Winter is the perfect time to explore the natural stone shelters where native Arkansans once lived
In a letter to his friend Andre Morellet dated 1779, Founding Father Benjamin Franklin wrote: "Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards. There it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine, a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy."
Far be it from us to argue with the guy on the C-note. So yes, thou heathens, there is a God, and He sends His love in bottles, kegs and cans. Building on what Ol' Ben said, our dear ol' daddies told us you can see The Good Lord in the bottom of an empty pint glass, schooner, shot glass or wine bottle every once in a while if you squint and hold your mouth just right, which is why we've spent so much time reverently searching for the Almighty at our local watering holes over the years. That's what we told the preacher, anyway.
The document you see before you is our annual Arkansas Times Bar Guide, our yearly handbook to the dimmest, dive-iest, classiest, most wine-stained, most beer-soaked, most shaken-not-stirred bars, saloons, gin-joints and speakeasies in Central Arkansas. Take a minute to peruse it — download it in our handy iPhone and Android app Cocktail Compass — and then get out there and drink up. The search for spiritual fulfillment shouldn't be delayed by a single minute.
8-BIT TAPROOM/PROFESSOR BOWL Here's something you probably didn't know. Professor Bowl, the bowling alley in the multi-columned spread off Reservoir Road that looks like anything but a bowling alley (more likely suspects: a country country club, an almost-mega-church, a small town, no-tell motel), has one of the best beer lists in town. Better yet, it has the most affordable beer list in town. Each of the 17 drafts cost $3, and each of the 250 bottles cost $3.50. That's average, or possibly a bit high, for Bud and the like, but just about unheard of for craft beer. Last month, Professor Bowl expanded that philosophy into its former downstairs special events space and opened a separate bar from the bowling alley. It's a concept not yet fully realized. As the name 8-Bit suggests, it's meant to be videogame themed, but as of last week, there was only one arcade game and one pinball game. More are coming, we were told. About 10 p.m. on a recent Saturday, the large bar was so deserted we feared it closed. It turned out to be just slow. When there's live music, a regular occurrence (see 8bittaproom.com for an upcoming schedule), it's apparently hoppin'. On Tuesdays, especially. That's when there's music, all drafts are a $1 for a pint (!) and there's no cover. Promoter Casey Jones said he's trying to recreate Arkansas Rockers night, a bygone tradition at White Water Tavern. 901 Towne Oaks Drive. 224-9040. Beer only downstairs. Beer and wine only upstairs. 5 p.m.-midnight Sun.-Thu. and Sat., 5 p.m.-1 a.m. Friday. Happy hour 5 p.m.-1 a.m. Tue.
BOSCOS This brewpub should have a special place in your beer-loving heart for, if nothing else, being one of the few places in town where you can buy beer and take it home on Sunday. Boscos keeps eight in-house brews on tap, including a Bombay IPA, a Nut Brown Ale and a Scottish Ale. You can take 'em home in a growler for $10 plus a refundable $3 deposit. If you're looking for a spot to drink away from home, Boscos' rectangular bar and surrounding lounge-area have a good, laid back vibe. Even better: the elevated deck that overlooks the First Security Amphitheatre and the Arkansas River. 500 President Clinton Ave. 907-1881. Full bar. 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Mon.-Thu., 11 a.m.-12 a.m. Fri.-Sat., 10:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Sun. Happy hour: 3:30 p.m.-6:30 p.m. Mon.-Fri.
DIAMOND BEAR After several prior attempts to move to a new location in North Little Rock fell through, Central Arkansas's largest brewer finally found a new spot this week. Just days ago, Diamond Bear closed on a 15,000-square-foot space on 600 N. Broadway in North Little Rock. That's more than double their current digs. The move's still several months away. Until then, its Cross Street home is a fine place to grab a pint. There are only a couple of tables and a small bar top, but unless you happen in on a rare weekend afternoon, that's enough space for you and a buddy or two to knock back a few of Diamond Bear's delicious Pale Ales. Take beer to go — either in package or growler — during weekend retail hours. Better yet, take the lively brewery tour, offered at 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, and then take some beer home. The tour also comes with free samples and a free Diamond Bear pint glass. 323 S. Cross St. Beer only. Noon-6 p.m. Fri.-Sun.
