Little Rock is no stranger to good food. It seems that the food scene is ever changing, with word of new and exciting concepts entering the market all the time. However, there are also many local institutions that have been staples of Little Rock’s food culture for decades.
One of the most popular local, longtime staples of Little Rock is Vino’s Pizza and Brewpub (fun fact: brewpubs are restaurants that brew beer not sold outside of the restaurant). Chances are that if you’ve been in Little Rock for any amount of time, you’ve tried their delicious pizza, sipped their amazing selection of beer or seen one of your favorite local musical acts there. Located at the corner of 7th and Chester in downtown Little Rock, Vino’s has a very unassuming and laidback atmosphere. In fact, that corner has character that strangely reminds me of Brooklyn, NY, with a theater company directly across the street, a cool art supply store next door and a local fire station diagonal to the establishment.
The building housing Vino’s was originally built in 1909. Over the years it has served as several businesses, including a grocery store and furniture store; however, many people may remember it as the punk rock club, DMZ. The club was a very eclectic space that also housed an art gallery and artist’s apartments upstairs.
The restaurant that we today know as Vino’s was the brainchild of Henry Lee (who is still the owner), Bill Pardoi and Allen Vennes. At the time, they felt that Little Rock simply did not have good pizza or beer so they created Vino’s to fill that necessary void. The pizza operation began on September 18, 1990, with the brewery taking off in the mid 1990s. Chris New, Vino’s general manager has worked at Vino’s in various capacities since 1997.
Since its inception, Vino’s has been a major player in the Little Rock music scene. “In the 90s, there weren’t many live music venues in town,” said New. “The only other place downtown doing live music in those days was Juanita’s on South Main so everyone had to pass through here because the options of spaces to perform were so limited.” In the early days Vino’s hosted “Fresh Blood Night”, which was an amateur night that would feature three or four local bands, each given a 20-30 minute set. Chris let me know that Grammy Award winning rock band Evanescence is the most famous band to perform during “Fresh Blood Night”.
Today, Arkansas is home to a variety of microbreweries but that was not the case at the beginning of the 21st century. Owner Henry Lee was one of many people instrumental in advocacy for legislative reform dealing with microbrewery and brewpub laws. The Arkansas Native Brewing Act was passed in 2004, which increased production limits, allowed sales on brewery premises and eventually allowed the sales at breweries and brewpubs on Sundays.
Obviously, a trip to Vino’s isn’t complete without pizza, which are prepared New York-style and can be ordered by the slice or medium or large. Over the years, I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve tried them all but I think I’m most partial to the Vino’s Special – it comes with Italian sausage, pepperoni, meatballs, mushrooms, peppers, onions, green and black olives and extra cheese! To be honest, you can’t go wrong with anything in the kitchen—the pizza is good, the calzones are good, the sandwiches are good. Don’t get me started on the beer selection (Pinnacle IPA is my favorite)!
Vino’s officially turns 30 years old in September but you can expect the same chill, inviting experience that the establishment has been know for since day one.