Food Insider: Conan Robinson of Four Quarter Bar in Argenta

Hard to believe, but, there was a day before Midtown Billiards had its now infamous cult-following, and Conan Robinson of Four Quarter Bar remembers.

“There was a time when no one knew about [Midtown] unless you heard about it through word of mouth,” he laughs. “At that point there was no SOMA, and you had to be extra careful walking through the parking lot on your way in.”

A Little Rock native, Robinson graduated from UCA with a focus in finance and no job prospects. Not phased, he quickly found himself working behind a bar. He was hired to help open the then-new Underground Pub in the River Market. Soon after, he took a job managing at The Flying Saucer.

“Downtown was pretty dead at the time,” he remembers, “[B]ut I was there in the very early days of the Saucer.” In fact, he remembers the first plate going on the wall and was able to get a head start in craft beer culture way before Rock City caught up.

After about two years, Robinson started working for Midtown Billiards, a position he would nurture for the better part of 15 years – “I did a little bit of everything there.”

Robinson was sold on Midtown even in the early days.

A quintessential dive, there was something perfect about the small electric griddle churning out burgers that people were starting to get crazy over. And while he cooked some, he loved being behind the bar.

“I would get pumped up before I went in,” he says. “That’s [when] I actually became a good bartender, I would remember orders and I started making bar friends with a lot of the customers came.” Along that vein, he started also becoming good friends with the bands and musicians that came through.

“That sort of faulted me into booking bands,” he says, “It just branched out from there.” He and his family started traveling to Arkansas music festivals – Wakarusa, Harvestfest, and the like – and he would always route bands back to the Midtown stage.

Robinson was practically a fixture at Midtown when owner Margaret Hinson mentioned a prospect.

“Maggie had always told Thomas and I – now owner of TC’s Midtown Grill in Conway – that because we had done such a great job helping her with the bar … sort of making Midtown what it is, that at some point down the road she’d be happy to get us started with our own bars,” Robinson remembers.

It just so happened that in 2015, the time was right with an Argenta location – Sidetracks, located on 415 Main Street.

Robinson was ready to step up to the plate.

“I took over updating the property early on in 2015. I was bartending nights at Midtown and then coming up here in my free time during the days,” he laughs, remembering how hectic it was.

From the get-go, however, he had a vision – a relatable, anything-goes dive. Of course there were plans for music, good food, beer and a full bar, but he was after a certain ambiance – one that’s hard to define.

“It’s funny because Maggie was curious what I meant by “dive bar,” he says. But if you’ve ever been into the Argenta watering hole – you know the definition. Essentially, it’s a place where you can be yourself.

“A dive bar really has nothing to do with dirtiness or nastiness – it has nothing to do with pretense or character. You can go into a true dive with no pretense … kind of like a little melting pot of personalities and demographics. That’s what makes a good dive bar.”

When it came to renovating the space, Robinson just focused on the things he would want in a bar that he would frequent himself. The stage was a must, as well as little touches like drink rails along the posts that run through the middle of the space. Boarded up skylights were a nice touch, and he and his team opened those up, ultimately letting the refreshed bar take command of the space.

He also knew food and drink would be integral to the space’s ambiance, and went to work gutting the kitchen and adding a 15-tap draft system.

“I wanted to do late night food,” he explains. “there’s so many times when it’s midnight … you’re hungry and you don’t want bad food.”

Robinson took his interest of smoking meats into his kitchen program, and while he initially wanted to have a huge smoker out back, he settled for a more efficient, just as high-quality, electric version.

“When we order our meat from Brown Chicken Brown Sow in Mountain Home Arkansas it’s chemical free, plus we get the whole pig,” he says. Robinson wanted to provide fresh option, and also makes Mozzarella in-house and hand pads the burgers. Pro tip: catch their specials and get creative with the menu. You never know if ordering the regular Mac n Cheese with smoked Pork might get your name on the menu board.

Initially Robinson wanted to jump heavily on the craft cocktail scene, but he’s put that on the back-burner for now. “I wanted to make a handful of good little drinks and use fresh ingredients. … The scene pushed me in a different direction, although we do things like Moscow Mules, I make some Sangria in-house, and we have a great whiskey selection.”

Four Quarter is truly in its beginning stages towards becoming one of THE premier watering holes in Central Arkansas. For the future, Robinson has plenty of ideas from a patio-update to countless menu and drink specials.

In the meantime, he’s doing his best to get people to cross the river, as well as jump on the music bandwagon.  “Argenta has that cool off-the-beaten path vibe. People need to come check out what’s going on – they’d be very surprised,” he says.

He can’t believe how rewarding it’s been to watch Four Quarter grow.

“To see the place packed and people having fun and dancing – it’s almost like watching your kid score the winning touchdown at a football game. That’s my favorite moment is just watching people enjoy this watching people have a good time.”

Catch Robinson behind the bar and head out for a late bite. You’ll be glad you did.

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Food Insider: Conan Robinson of Four Quarter Bar in Argenta