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A Big Look at Little Rock

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Ignored, off the radar, not officially a trendy destination. . .yet Little Rock has all the ingredients that make for a satisfying vacation. And when the President Clinton library opened, the city had even more to offer-- history, recreation, shopping, scenery, events and a touch of authenticity. Let’s look.



Things to See and Do



Bedding Down

Little Rock's River Market entertainment district is the downtown gathering spot, complete with shops, restaurants and galleries. Not so long ago it was a practically empty, fairly forsaken warehouse area. It debuted as the place to be in July 5, 1996 with the opening of the River Market. Part of the 27-acre Riverfront Park and next to the Riverfest Amphitheatre, the River Market’s Ottenheimer Market Hall building is home to vendors who offer all sorts of really good fresh food even jaded gourmets can enjoy — freshly baked breads and pastries; freshly cut flowers; gourmet coffees and coffee drinks; groceries. You’ll stop, you’ll drift, you’ll be drawn to the likes of Scapetto's Italian Deli & Catering, The Stockpot and its fresh soups, fifth generation farmer Jody Hardin’s Hardin's River Mercantile and the fresh fruit tarts at the Community Bakery.

The River Market’s adjacent promenade is the site of special events, concerts (Event schedule? Click here.) and  the Farmers’ Market.

 If you like looking at vegetables, and floating around early with a panier on your arm, pinching eggplants,well, every Tuesday and Saturday morning,  local farmers pull their trucks up and out come those special local peaches, tomatoes, okra , red potatoes, peppers and  what's fresh from the fields. Other goodies might include, plums, berries, goat cheese, beets, cucumbers,  squash, asparagus, broccoli, zucchini, cherries, and  lettuce as well as some exotic Asian produce— depending on the season.

Also lending some gravitas to River Market District are a state-of-the-art Main Branch of the Central Arkansas library system; the international headquarters of the 58 year-old Heifer International Organization; the President Clinton Presidential Library; and the Museum of Discovery.


On Saturdays craftspeople also exhibit their wonders at the Farmers Market. Among  the standouts are the Native American Flutes by Spirit Songs (William and Patricia Worden And Sons) of Shirley Arkansas. They will chat with you about history of their flutes. (They  might tell you about their  light wood flutes made from a 500 to 1000-year-old Arkansas cypress tree.)   The Lock Stars table offers another fascinating craft item, “the natural candle.” They use soy wax to make candles because, they say, Soy candles burn cleanly with very little or no soot, and generally two to three times longer than the traditional paraffin candle.” And oh, the many and wonderful fragrances they offer — from amaretto to wisteria.


The Old

Once the state’s first capitol building, The Old State House dating back to the 1840s, became a museum in 1947. Appropriately it focuses on history and politics.

Go inside and you'll find items from the museum's pottery, quilt and gown collections.  Turn a sharp right and you’ll find a Bill Clinton collection, including photos of those magic nights, snaps of America's High-IQ first family — Chelsea, Senator Hillary, and President Bill Clinton. Socks and Buddy are there, too, as is a pair of Bill's New Balance running shoes, and his saxophone, ever a scene-stealer.

On our first visit we peeked inside the gift shop and found the usual over-priced "shoppe"  souvenirs and irrelevancies, a postcard rack, half full, and no Clinton postcards for sale. No mugs. No T-shirts. No keychains. No posters. No photographs. You could buy a replica of his boyhood home in a plastic bag, or a bunch of old campaign buttons. That's it. 

So we wandered to the back of the old State House and asked the man who acted as if he were in charge where the Clinton memorabilia stuff for sale was.

"The State House is about more than just one president," he snapped. "If you want to buy Bill Clinton things, you can get them at the Clinton Library when it opens."

"Actually, the image of President Clinton in front of the State House on Election Night is the only image of Arkansas most of the world has, " we stammered. "If you didn't vote for him you could still be making beaucoup bucks for the restoration and upkeep of this building from Clinton souvenirs."

"They don't sell," he claimed. 

As it turns out, the Clinton Museum Store opened in 2004 with projections of doing $300 thousand worth of business in its first year. Instead, it chalked up $2.45 mil.

So Mom, if you do drop in to the State House, do ask the nice man for the Bill and Hillary souvenirs! For more information, click here300 W. Markham St. 501.324.9685  



Bedding Down


And The New


Home of the Clinton Library and Museum, The William J. Clinton Presidential Center, a touchstone of history and challenge, is a mindblower. The center also encompasses the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, on the site of. the old 1899 structure of the Choctaw Station railroad passenger depot.