FLYING SAUCER Try as you might to resist — it's often packed, with people you might not want to hang out with (e.g. tourists, bikers) and the dress code for the all-female wait staff is Hooters-esque — the Saucer remains the mecca of beer in Central Arkansas. With a beer list that takes about five minutes to get through (including an unrivaled 75 on tap), regular appearances by brewers from around the country holding special tastings (the owner of Finch Beer out of Chicago was just in town) and a steady stream of happy hour specials, the River Market outlet of the regional chain demands regular visits from any self-respecting beer aficionado. The dark, low-slung basement doesn't offer much in the way of atmosphere, but it can be a nice refuge from the crowds. Weekday happy hour, when it's usually easy to get a table in the front of the bar for people-watching on President Clinton Avenue, is the best time to visit. For the beer lover who likes to feel like he's accomplishing something and has $18, there's the Saucer's U.F.O. Club. Once you drink 300 beers (keeping track of them via a magnetic card), you get a party and a special plate with your name on it on the wall. 323 President Clinton Ave. 372-8032. Full bar. 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Mon.-Thu., 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Fri., 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Sat., 11 a.m.-midnight Sun. Happy hour: 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Mon., 4-7 p.m. Tue.-Thu., 4-8 p.m. Fri.
VINO'S Long considered a hot spot for music in the city, Vino's is better known these days for some of the tastiest and most experimental craft brews in the state. Under the direction of brewmaster Josiah Moody, the pub has kept the quality of its old favorites high while introducing different brews for every season. Look for local ingredients such as hops, lavender and even Trinidad scorpion peppers from Dunbar Community Gardens to show up in some of Moody's brews, as well as a growing collaboration with Loblolly Creamery for movies and beer floats in the back room every Tuesday. Or enjoy a pint and a smoke on the two-story deck and back patio. The venue still hosts local music, although not as often as in the past, but pizza by the slice, sandwiches, and massive calzones make this a perfect spot to enjoy some good food and a locally made pint — only $3.25 during happy hour. 923 W. 7th St. 375-8466. Beer and wine. 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Sun.-Thu., 11 a.m.-12 a.m. Fri.-Sat. Happy hour: 4-6 p.m. daily.
CREGEEN'S Irish-themed pub with a large selection of beer on tap and bottled British beers and ales, and a menu featuring their popular fish and chips and Guinness beef stew. Sunday brunch. Draft and bottle beer of the week at $3. Live music on weekends and $5 cover on Saturdays. 301 Main St., NLR. 376-7468. Full bar. 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Mon.-Sat., 11 a.m.-midnight Sun.
MELLOW MUSHROOM With 40 beers on draft and another 35 in bottle, including most all of the local and regional brews you'd want, this new, much-beloved pizza chain is poised to be a popular West Little Rock watering hole in its own right. 16103 Chenal Pkwy. 379-9157. 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sun.-Thu., 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Fri.-Sat. Happy hour: 3-6 p.m. Mon.-Fri.
PROST The calmer, lounge-ier cousin to Willy D's and Deep, two bars that're connected to Prost via a hallway and stairs. With a strong beer menu and plenty of TVs. 322 President Clinton Blvd., LR 244-9550. Full bar. 4 p.m.-2a.m. Tues.-Fri., 4 p.m.-1 a.m. Sat. Happy hour: 4-7 p.m. Tue.-Sat.
MIDTOWN BILLARDS Midtown is waiting for you. You could make the wise choice. Call it a night and go home. After all, you said, just a few hours ago, that this wasn't "a Midtown night." You don't really need one more beer. Likely no good will come of chatting up one more stranger. You'll be in worse shape tomorrow if you stay up one more hour. You certainly don't need to wake up smelling like Midtown. And you know, or you ought to know, that this one questionable decision — to go to Midtown — will only lead to a flurry of additional questionable decisions. You will be a fool among fools. But it is late, and the bar is closing, and you're not ready to go home. And you know that throughout the city, bars are closing and people are not ready to go home. And via the vagaries of liquor licensing in Little Rock, they will all come to one place. You will join them, all walks of life, all wanting a little more out of the night. Just a little more. They are your brethren. You may do something wild, or something regrettable, or something inspired. Or not. You will eat a burger, and it will be life-affirming, or at least that's how you will remember it. 1316 Main St. 372-9990. Full bar. 3 p.m.-5 a.m. daily. Happy hour: 3-8 p.m. daily.
