Photography by Jamison Mosely

Hot Springs is a prime spot for spa pampering or a lazy lake day. The Spa City, known for its therapeutic waters, is also booming with culture and culinary delights to satisfy a myriad of tastes and likes.

As Steve Arrison, executive director of the city’s Advertising & Promotion Commission, says, for more than 150 years, Hot Springs has been welcoming visitors to “The Valley of the Vapors.” Many attractions and establishments have become legendary mainstay tourism destinations.

“The thermal waters and Hot Springs National Park have been the bedrock of those attractions for over a century,” he said. “Over time, others have become established visitor landmarks: Oaklawn Racing & Gaming, the Arkansas Alligator Farm, the Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa, the Ohio Club, McClard’s Barbecue, Garvan Woodland Gardens, Lakes Hamilton, Catherine and Ouachita, the Pancake Shop and the historic Buckstaff Bathhouse, just to name a few.”

Now, he added, “an enticing group of newer attractions and establishments are demonstrating their own unique contributions to the menu of places and things that go into making Hot Springs a top tourist destination.”

There is DeLuca’s Pizzeria, for example, which has rapidly established a national reputation for great pies, Arrison said. It would be hard to leave there hungry with the big, New York-style slices accompanied by delicious sides like the caprese salad served on a wooden platter in the shape of Arkansas. Owner Anthony Valinoti makes the pizzas by hand every day, but that doesn’t stop him from coming out of the kitchen to visit with each customer, share laughs and make each feel welcome.

Taken as a whole, Arrison said, “Hot Springs continues to offer the best of the well-established attractions and an increasing array of newer reasons to visit the city.”

Fine Dining

New hotel The Waters with its accompanying restaurant, The Avenue, add to the city’s accommodating amenities. Located on Central Avenue across from world-famous Bathhouse Row, The Waters adds boutique lodging to the dozens of other Hot Springs hotels and motels.

The Avenue’s executive chef, Casey Copeland, is filling plates and palates with top-quality food prepared in the most artistic way. The offerings are small, think tapas, and are meant to be shared. Whether you’re a meat lover or a vegetarian, a foodie or a home-cooking kind of diner, you’re sure to find something satisfying to nosh on.

The fare is definitely Southern inspired, Copeland said, but he can’t define his cuisine in one way. “We’re a tapas artisan restaurant that pairs with local farmers to prepare artful plates,” he said. “We can meet different tastes so if a family comes in and one person is in the mood for Mexican and the other in the mood for Italian, chances are everyone can find something they want.”

The menu changes every six to seven weeks and options could also be French- or Spanish-inspired, Copeland said.

The young Cordon Bleu chef that earned the coveted Diamond Chef title in 2015 comes to The Avenue with experience from different types of kitchens, from country club to upscale city. He was looking for a place to lend him culinary creative freedom and has been unleashing his artistic talents at The Avenue since it opened in February.

Oysters at The Avenue in Hot Springs“Things have been going really well and we have plans to expand,” he said.

On the rooftop of the century-old building that houses The Waters and The Avenue, Copeland has two bee houses. The plan is to turn the roof, which overlooks historic Central Avenue and the area’s mountain range, into a rooftop bar where Copeland also will grow herbs and produce. The bees will pollinate the plants. The roof also backs up to a mountain bike trail, Copeland pointed out, so part of the grand plan is to connect it to the rooftop bar, giving cyclists a resting stop on their bike treks.

With each dish he prepares Copeland hopes to highlight the ingredients without covering them up with a lot of spices and sauce, he said. He definitely achieved that goal in the dishes he prepared for us.

Appetizers (or “snapps”) Almond Gremolata, Ouacker Jacks and Oysters de jour could be their own meal. The almond dish was served with crusty bread, spiced mascarpone and citrus herb oil, while the popcorn app featured house cured bacon, peanuts and caramel.

For another course, we sampled the Drunken Pimento, which comprises melt-in-your-mouth bourbon cheddar complemented by a watercress chimichurri and served with lavash. The Brussel Salad was a surprise treat with the buttered Brussel sprouts coming apart perfectly in your mouth.

Deceivingly small, yet filling, the Duck Confit Tacos are made with citrus confitted duck leg, carrot cabbage slaw, grilled scallion and charred lime barbecue sauce and are a good main course selection.

Educational Fun

Mid-America Science Museum is booming with mind-boggling activities for children and the young at heart. This summer is filled with educational fun. June marks the 5th Annual Tinkerfest and a messy hands-on science experiment event will bid farewell to summer in Augusts.