Created by architectural firm, New York-based Polshek Partnership, led by James Polshek, the center’s cantilevered main building juts out across the Arkansas River. This design ever so subtly evokes the “bridge to the 21st century.” (This is a much more pleasant concept to contemplate than our current administration’s bridge to the Dark Ages.)

The museum offers 20,000 square feet worth of audio/visual high-tech exhibits spread out over two floors. Central to the display is a  110-foot timeline that presents the Clinton Administration’s eight year tenure. Alcoves spread through the timeline offer information about various initiatives and challenges of the administration, 

Both the timeline and a copy of the White House Cabinet room are on the first floor. An exact size replica of the Oval Office is on the second floor. Look at the chairs and sofas and you can just imagine the visiting dignitaries who’ve sat down  with the President to hash out problems. And Clinton would point to an acrylic pyramid,  holding the moon rock Neil Armstrong brought back, and say, “You see this rock, it’s been here for 3.6 billion years, so let’s all calm down, We’re just passing through here and it’s going to be fine.”

History, public service, instructive, inspiring exhibits are all just fine — but what’s a museum without a gift shop. The Clinton Museum Store is a worthy member of the  museum shop community. Whether you are searching for fine items that feature the presidential seal or a bottle of MacClard’s (his fave) Bar-B-Q sauce, or a saxophone necktie, you will find a memorable souvenir of your visit. And don’t forget the “I Miss Bill” bumper stickers.” They're sellin' like crazy.
610 President Clinton Avenue  501.748.0400..




Bedding Down


 And the Next

With flair and serendipitous steering from Director Bill Bradshaw, the Museum of Discovery packs a surprisingly savvy and surprising slew of scientific socko into a small space. This wonderful, petite musee is endlessly quirky and amusing.

Look---here's the chaotic pendulum, lots of robotics, smelling tests, experiments with shapes and light sand colours, trompe d'oeils---all hands-on.  There's the old gramophone, the old computer punch cards, the old fibre optics (hey---wait a minute!). And masses of blocks for budding architects to play with. It was all this reporter could do to not dive in and start nation building.

But the best part is how every exhibit showcases all the different ways of thinking. There's a whole section on inferences...with hands-on  experiments with mystery boxes to draw you in.

How do airplanes stay up? Bernoulli's Law, baby. Put the beachball in the Airstream.

Or try this "The Chinese scientists saw the Universe as a vast organism  that included living and non-living  parts...This allowed them to think differently from Europeans."  And then there's a Yin and Yang display.

Wish we'd had science teachers like that.

Try not to go mad in the gift shop. It's a good one.  
P.S. The Museum runs week-long day camps in the summers, where kids can get down with robotics  and other hot science. To learn more, click here.

500 President Clinton Ave. Little Rock, AR. 72201 501.396.7050



A Civil Rights Shrine


A must-see spot in Little Rock is the Central High School National Historic Site, which became part of the National Park Service on November 6, 1998. Central High School’s desegregation in 1957 was a landmark event in local and U.S. history. A federal court had ruled that the school must admit 9 African-American students. The state’s Governor Orval Faubus opposed the order. To enforce the ruling, President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent troops from the 101st Airborne Division to Little Rock to protect the students.

What a wonderful museum! Here are the sounds, sights, and vibes to take you back through that time, the TV broadcasts, headlined newspapers, breath-catching photographs, stirring words and a smack-upside-the-head reminder of the courage of a particular group of youngsters who faced, day after day, what most adults would be unable to handle: the hatred of the mob. You'll travel through conflict, drama, you-are-there atmosphere and then, the healing.  

The late photographer Will Counts was there to take the photographs that would transfix the watching world —Hazel Massery jeering at Elizabeth Eckford. Forty years later on 19 September 1997, Counts returned to photograph the two women — now reconciled through apology and forgiveness. 

"We're still under court order 40 years later, and we have the most balanced schools ever, with about 2100 students attending this high school today" said a park ranger on our first visit.

