I grew up halfway between Little Rock and Hot Springs, people there went one way or the other to find some resemblance of culture that the 80’s and 90’s version of Saline County lacked. We always went to Hot Springs. It was a pattern that continued through college in Arkadelphia. In many ways Hot Springs has always been a second home, for the good and the bad. In over 30 years I have never seen Hot Springs poised for the Spa City Renaissance has been long talked about, but never fulfilled, as it is now.
Hot Springs has the momentum needed to become the great gem of Arkansas once again. The soon to open Water’s Hotel along with the Avenue restaurant at 340 Central Avenue are a very real sign of what is to come over the next few years in Hot Springs. We decided to take a look at the progress of the restaurant and hotel as it comes together in the final stages. (In other words, warning the photos show the space under construction, it looks beautiful I promise.)
The Waters hotel is located in the heart of Central Ave, which is the only place a revival can happen. A firm foundation has been laid by places like Delucas Pizzeria, the new Hotel Hot Springs, a revival in the Ohio Club, and more. It is more the sign of a revival than the revival itself. Large investments and willingness to take risk are a sign of a growing market with emerging value, The Waters kicks off what looks to be a period of large investment into the heart of Hot Springs. It is an investment that will put food first through The Avenue restaurant, something that is essential to attract a strong visitor base.
The Avenue is named after Central Avenue, something that will be highlighted when completed through artwork and photography of historic Central Avenue throughout the restaurant. The Avenue hired in chef Casey Copeland, formerly of SO Restaurant in Little Rock to head up the kitchen.
“We wanted to embody what this area is,” Copeland says. “We are pairing with as many local artisans, coffee roasters, farms, and breweries as we can to bring the best of the area. This is the first opportunity I have to come in and set the menu from the beginning and have it reflect the food I want to show. I want to elevate what people expect out of Hot Springs cuisine while still keeping it approachable.”
The menu will be southern inspired, and focus heavily on tapas and sharable dishes meant to create a friendly and engaging atmosphere with very artistic plating. Copeland says the idea is for people to enjoy multiple dishes in each setting to get a wide variety of flavors, while still sticking with a cuisine that is native to Hot Springs.
Copeland is working with a number of local providers, but is also looking at sourcing a good deal inside the hotel itself. They will have an aquaponics system set up that will allow the restaurant to grow herbs and garnishes year around on site. The plants will finish their life at the bar where bartenders can use fresh herbs as needed for cocktails. Copeland also plans to set up a number of growing areas both in front and behind the restaurant.
Along with quality craft cocktails, the bar will feature local craft brews from around the state including a special beer unique to the Avenue from Superior Bathhouse Brewery that sits directly across the street.
“We were very lucky to find Casey who was a perfect fit for what the owners were looking for in the space,” general manager Chris Wolcott tells us. “They had a picture in their mind of this nice boutique hotel they wanted to put in, and their vision sparked what Casey has been able to put together on the food side.”
The restaurant will thankfully feature a private entrance separate from the hotel, but if you have a chance do not miss the next four floors because the hotel itself is beautiful.
The Thompson Building was originally built in 1913 designed by famed architect George Mann (who also designed the Arkansas State Capitol among others). Throughout the years it has housed many things including another hotel at one point, but the upper floors have sat vacant for many years.
The hotel will feature 62 rooms, all standard king and double queen rooms. The interior architecture pays homage to both the area and the historic building itself. They have used as many existing features, some retrofitted in different areas, as possible. The hallways take a very familiar bathhouse look with white tile, large frosted windows, and wood accents throughout.
The rooms themselves are spacious, but most importantly unique. I stepped in a dozen or so rooms on a tour and never found a duplicate. While every room used the same basic doors, furniture, and accents, the shape and flow of each room was slightly different. Where one might have a large window ledge overlooking Central Avenue, another may pull in the original brick wall as a key feature. It is a rare feel in today’s cookie cutter hotel market that makes it a breath of fresh air, and exciting to stay in.
The building also features a workout room, meeting spaces, a spa shop, and a rooftop bar along with the hotel. From the back they plan to connect in with bike trails behind the building and create a bridge that along with bike racks that would allow bikers to ride straight off the trail and onto the rooftop bar without ever entering the hotel.
Both the Hotel and Restaurant are expected to open the first of February. We will take a look at the finished restaurant, hotel, and the finalized food menu then.