop / May 13, 2010

    I love art cars! I had no idea there was an art car parade in Houston, good to know! We have a few here in New Orleans who take to the streets of the French Quarter on occasion, but for a city like ours, you’d think we’d have an art car parade too!