  Located at the intersection of 14th and Park Streets, across the street from the high school, the museum is actually in a former filling station. You might see the bright red and white structure and never realize what rich history lay inside. This gas station was the unofficial headquarters for reporters who came from around the nation and around the world. It lay deserted since 1975. That’s when local chef/restaurateur Mark Abernathy, bought the vintage Mobil gas station in 1995 and led the movement to establish a museum on the site. (Bon Appetit magazine named his Loca Luna Bistro one of  the "Best Neighborhood Restaurants in America” in its September 2002 issue.)

          "We've already had about 25 to 30,000 people come through this museum, and that's no surprise to me,” the park ranger continued. “Ever since I can remember, we've seen drive-ups to look at Central High School.”  

          Yes, there's a small gift shop, full of special books. We bought a bunch. And yes, they do do mail order. For more information, click here.
2125 Daisy L. Gatson  Bates Drive


Old Warrior Plays New Role

Located In North Little Rock, The Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum, a special place, is more popularly known as the submarine museum. And rightly so. Its piece de resistance is the USS Razorback submarine. The sub, launched in 1944, first saw service in WWII, then served in the Vietnam \War and was sold to the Turkish Navy in 1970. where it conducted missions until 2001. North Little Rock bought the old war seahorse in 2004. Despite its current Arkansas connection, the USS Razorback actually is  named after the razorback  whale. The museum first opened on 15 May 2005.

A tour of the submarine reveals that is a complicated example of mini storage, a tiny world of hatches and ladders and instruments. The crewmembers lived and worked in a space  dominated by the torpedoes.

There is an extra little truth on display here. Namely, retired submariners are a dedicated and tight knit bunch. They share a bond with others who have  journeyed to the ocean floor and navigated through the deep. That bond is international.  For moré information, call 501.371.8320 or click here.

120 Riverfront Park Dr North Little Rock 501.371.8320



Wildwood Park for the Performing Arts

                Wildwood's alone is well worth the trip. You could fly here from your big old city, spend the weekend mucking about at Wildwood, and return to your concrete jungle completely refreshed and rejuved. Ahh!

A half-hour's drive from downtown Little Rock, this is one beautiful, swanky, special, romantic, magical, big park, a huge haven from the rude world. 

Take one look and you'll want to get married here. Birds sing Disney songs. The pond reflects the soft trees and sky. The Bobbsey Twins will have a picnic at the gazebo with lemon cookies. Nancy Drew is running through the mysterious trees. The earth smells good, and calls out: procreate. But tastefully.  Buffy will have her wedding here. Corporations will have parties on the lawn. Lots of them.

 Two separate but complementary dreams sired the 105-acre Wildwood Park.  One, the quest for a new home for the Arkansas Opera Theatre and two, the desire for a performing arts park.  The Wildwood Park for the Performing Arts opened in 1990. Its Wildwood Festival, now an annual event, debuted in June, 1991 with operas — La Traviata, Don Giovanni and Don Pasquale, performed by the company, now known as the Opera Theatre at Wildwood. Also contributing to that historic occasion were the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and the Inkspots. And there were  poetry readings, lectures and nature talks and walks.
Go on....visit Wildwood's website. Slip away to this secret place...walk...sit...sniff...and just calm down. No one will know where you are. But you will. Click here.20919 Denny Road  501.821.7275 


In fact,  you can hate opera and still love the park. Music festivals typically include show music, chamber music, jazz, and country. Other audiences get to enjoy film, dance and the visual arts. .Moreover, you can even get hives from exposure to the arts and still love Wildwood. Forget the performances. In this paradise, you will find:


The Pavilion Garden, a wooded area, with daffodils and flowering trees, which borders the open pavilion near the Lucy Lockett Cabe Festival Theatre.


The Richard C. Butler Arboretum offers more daffs, bolstered by Louisiana iris and native azaleas. Natural woodlands and nature trails distinguish this 10-acre garden.


Hunter's Wildflower Glen is a one-acre home for over 150 species of wildflowers and ferns.


The Bruce Garden is a set of carefully maintained lawns, framed by ferns, native perennials and decorative grasses near the Lucy Lockett Cabe Festival Theatre.


The Warren and Nancy Boop Water Garden, with its native plants and splashing pools, flows
from a rocky creek bed.


The Doris Carré Gay Garden has a strong Asian motif. You can see native and weeping plants as you stroll across the stepping stone path crosses a small stream.  