On Saturday, June 17, the museum will be “taken over by more than 50 hands-on tinkering stations that explore science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics,” said Jim Miller, director of marketing at the museum.

Other special attractions include the Mindbender Mansion, an Arkansas Discovery Network exhibit designed by the Oregon Museum Science and Industry. “It’s an eclectic puzzle/brainteaser-themed exhibit that will be available at the museum throughout the summer,” Miller said.

Tesla Fest will be held Saturday, July 8, in celebration of Nikola Tesla to showcase the science behind his inventions. Special Tesla shows will feature the world’s most powerful conical tesla coil.

The Science Summer Smash presented by Alliance Rubber Company on Saturday, Aug. 19, will send the museum’s summer activities out with a bang.

For the most up-to-date information, visit www.midamericamuseum.org.

Magical Fun

For some magical fun, don’t miss one of several theatrical performances at Maxwell Blade Theatre of Magic. By the end of this month, Blade hopes to be in his new home at the historic Malco Theatre, currently undergoing a complete overhaul.

Blade originally performed his shows out of the theater but left in 2008. He’s occupied a smaller venue on Central Avenue past the Arlington Hotel & Spa and looks forward to having a larger space again.

“We’re restoring the Malco Theatre back to how it was in the 1940s and giving it a complete remodel,” he said. There will be seating for 350 people, as opposed to the 112 capacity that he currently has. “I’m excited that I will be able to do the larger illusion shows that I once performed.”

“It mainly will be a performing arts theatre for magic, but we will allow other groups to use it as well,” Blade noted. “We’re keeping a lot of the original aesthetics and historical integrity of the building but it will be coupled with state-of-the-art lights and sound.”

Blade came to Hot Springs more than 20 years ago with his family “to get off the road,” he said, after years in the bigger-city and Las Vegas limelight. “We were looking for a community to raise a family and a community with good tourism that could use some entertainment expansion.”

Information about current shows and more can be found at www.maxwellblade.com.

Outdoor Retreat

Outside the bustle of Central Avenue and away from the recreational fun Hot Springs’ lakes provide is a garden oasis. Garvan Woodland Gardens provides a retreat filled with walking paths of any given season’s beautiful blooms. The site is the botanical garden of the University of Arkansas with a mission to, in part, preserve and enhance a unique part of the Ouachita environment and provide people with a place of learning, research, cultural enhancement and serenity.

The landscape is filled with unique gardens and architecture such as the Anthony Chapel. A new structure in the works is a tree house to be built in the Evans’ Children Adventure Garden.

Becca Ohman, garden director, said the main tree house structure is about 28 feet tall, with the tallest point 41 feet off the ground and the lowest at 13 feet. It’s 45-feet long and four stories tall, including the crow’s nest.

The tree house’s architecture draws from the “architectural wonders of Garvan Woodland Gardens, the Fay Jones’ Garvan Pavilion and the Anthony Chapel,” Ohman said. “The design responds to the site by ending and curing around statuesque shortleaf pines and provides constant view of its inspiration, the surrounding woodlands.”

The idea of the tree house is a natural evolution of the children’s garden, Ohman said, noting a start date to construction should be announced soon. “We are currently working out the construction schedule with the design team.”

Donors Bob and Sunny Evans, Garvan Gardens Design Review Board members, Garvan staff and Modus Studios Architects played a vital role in developing the theme and design of the tree house, Ohman noted.

Jiving and Connecting

Back on Central Avenue, Kollective Coffee & Tea is the premier spot to get a jolt of energy for all of this Spa City fun with their coffee from renowned Onyx Coffee Lab in Northwest Arkansas and award-winning teas from the Art of Tea. You can also nab a homemade sweet treat or a savory snack made from fresh ingredients

Owned by coffee aficionados and active community members Agnes and Kevin Rogers, Kollective Coffee prides itself in using local and organic products. They spell it with a “K” as a nod to Agnes’ European heritage. She is from Poland.

The coffee joint is a relaxing landing pad for students and faculty of nearby Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences & the Arts and Hot Springs visitors and residents alike. It also hosts poetry night every Wednesday. This particular group hasn’t let varying locations halt it and hasn’t missed a night since 1989.

Whether you’re looking for coffee, dessert, or outdoor fun, Hot Springs accommodates with its welcoming and unique people, places and things.

 


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