Grownup fun, times five.
By Hope S. Philbrick
Whether you find yourself in Arkansas for a business conference or a vacation, here are five fun things to add to your itinerary.
Our picks, of course, most appeal to adults.
Arkansas Arts Center
Founded as a Fine Arts Museum in 1937, the center was expanded in the ‘60s with the help of Winthrop Rockefeller. It now has an arts school and other programs, but the museum lives on and its approach to displaying works of art makes it easy to stroll around and appreciate what you see. The museum has over 20,000 pieces in its collection representing a range of art forms, including paintings, sculpture, wood crafts, and works of glass, ceramic, metal and paper. “We have one of the greatest drawing collections in the nation,” says executive director Tod Herman, PhD. Each year the Arkansas Arts Center organizes and hosts a range of exhibitions and this year, in a special arrangement with the Kenwood House of London, several works by Rembrant, Van Dyck and Gainsborough will be on display through September 8. Closed Sundays. ArkArts.com.
The Governor’s Mansion
Ever feel awkward about inviting yourself over to visit a friend? Well, get over it. Because even though you may not know the governor of Arkansas, you’re encouraged to invite yourself over for a tour. Mansion tours are scheduled on an individual basis—just call 501-324-9805. Tours are scheduled on Tuesday mornings, from 10:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., and Thursday afternoons, from 1:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. Tours must be scheduled at least one day in advance and times are subject to house availability—so if the First Lady of Arkansas is having tea with the Queen of England, you may not get to visit at your convenience; be a polite grownup and be flexible. Tours visit all public rooms of the mansion that has housed 11 of the state’s 45 governors. Best of all: Tours are free. ArkansasGovernorsMansion.com.
Rock Town Distillery
Have you ever been laid off? If not, lucky bastard. If you have, then you can relate to the circumstances that led Arkansas native Phil Brandon to launch Arkansas’ first craft distillery in 2009—the state’s first legal distillery since Prohibition. But cheers to him for making lemonade out of lemons: Now he’s having so much fun, he’s not looking back. The product line currently includes ten spirits, including moonshine, vodka, rum, whiskey and gin—several are award winners; we especially recommend the gin. The tasting room is open Wednesday through Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. Forty-five minute tours are 4 p.m. during the week and 1:30 and 3 p.m. on weekends. Tours explain the process of making spirits, from selecting the grain to filling the bottles.
The Odds of Encountering Children should be zero but aren’t: Kids are allowed on the tour for free, though tastings are restricted to folks age 21 plus. $7/adult. RockTownDistillery.com.
Tales from the South at the Starving Artist Café
Be part of the live audience for this unique radio show that showcases Southern storytelling: It’s like the Grand Ole Opry meets open mike night meets poetry slam. The entertainment comes in the form of authors reading their short works of literary memoir. While listening, you sit at a table eating your pick from the café’s eclectic menu. This popular show has been running for seven years and features a range of talent, from aspiring writers to bloggers to published authors. There’s no guarantee you’ll love every tale, but the atmosphere is fun and festive and each show features multiple writers (so odds are good that you’ll enjoy at least a few of the featured guests). You can also amuse yourself by looking at all the art hanging on the walls of the restaurant—and there’s a lot of art, so taking it all in takes awhile. The food is consistently tasty and it’s hard to go wrong with beer; we suggest you try a local brew. The show is recorded on Tuesdays: Doors open at 5 p.m., show starts at 7 p.m. $5 admission. Want to listen but can’t make it to the live show this week? Visit talesfromthesouth.com for details on how to tune in and where to find archived shows. The restaurant is also open for dinner on Fridays and Saturdays and open for lunch Tuesday through Saturday.
The William J. Clinton Presidential Center
You need not be a card-carrying Democrat or a huge Clinton fan to enjoy visiting this Presidential Library. (Of course, if you are either or both of those things, I won’t need to persuade you to visit.) Clinton was President for eight years, and if you were alive during any of those years then displays depicting the major historical events that happened each of those years read like a walk down memory lane—it’s far more fascinating than history class ever was, trust me. Fair Warning: In this post 9/11 world, it’s hard not to feel at least a bit nostalgic for some of those old problems. The highlight of any visit here may be the full-scale reconstruction of the Oval Office since, quite frankly, you may never have a chance to peek in on the real thing. You can also pull up a chair and sit at a Cabinet meeting table. And see displays of gifts that Bill and Hilary received throughout the years they occupied the White House—some are so lovely it seems a shame they couldn’t keep at least a few, like cute paintings of their cat Socks. But then again, if the Clintons were allowed to keep everything then we couldn’t see it. Open Daily. ClintonPresidentialCenter.org.
-Photos courtesy Arkansas Tourism