Ozark Magic
Southern Living|September 2017

A broad thoroughfare connects Arkansas’ head-turning natural beauty to its burgeoning art and restaurant scenes.

Jay Jennings

ARKANSAS HAS LONG enjoyed a healthy sibling rivalry between the central region, anchored by the state capital of Little Rock, and the northwest region, centered around the university in Fayetteville. In the past, stolid Little Rockians smirked at the hippies and hillbillies of the Ozarks but dutifully trudged up the winding mountain roads to Fayetteville for Razorbacks games, and the highlanders often decamped to the capital for jobs in government and banking. Over the past 30 years, Northwest Arkansas has boomed, thanks primarily to the economic engine of Walmart, and Little Rock has expanded its cultural footprint, reviving its riverfront around the Clinton Presidential Library and Museum. Now with the driving time between the cities reduced to three hours by smooth sailing on Interstates 40 and 49, a visitor can easily take in the recent additions to both regions— and even make time to slow down and soak in the natural beauty in between.

LITTLE ROCK

The highest concentration of the city’s best-known attractions and amenities hugs the river: the Clinton Presidential Library and Museum, the Museum of Discovery, and the Old State House Museum, as well as hotels, restaurants, and music venues along and near President Clinton Avenue.

The gem of Little Rock’s lodging options remains the Capital Hotel. The 1876 structure, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, had fallen into disrepair with the decline of Little Rock’s downtown in the 1970s and 1980s. It was saved and restored even beyond its former opulence in the mid-eighties and got another reboot in 2007. In April, when comic essayist David Sedaris performed down the street at the recently overhauled Robinson Center, someone in the audience asked what he liked best about Little Rock. Sedaris responded with praise for the Capital Hotel. “The ceilings in the rooms are as tall as they are in here!” he gushed. 

Order a drink at the Capital Bar & Grill off the lobby, and take it up to the wicker loungers on the mezzanine porch before having dinner at One Eleven restaurant, remodeled and reconceived in 2014. Decorated chef Joël Antunes’ menu is understatedly European with a hint of Southern flavors.

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