Things to See and Do

Bedding Down



You may have seen The Faded Rose on a late Feb 2007 airing of “Rachel Ray’s Tasty Travels” on the Food Network. More impressive is that savvy locals love The Faded Rose. Maybe it’s because chef Ralph has been here for 20 years; or that owner Ed David, originally from Gentilly in New Orleans, pays much attention to details. He brings many ingredients for his bread, sauces and  spices up from Louisiana. Three different hot sauces sit on each table. (But Panola's is divine.) Welcoming and comfortable, the place has inviting booths, wooden floors and walls festooned with posters from all the New Orleans Jazz And Heritage Festivals. Don't miss this one. Well, two.

Certainly the recipes Ed David received from his mother and grandmother help the vibes. We like the simple but resonating Rose's Creole Soaked Salad. This genuine New Orleans article is a blend of mixed lettuce, chopped tomatoes and green olives.. Every  leaf is bathed in the lovely garlic vinaigrette dressing, Everybody say, ”yum.”. Although an outpost of Cajun cooking (and all that that entails), The Faded Rose serves great treats for vegetarians. There’s the mélange of yellow crookneck squash, red onion, zucchini, and red pepper. Another must-have is the plate of gorgeous fried artichoke hearts. The chokes are served with a mustard sauce and are very soft inside. Don’t miss the Cajun style vegetarian pasta primavera, .peppery with Cajun spices. Think of it as blackened primavera. The bread pudding was a knockout and standout. Perhaps it was the touch of apples. There are two Faded Rose locations: 1619 Rebsamen Park Road • 501-663-9734 and 400 North Bowman Rd., Suite 28 • 501-224-3377,For more information, call or click here.

Quirky, girly, kitschy  and fun to sit in, staring at old photos and posters and little Santa Claus light bulbs, Café Prego offers a variety of standard Italian dishes in generous portions. The cannelloni is said to be soothing, the eggplant parm and the pasta pesto are big, and definitely average…and average can be a plus in a part of the world that knows everything about the fine points of BBQ and nothing about al dente or the fine points of a real Italian ‘gravy’.  You could do worse.



The Whole Hog Café is a no excuses barbecue joint. It’s ideal for when you want to reward your hopelessly cruel carnivorous friends. Be warned: The barbecue aromas are a bit too enticing. Six sauces sit on each table. They range from “sweet ,mild, molasses” through “rich mustard & vinegar.” You have to ask for “volcano” at the counter. The café, competing as the “southern  Gentleman’s  Culinary Society” has won many awards. Vegetarian sides — potato salad,  cole slaw and tossed salad— tasty but few.
2516 Cantrell  Rd. 501.664.5025
. Click here.


Loca Luna, a specialist in out-and-out Southern casual also was spotlighted on that Rachel Ray program. Loca Luna makes smart use of its wood fired brick oven. Specialties include pastas, salads and gourmet pizzas. Good grilled vegetables. 3519 Old Cantrell Rd. 501.663.4666. Click here.

Billing itself as the restaurant for beer lovers (it’s a microbrewery) and located near the River Market, Boscos is a friendly, spacious establishment. 500 President Clinton Ave.  501-907-1881. Click here


You’re not a hip international clued up real live city if you haven’t got an Indian restaurant. Welcome, Little Rock, and Halleujah, for vegetarians – you won’t have to live on onion rings and overcooked, gluey pasta anymore.  The Star of India is available for takeouts, too, and it’s a comprehensive menu, with pakoras, samosas, navrattans, biriyanis, gobis, papadums, matter paneers, malai kofta kashmiri and all the other tantalizingly complex, heavenly dishes that make life worth living. 
301 N. Shackleford, C-4 West Little Rock  501 227 9900 


Locals brag on Cajun’s Wharf, located in the city's Hillcrest/Heights section, as a landmark and source of pride (and a nice place to meet someone new). Traveler simply sees it is: an oasis for relaxation, spirits, (loud) music and perhaps even food. Go up on the deck. which overlooks the Arkansas River (see snap, above).

The back-story: Landry's, a Houston-based chain, acquired this local restaurant, a popular spot to drink up, hear live music and eat,   in the early ‘90s. The then new owner decided to make Cajun’s Wharf more of a family destination. Didn’t work. A local group bought the property in 1999 and there was and continues to be much joy.

