An excursion to Arkansas & Oklahoma

Last year I bought a scratch off map and realized I’ve gone to 26 of our 50 united states. While hanging out after a dinner party, Jill and I were discussing the map and comparing what states we had been to. From there a plan was hatched to visit some of our missing states together. The first of which was Arkansas & Oklahoma.

The trip started out in Little Rock, Arkansas. Neither of us had any idea what to expect. What we discovered with a lovely city with a pretty diverse downtown scene. We had dinner at Dizzy’s Gypsy Bistro where we had some of their award-winning cheese dip. The decor inside was unique, I loved it. For dinner, I ordered their Mary Ann’s Orchard salad while Jill had a Nesoi. The blackberry champagne vinaigrette was fantastic. Our server, the bartender, and a nearby patron had great conversation and it was lovely evening.

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After learning we were in the River Market district of Little Rock, we did a little exploring. There was a really impressive bridge that had been converted to a pedestrian walkway that we went and investigated.

We stayed at the Firehouse Museum and Hostel; I’ve never stayed in a hostel before and so I was a little concerned for really no rational reason. It was a great experience and we met some great new people. After breakfast, we headed to Lost Forty Brewing Company for brunch. It was recommended to us by our neighbor on the flight in. The ambiance of the experience was comfortable, the beer & food was delicious, and we had a great time. I saw they had socks and since I like having unique socks I grabbed a pair, as well as a free sticker for checking in on Yelp.

After eating our fill, we headed out towards Hot Springs, Arkansas. Despite breakfast conversation delaying our brunch at Lost Forty which subsequently delayed our departure for Hot Springs, we managed to get to Crater of Diamonds an hour before it closed. It’s the one of the only places in the world that the public can go in and mine for diamonds, and keep them! There are a handful of markers in the mine where previous diamond hunting successes are described and displayed for all to see. By all accounts, it seems the primary factor is luck. We did not find any diamonds, but we did find some cool rocks, created some fond memories, and experienced something new.

We headed back to our AirBnB (it was an Octagon!) before heading to get dinner. We dined at a German restaurant called Steinhaus Keller. We both got schnitzel (my first time!) and everything we ate seemed authentic and was delicious. Perhaps a bit expensive, but I was still happy to have stopped there since the closest thing I know that we have is Heidelberg and it wasn’t nearly as legitimate as Steinhaus Keller was. The next day we headed to bathhouse row to get pampered at a bathhouse.

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We ended up settling on Buckstaff Bathhouse because it has been in continuous operation since 1912, making it one of the oldest bathhouses still in use today. The deluxe spa package we took was on special for $79 and was fantastic. It started with a soak in a whirlpool tub filled with hot springs water, followed by a “sitz tub” (where you sat down and hot springs water poured out of a faucet onto your lower back), then some time spent in a sauna. Afterwards, there was a hot towel wrap before finally being taken to a crazy multi-spout shower, a 20-min Swedish massage, and a paraffin wax hand treatment. The paraffin wax treatment was a new experience and was quite interesting. The whole package was definitely worth the money and took about one hour and forty-five minutes.

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The visitor center was an old bathhouse & houses a museum about bathhouses in the early-1900s

We headed out on the road to Tulsa, with a detour to Jaspar, AR because a blog I subscribe to highlighted the Ozark Cafe. Driving through northwestern Arkansas, I was pleasantly surprised by the landscape. I forgot that the Ozarks were nearby, and I think I foresee a visit to them in the future. We stopped at a handful of scenic overlooks, including one for the “Arkansas Grand Canyon“. It was gorgeous.

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From Jaspar, AR we headed towards Fayetteville for a quick stop. It was recommended to us by our server at Dizzy’s Gypsy Bistro. The University of Arkansas is located in Fayetteville and so as a college town, I felt a lot of parallels with Ann Arbor. We arrived fairly late, so most places were closed on a Monday night. The bookstore however was open! Jill said it was reminiscent of Dawn Treader in Ann Arbor. I’ve never been in there, but now I feel like I need to stop by.  After a quick beer at Brewski’s Draft Emporium (where they had 4 Bell’s on tap) , we continued on our way.

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We arrived in Tulsa late in the night, so after some well-deserved rest we began our city expedition. We grabbed lunch at a fantastic little spot, Atlas Grill. I got a portabella sandwich that was probably one of the best mushroom sandwich/burger/wrap that I’ve ever had. Across the hall was the Tulsa Press Club where we went and grabbed a drink before we headed out. We learned it was one of only a handful of press clubs in the nation, and while it’s not as big as the National Press Club, it still gets attention and announcements on occasion. While wandering the city one of the things we learned was that during the oil boom of the early 1900s when Tulsa was being expanded, art deco was in vogue and so many buildings in Tulsa are built with that style in mind. There is an art deco museum in Tulsa that pays homage to the style of the era. What I discovered during this part of our trip is that I really enjoy art deco.

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Now Oklahoma is home to the longest stretch of Route 66. We didn’t really get to drive on much of it, but we did learn of a roadside attraction that was located nearby. We went to see what it was all about and the lady that worked in the gift shop gave us a lot of information about the blue whale. While much of the attraction has been closed and you can’t swim in the pond anymore, the whale itself has been maintained. It was really a surreal cartoonish experience, but I was glad to have seen it. We learned that it was built as an anniversary gift, and that everything was handcrafted. There were concrete-casted chairs that he molded himself. In the gift shop there was a binder of photos from as early as 1982 up through the 1990s showing families enjoying the roadside attraction. Seeing those pictures really showed how the current state of this attraction is a shadow of its former self.

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As night fell, we grabbed BBQ where we ate too much and eventually made our way to Prairie Artisan Ales. One of Jill’s friends asserts that this is his favorite brewery. We found a single Founder’s beer on tap (Blushing Monk) but everything else was their own beer. The ambiance was fantastic, and they had a majority of sour beers that were distinct from each other but all equally delicious. My favorite was a sour called The High 50s.

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At the Tulsa Press Club, the bartender had told us that we HAD to go to the Cellar Dweller. As our bartender Janifa stated, “The second diviest dive bar in Tulsa”. It’s located in the basement of an apartment complex. I would’ve love to live in that apartment complex in college, though I definitely would’ve spent way more money than I should have. All the people we met as we sat there for a few hours were super friendly and great conversationalists. Janifa was sharp, knowledgeable, amicable, and bad-ass. The atmosphere was unique and intoxicating, if you enjoy going to dive bars this is a stop that you should definitely make.

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Our visit to Arkansas and Oklahoma was fun and pleasantly surprising. We encountered lots of people, had some great conversations, made some new friends, and had some adventures. I look forward to a time when I can go back and do more exploring and also to go check out the Ozarks!

-Evilmanta

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