words: Marcus Coker
images: Marcus Coker, courtesy Visit Hot Springs and The Waters Hotel
Recently I traveled to Hot Springs as a guest of Visit Hot Springs, and although it wasn’t my first visit to this charming southern town, it was my favorite. I stayed at The Waters Hotel, and both the space and staff were impeccable. I took a tour of Bathhouse Row, the place America went to heal a hundred years ago when people believed the area’s natural spring water could cure almost anything. (Some people still believe this.) I had a drink at The Ohio Club, Arkansas’ oldest bar. The bartender there told me about gangster Owney Madden, who—before living in Hot Springs—not only owned The Cotton Club in New York City, but also lived next door to F. Scott Fitzgerald and is thought to have been the inspiration for The Great Gatsby.
Up and down Central Avenue (the downtown area), there’s a wax museum, a gangster museum, and mom-and-pop shops that sell everything from homemade soaps to delicious cupcakes. There’s the Medical Arts Building, the exterior of which was used as The Daily Planet in the old Superman series. And there are the bathhouses, of course, two of which are still in operation.
I wish I had time to tell you everything I learned about Hot Springs, but, really, you should just go. Nestled in the lush hills of Arkansas, it’s only a short three-hour drive from Fort Smith and is the perfect place for a weekend getaway. Oh, when you do visit, be sure to take your thermoses or gallon water bottles. The water from the springs is free and is pumped to local fountains.
Below are my top picks of places to go and things to do. Enjoy!
The Waters Hotel
340 Central Avenue
501.321.0001 | thewatershs.com
A newly opened boutique hotel, The Waters is located in the heart of downtown in a building that’s actually older than the Arlington. The perfect blend of old-meets-new, this swank spot is where you’ll want to stay. Not only is it hip and comfortable with top-notch service and a friendly staff, it’s also home to The Avenue, the in-house restaurant that boasts some of the most delicious and creative fare this side of the Mississippi.
Hot Springs Mountain Tower
401 Hot Springs Mountain Drive
501.881.4020 | hotspringstower.com
From 216 feet in the air, not only will you be able to view the city of Hot Springs and the Ouachita Mountains, but you’ll also be able to take in the area’s rich history, since the tower hosts a small museum. Learn about the famous bathhouses, as well as former Hot Springs residents like Bill Clinton and Owney Madden, the notorious gangster who had a love affair with Mae West.
Hot Springs National Park and Visitor Center
369 Central Avenue
501.620.6715 | nps.gov/hosp/index.htm
People often confuse Hot Springs National Park with the city of Hot Springs itself. In fact, the National Park greatly surrounds the city, but doesn’t include all of it. Stop by the Visitor Center, located in the old Fordyce Bathhouse, for a map of the park and a list of trails to hike or ride. While you’re there, get a tour of the Fordyce, which has been preserved as a museum and includes antique bathtubs, showers, and exercise equipment.
Garvan Woodland Gardens
550 Arkridge Road
501.262.9300 | garvangardens.org
Plan to spend some time at Garvan Gardens, a gorgeous place to get away for a picnic, nature walk, or even a wedding. Once a private 210-acre labor-of-love, this botanical garden is now owned by the University of Arkansas and includes a Japanese garden, a koi pond, a gorgeous glass chapel, and even a live peacock and a fairy village complete with tiny gnome-homes. For kids, there’s a giant train set and one of the coolest tree-houses (currently being built) you’d ever want to see.
Quapaw Baths and Spa
413 Central Avenue
501.609.9822 | quapawbaths.com
Spend an afternoon—or entire day—in the famous baths. The Quapaw offers four co-ed baths for lounging and soaking in the acclaimed healing waters. Each bath is heated to a different temperature. I went into the baths worn out and congested. After three hours of soaking (and drinking more mineral water than I have in my entire life), I woke up the next day rejuvenated. I hope you have the same experience!
The Pancake Shop
216 Central Avenue
501.624.5720 | pancakeshop.com
A Hot Springs classic and not-to-be-missed spot, The Pancake Shop is the way to start your day. With immaculately preserved original (retro) fixtures, this southern gem will make you feel as if you’re back at Grandma and Grandpa’s table. Here you’ll find pancakes that are slightly crispy along the edges, and eggs fried up to perfection. If you’re adventurous, you can order the stewed prunes.
Superior Bathhouse Brewery and Distillery
329 Central Avenue
501.624.2337 | superiorbathhouse.com
Owned and operated by Rose Schweikhart, this brewery is located in the old Superior Bathhouse and is the only place in the world that crafts beer from thermal spring water. Go by—more than once. (Ask for a tour.) They have eighteen local brews to choose from. Try the Beez Kneez, a honey-basil beer, or the Owney Madden, named for the infamous gangster. They have delicious wraps and sandwiches as well. Throwing a party—ask about their event space upstairs. Recently redesigned and decorated, it used to be the bathhouse locker rooms.
340 Central Avenue
501.625.3850 | theavenuehs.com
Part of The Waters Hotel, this restaurant is a must. Combining traditional southern menu items with upscale presentation, The Avenue is creative cuisine at its finest. I had the polenta, zucchini, and salmon; not only was it delightful to look at, it was also delicious. And the dessert—granola, sherbet, and raspberry—had a flower on it!
407 Park Avenue
501.609.9002 | delucashotsprings.com
Prepare yourselves to be amazed. Deluca’s does hand-tossed pizza—and all that goes with it—like no one else. Here you’ll find pizza pie slices as big as your face, and appetizers and desserts that are out of this world. Owner and chef Anthony is always dreaming up something new. When I was there, he paired a burnt orange with a caramel-topped cheesecake, and I’m still dreaming about it.
210 Central Avenue
501.318.6054 | rolandosrestaurante.com
Serving up Latino food with a colorful and delicious twist, Rolando’s is the place to celebrate. You can’t go wrong with Popeye’s Burrito or the Goat Cheese Quesadillas, and I promise you’ll never feel so fancy eating chips and guacamole.
(That’s southern for drinks!)
The Ohio Club
336 Central Avenue
501.627.0702 | theohioclub.com
The oldest bar in the state of Arkansas, The Ohio Club is the place to be. Once a casino, this jumping joint has served up Mae West, Al Capone, and Babe Ruth. (Hot Springs used to be a baseball hot spot.) With live music seven nights a week and a lunch and dinner menu that will make your taste buds dance, The Ohio Club doesn’t disappoint.
700 Central Avenue
501.321.0909 | maxineslive.com
An excellent place to cool down after a long day, Maxine’s is filled with funky décor. Check out their antique lamp collection! If you’re with friends, grab a drink then go upstairs, where there’s a nook for playing darts, telling tall tales, and making memories.