It’s mainly a seafood restaurant-bar, and as such, you can’t expect many choices for vegetarians. What we had — salad, a cheese thing and French fries — worked. There also is pasta. And it is one hell of bar, with 15 house varieties of wine. They serve a wicked mixed drink, “Play-de-Do”. Cajun’s Wharf
2400 Cantrell Road (501) 375-5351



Vegetarians will find hot vegetable dishes at Franke's Cafeteria, but the grub’s not nearly as nice as the Piccadilly chain. But then again, there are no Piccadilly cafeterias in Little Rock and there are three Franke's stops.. The candied yams were yummy, and they have some nice pies. We like a nice pie, don't you?
300 South University Avenue (University Mall) 501.666.1941
11121 North Rodney Parham  501.225.4487 
400 West Capitol Avenue (First Commercial Bldg.) 501.372.1919



Bedding Down


Located in Clinton Avenue —opposite the Museum of Discovery and right near River Market— the Marriott Courtyard is smack dab in the middle of life. You will not get claustrophobia when you stay there. The room may seem minimalist but that's just because its dimensions are grand. It has just about everything you need, from free high speed internet access to a giant inviting king size bed.

Traveler's room was neither fancy nor elegant. It was plain, subdued and calm. The stuccoed walls were mildly yellow, except for the gold-hued wall behind the bed. The carpet displayed yellow fleur de lis against a navy blue background. The television set sat atop a three-drawered dresser. You can’t see the TV screen from the bed. This sadly prevents Mr. Traveler from indulging in one of his favorite hotel pleasures—lying on the bed and remotely changing the channels.

The work area's desk has a pullout leaf for your laptop and free high speed internet access. Other furnishings are a patterned green sofa, blue and white striped armchair, and lamps strategically placed around the room. Windows look out on a nice view: the River Market and President Clinton Avenue. The bed? No view of TV.

Downstairs, the Courtyard has a courtyard, or at least a bricked patio, with forest green wrought iron tables and chairs. The business center has a library atmosphere.  For more information, click here.
521 President Clinton Avenue   1-501-975-9800

“Get out of town” needn’t be an invitation to a fight. Located in the nearby North Little Rock community, the recently remodeled, 143 room, four-story Holiday Inn is a comfortable and accommodating accommodation. Its high speed internet access (in room, business center and lobby) health and fitness center, and large outdoor swimming pool combine to make it a hit with body and soul. A courteous and attentive staff scores high points on the destress-ometer. While we wouldn’t call it distinctive, it is a balm nonetheless. The fact that it’s a short drive from downtown Little Rock doesn’t hurt. (You weren’t planning on taking the subway, were you?) Another secret weapon is that it’s just a few steps  from a  PF Chang’s, a consistently superb and satisfying restaurant chain. For more information, click here or call 501.758.1851.


The 287 room high-rise Doubletree Hotel is modern, immaculate and un-fusty. The views (see right) are  wonderful. The Doubletree  is close to the city’s Statehouse Convention Center, Statehouse Museum, and seven blocks from the River Market and surrounding district.

It also has super-special Conformance pillows (necks love 'em).  We tried to buy  them. No dice. For one desperate second we considered the penalties for Grand Theft Pillow. That's how great these little pufferinos are. After much trashing around on the Internet, we finally tracked them down. They're available at Bed, Bath & Beyond. Heaven.) 

Other amenities include nice, large rooms, work desks, dataports, hair dryers, 2 phone lines, remote control TV, clock radio, coffee makers, and voicemail. All rooms have Tl lines for fast Internet access. The swimming pool's open seasonally and it and the fitness center are on the fourth floor.  For more info, click here.
424 West Markham, Little Rock, AR 72201 501.372


Not all Little Rock lodgings are dataport this and business center that. The Rosemont Inn, built in 1880, has an Italianate exterior and is an officially charming B&B. It is listed ln the National Register of Historic Places. They are also extremely pet-friendly. Achoo!

Although Traveler did not stay at the Rosemont, (achoo!) we did get a chance to check the place out.  Okay, we did discover it has dataports. But of more interest to its guests were the relaxed 19th century atmosphere, the front porch and gardens, the Jacuzzis, the fireplaces, and the feather beds. Daily complete breakfast might include biscuits, some kind of luscious fruit-laden pancakes and more.

To keep the atmosphere going, you also can arrange flowers, champagne, bottled wine or a massage therapist to be delivered to your room. For more information, click here. 515 West 15th Street (501) 374-7456


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