Hot Springs, Ark., the home of Oaklawn Park, has a history of lavishly entertaining tourists since the 1800s. People originally visited to experience the thermal waters that were thought to have healing properties, but later they came for other reasons, like baseball spring training, the gambling that was a precursor to Las Vegas, and world-class Thoroughbred racing.
Babe Ruth enjoyed Spa City so much that the New York Yankees eventually added to his contract that he could not return.
Hot Springs has changed a lot since Babe Ruth walked Central Avenue, and the town has enjoyed a resurgence the past few decades with growth and improvements each year. Here are some new developments in Hot Springs to enjoy during Oaklawn Park’s 2023-’24 season.
Restoration of the Arlington Hotel
The Arlington Hotel, which anchors the historic downtown district, is the largest hotel in Arkansas with more than 500 rooms, and it has been open since 1875. Sky Capital Group purchased the property in 2017 and immediately announced plans to restore the facility. During the last several months, the progress has become starkly evident. The dual towers and the front steps have been restored. Work continues on the tile, brick façade, and stucco. The resort boasts 600 new windows, and guest rooms are in the process of receiving new touches like furnishing, drapes, and paint.
The Arlington hosts a magnificent Gala on New Year’s Eve. Attend the party and then witness the Smarty Jones Stakes the next day, the first of Oaklawn’s four qualifying prep races on the Road to the 2024 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve.
Enjoy the exquisite brunch in the Venetian Dining Room on any Sunday or a cocktail after a day at the races in the opulent lobby. The hotel has suites named after Al Capone, Babe Ruth, and Ronald Reagan, three of its storied visitors.
Additions to Arlington Mall: Downtown Record & CD and Black Ribbon Books
Located underneath the historic Arlington Hotel, the mall added two shops that are garnering attention: Downtown Record & CD and Black Ribbon Books.
Downtown Record & CD carries vintage vinyl from every genre and is a music lover’s dream. They also purchase records. See their website for new arrivals.
Black Ribbon Books filled a void for bibliophiles. The independent bookstore sells new and pre-owned books and features local authors, book clubs, and reading nooks. They also sell gifts like puzzles and candles.
In the Trees
For a lodging experience in the heart of nature, try In the Trees. The picturesque cabins and treehouses offer sweeping views of the Ouachita Forest. They are first class and provide close access to the Northwoods Trails, making them an ideal retreat for mountain bikers and nature enthusiasts.
Dining and libations
When you make a reservation DONS Southern Social, a speakeasy-style restaurant, you will receive hidden entrance and secret password information on the day of your experience. This will unlock a sumptuous setting and refined dining offering upscale southern comfort food. Owner and chef Josh Garland studied at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Las Vegas and is originally from Little Rock. He also owns Best Café, which has been a Hot Springs brunch staple for several years.
Specializing in Greek cuisine, Santorini is making a splash. Owner Dena Gjumsi Lami’s personal recipes are served, like Baklava cheesecake and Avgolemono soup.
Ouachita Bar and Grill is an excellent new food truck that will soon have a brick-and-mortar location. Don’t miss the macaroni and brisket.
Origami Sake is brewing Arkansas’s first sake using the town’s thermal waters and rice sourced from nearby farms. Vice President Ben Bell spent around two years in Japan learning the brewing process. Book a tour, purchase it from package stores around the state, and enjoy it in some of Hot Springs’s favorite hot spots, like DeLuca’s Pizzeria, The Waters Rooftop Bar, Brick House Grill, J & S Italian Villa, Splash Wine Bar, Crosswalk Bar and Club, and the aforementioned Oaklawn Park, Arlington Hotel and DONS Sothern Social.
Total eclipse: the path of totality
Hot Springs is in the path of totality of the total eclipse happening on Monday, April 8, making it one of the most ideal places in the world to view the event. The city is gearing up for a major celebration and hosting a series of events to mark this rare occurrence.