Hot Springs is the perfect area for a getaway. From Bathhouse Row to numerous restaurants, the attractions are endless.
Photography by Janet Warlick
The city’s deep, historical roots are wildly influential to its modern-day atmosphere. Hot Springs was once a popular spot for gangsters and gambling. In fact, the ‘Spa City’ nickname was born in the 1920s when eight bathhouses were completed downtown utilizing the natural hot spring water.
Pres. Andrew Jackson declared Hot Springs the first federal reservation, which later became Hot Springs National Park (HSNP). Today, the unique historic city is diverse and flourishing.
Bathhouse Row contains the largest group of bathhouses in one location on the National Registry. The bathhouses were: Hale, Fordyce, Buckstaff, Quapaw, Ozark, Superior, Maurice and Lamar. Today Quapaw and Buckstaff are the only functioning bathhouses on this highly visited street.
“Buckstaff is more of a historic experience of the two because they use original equipment,” said Nalissala Allen, HSNP guide. “Quapaw is a modern-day spa. Prices range from $10 to $245.”
Fordyce has been transformed into a visitor center where knowledgeable staff members assist excursionists. “We provide information at the visitors center, and Lamar is now our park gift shop,” volunteer Bill High said.”
Superior was reopened as a unique microbrewery. “Our brewery opened in 2013,” employee Jaylene Gonsalves said. “We are the first brewery in a national park, the only brewery in the city and the first brewery in the world to use hot spring water. We brew 14 different beers. My favorite is the pale ale, one of the first beers we brewed.”
The brewery staff welcomes guests of all ages.
“The customers are truly a melting pot,” Gonsalves said. “In addition to awesome beer, we offer food and the locally produced Loblolly ice cream.”
The Maurice and Hale bathhouses are unoccupied and available for lease.
Hot Springs offers a plethora of restaurants for food connoisseurs. As a foodie, I was in restaurant paradise. The Pancake Shop, a local favorite, has been featured on Food Network and in the New York Times.
“We have had the same tables, chairs and recipes for over 75 years,” said Jonathan Peters, a cashier at The Pancake Shop.
A few popular lunchtime finds are Zoë’s, McClard’s Bar-B-Q, Café Alexander, Viña Morita and Café 1217. Ohio Club, a local bar with a colorful history, recently celebrated its 110th anniversary.
The club once served as a local hangout for infamous gangsters.
“We are known for our great burgers, and our Reuben is really popular,” owner Mike Pettey said.
Although solo during lunch, the staff at Zoë’s made me feel as if I was amongst friends. The level of hospitality displayed from the owner and her employees can be rare in the hustle and bustle of today’s world.
“When visitors stop by Zoë’s, I want them to feel like they are coming to my dining room table,” owner Jo Helen Dodson said.
The local restaurant, founded in 2008, recently expanded with a second location in the Surfas Culinary District. Another local favorite Viña Morita relocated earlier this year to a convenient downtown location inside of the Springs Hotel. The new location is equipped with a full-service outdoor patio.
Antonio Gonzalez, Viña Morita’s owner and founder, is excited about the reopening at the new location. During the planning and design phases, Gonzalez made an effort to incorporate natural elements.
“We are in such a beautiful, natural location here in downtown Hot Springs,” Gonzalez said. “I wanted to really tie the nature we have all around us into our atmosphere here at Viña Morita.”
Gonzalez encourages guests to take advantage of the patio when dining at the restaurant.
“I think the wooden family-style tables are a great place to gather while enjoying authentic food,” Gonzalez said. “My favorite thing about the patio is the ice chest option in the centers of the tables.”
Viña Morita serves authentic Mexican cuisine, beer, wine and specialty drinks. The refreshing sangria is a favorite among patrons. The verdes enchiladas are a popular menu item for those who love a little spice; they are a central Mexican-style enchilada, served with green tomatillo and jalapeño salsa. The ceviche shooters, a local favorite, include three options: pacific, verde and camarón. Each incorporates shrimp and citrus flavors. Sample the trio platter of all three ceviche flavors for $13.
Later I stopped in Fat Bottomed Girl’s Cupcake Shoppe, as featured on Food Network, to get a cupcake for the road. They are planning additional seating to enhance the overall customer experience.
Much like the eateries, entertainment options are endless in Hot Springs. The city’s three lakes — Catherine, Hamilton and Ouachita — as well as Lake Catherine State Park and golf courses provide hours of great outdoor fun. HSNP is excellent for nature lovers. Visitors with children may enjoy Garvan Gardens; tour the Josephine Tussaud Wax Museum; explore science and wonder at the Mid-America Science Museum; view the Mountain Valley Spring Water Museum; ride a “roller coaster” at 4D Adventure; observe underwater creatures at the aquarium or opt to dig for crystals or go zip lining at the Coleman Crystal Mine.
“We have seven simulator experiences from dinosaurs to The Great Wall of China,” Hanna Ali, 4D Adventure manager, said.
For the poet in you, check out the nation’s longest-running poetry night every Wednesday at Kollective Coffee + Tea. The event is held from 6 to 8 p.m. and is open to all.
“The poetry night has never missed a single week since it was founded in 1989,” barista Jake Williams said. “It has been held at other locations in the past and is new to Kollective. It is an encouraging crowd.”
Oaklawn Park is famous for its live and simulcast racing and gaming. With bountiful gaming options such as live blackjack, a live poker room, roulette, craps, slot machines and video poker, your gaming desires are sure to be met.
Attention, art lovers! Hot Springs is home to the nation’s longest running Gallery Walk. The event is held monthly on the first Friday from 5 to 9 p.m. downtown. A few of the participating galleries include Gallery Central, Linda Palmer Studio and Justus Fine Art Gallery.
“The first Gallery Walk was held in 1989,” Laura Scott, owner of Gallery Central, said. “I try to feature a live artist during each Gallery Walk.”
Crystal Springs Mining and Jewelry Co. is home to a large collection of pieces of gems and crystals and more.
“We offer handcrafted jewelry, petrified wood, fossils and much more,” owner Thomas Nagin said. “These gems and fossils are like nature’s art.”
He created the television show “Mineral Explorers: Experience the Adventure.” Gallery manager Meri Smith said, “Thomas thought the television show would be a great way to share his mining adventures.” The new season is due to broadcast this August on AETN.
Downtown’s shopping options include a variety of boutiques and specialty shops. A few of the locally owned stores include State & Pride Provisions, Evilo Oils and Vinegars, Madison’s Closet, The Savory Pantry, Central Park Mining and The Central Loft.
“We are proud to contribute to an area we love so much,” State & Pride Provisions co-owner Jill Lynch said. “We like to support fellow Arkansas businesses by carrying their items if we can. A few local lines we carry are Park Hill Home, Rock City Outfitters and Valere Rene.”
Hot Springs is plentiful when it comes to lodging options. A few popular lodging choices are the Arlington Resort Hotel and Spa, Williams House Bed & Breakfast, Spring Street Inn and The Hotel Hot Springs & Spa. Formerly the Austin Hotel, this 14-story building recently underwent an extensive renovation and features all the amenities that make a hotel stay a relaxing experience.