TOWN PUMP This Riverdale watering hole is a bit like a perfectly broken-in pair of jeans — familiar, comfortable, unpretentious and, in an ideal world, appropriate for all occasions. Alas, we don't live in an ideal world, and as such you probably shouldn't wear your faded 501s to a job interview. But unlike those jeans, the Town Pump is just right for damn near any scenario. Boys/Girls Nite Out? For sure. Post-work beer 'n' burgers? Of course. First date? Absolutely. First anniversary? Eh ... They've got pretty much any reasonable beer request covered, plus a totally serviceable liquor selection, scrumptious chicken wings (and really, a good menu overall), shuffleboard, occasional live music and karaoke. Lord, do they have karaoke. Just as a heads-up: It is every Tuesday night and the first Friday night of the month and it is fierce. And if you're lucky, you might catch a local radio personality just nailing Dolly Parton's "Coat of Many Colors." 1321 Rebsamen Park Road. 663-9802. Full bar. 11 a.m.-midnight Sun.-Mon., 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Tue., 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Wed., 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Thu.-Fri., 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Sat.
SPECTATORS GRILL AND PUB Imagine a bar so comfortable and easy-going that time just up and froze, say around 1975. The regulars stayed glued to their chairs. The vibe — friendly, unfussy, smoky — just kept on keeping on. The place didn't redecorate, because why mess with a well-worn and funky home away from home? Wallpaper and wood panel straight out of a rotary club luncheon hall. The whole place adorned with what appear to be the life possessions of a redneck dandy who split his time between hunting and racket sports. And okay, Spectator's Grill and Pub only opened in 1990, but you get the idea. This is a no-frills Levy neighborhood bar that doesn't fool with trying to be anything other than what it is. The beer is cold. The booths are comfortable. The breaded-and-fried pork loin sandwich is reliably tasty. You've got pool, darts, pinball, shuffleboard and the big game on TV. The customers are dog loyal, and they all know each other, and if you should happen to walk in, well, they'd like to know you too. Heck, it's all so cozy you might just never leave. 1012 W. 34th St., NLR. 791-0990. 11 a.m.-midnight Mon.-Thu., 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Fri., 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Sat. Happy hour: 4-6 p.m. Mon.-Sat.
WHITE WATER TAVERN Let's just stipulate right off: the White Water Tavern is awesome, and you know it. It's the best bar in Little Rock, if you ask us; it's the best bar in the world, if you ask us and we're drunk at White Water. These pages have chronicled our love for this dive turned quasi-community center and recounted its legends and tried and tried to explain why it's so damn special. We've done so umpteen times, no sense re-hashing. Best to keep it personal: White Water is anchored in memories, and yours may vary from ours. Or if you don't have those memories just yet, shoot, head down there. Cheap beer and lovely folks and sweet live music await. Plus a million other things. It'll be great. Always has been. 2500 W. 7th St. 375-8400. 2 p.m.-2 a.m. Mon.-Fri., 5 p.m.-1 a.m. Sat. Happy hour: 4-7 p.m. Mon.-Sat.
PIZZA D' ACTION Perhaps the most polarizing bar in town. If you smoke, or don't mind the smell of decades of unventilated cigarette smoke, it's the greatest neighborhood bar ever, with loyal patrons, cheap drinks, pool, ping-pong (!), darts, good pizza and comfortably worn booths. If you don't like the smell of smoke, it's a hole. 2919 W. Markham St. 666-5403. pizzadaction.net. Full bar. 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Mon.-Fri., 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Sat., 11 a.m.-midnight Sun. Happy hour: 4-8 p.m. Mon.-Fri.
TRAX Trax, a.k.a. Sidetracks, is a gay bar in Argenta but straights are welcome. Besides the full bar, there's pool, a claw grabby machine, Trivia Night on Monday and the kitchen opens at midnight on the weekends to serve breakfast. 415 Main St., NLR. 244-0444. 5 p.m.-2 a.m. Mon.-Sat., 4 p.m.-2 a.m. Sun. Happy hour: 5-7 p.m. Mon.-Thu.
W.T. BUBBA'S COUNTRY TAVERN If you like drinking beer from the back of a flatbed truck and like the country bar scene too, you can do both at this unusually outfitted watering hole in the basement of the Museum Center. Fried pickles and fried bologna are on the menu along with burgers and wings. Live music Friday and Saturday with no cover. 500 President Clinton Ave. 244-2528. Full bar. 4 p.m.-2 a.m. Tue.-Fri., 4 p.m.-1 a.m. Sat. Happy hour: 4-7 p.m. Mon.-Fri.
THE AFTERTHOUGHT The Afterthought has long been a fixture in the Little Rock bar-scape. The cozy little neighborhood establishment is a reflection of its Hillcrest surroundings: classic, upscale-ish but never snooty, comfortable for a wide variety of folks. You know, a bit like Hillcrest. The bar is attached to the Southern bistro Vieux Carre. The business changed hands recently, purchased by Little Rock businessman Joe Gillespie. As our Eat Arkansas blog noted, chef and manager David Bennett had decided to exit, with Greg Wallis, formerly of YaYa's Euro Bistro, taking over the kitchen. As for The Afterthought, don't expect lots of changes. There will still be brunch on the weekends (including the Sunday jazz brunch), monthly wine tastings with Bruce Cochran and James Cripps, jazz on Mondays, open-mic night on Wednesdays, karaoke on Thursdays and a variety of different acts on Friday and Saturday nights. 2721 Kavanaugh Blvd. 663-1196. Full bar. 4:30 p.m.-close Mon.-Sat., 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sun. Happy hour: 4:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m.
JUANITA'S While Juanita's will forever be known mostly for live music and big ol' heaping plates of Tex-Mex fare, the bar has one of the nicer tequila selections in town. So if you, like certain members of the Times staff, are enthralled with that complex, ambrosial spirit derived from the blue agave, Juanita's will serve you well. As far as the eats go, well, you probably know what to expect. It's certainly not fancy interior Mexican cuisine. But that's just fine with many folks, because some days just call out for a pile of tacos, enchiladas, chili relleno, tamales, quesadillas, burritos or some combination of the above, accompanied by portions of Spanish rice and refried beans and washed down with a couple of frosty cervezas. 614 President Clinton Ave. 372-1228. Full bar. 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tue.-Thu., 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Fri.-Sat. Upstairs venue hours vary by event.
REVOLUTION As the younger, slightly larger sibling of Stickyz (see below), Revolution operates on a similar model — booze and food on one side, booze and food and live music on the other. In the case of Revolution, the food is more West Coast than Deep South, though you can get cheese dip (and God bless cheese dip). The beer and liquor selection is totally solid, and while we haven't tried the somewhat recently overhauled menu (with a focus on unconventional tacos), it's probably a safe bet that anything you get will be enjoyable. Tacos that sound intriguing: Shanghai Surprise (Sriracha-grilled shrimp), Tijuana Two Step (grilled shrimp, chorizo, queso fresco) and the Lil Rock (fried green tomatoes, lettuce, jack cheese, bacon, ranch). 300 President Clinton Ave. 823-0090. Full bar. 4-10 p.m. Mon., 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Tue.-Wed., 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Thu.-Sat., 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sun. Venue side closes by 2 a.m. Mon.-Fri., 1 a.m. Sat. and midnight Sun. Happy hour: 4-7 p.m. Mon.-Fri.
STICKYZ It's been said before, but it probably bears repeating because duh: crispy fried chicken tenders and frosty booze go together like, well, crispy fried chicken tenders and frosty booze. You really can't break it down any further than that. It's such a winning combo that it's impossible to imagine that Stickyz would ever mess with it. After all, they've already got like a dozen different flavors of crispy fried chicken tenders (along with several varieties of dipping sauces). Why tamper with perfection? Oh, and did I mention that these crunchy delicacies are served with a flaky, buttery biscuit? Because that's the one little extra touch that sends you off to Flavor Town with a smile on your face and grease on your fingertips. That said, there are also other menu options, all of which range from sturdy to stellar (the gumbo is actually really good). Of course, there's the live music component, with a steady rotation of local and touring bands. But let's say you're just in the mood for some grub and a drink and maybe a little SportsCenter on the tube. Well brothers and sisters, you can have that too, as Stickyz boasts two separate sides, one given over to music on a near-nightly basis and the other geared toward getting a bite to eat and something to wash it down with. It's the best of both worlds. 107 River Market Ave. 372-7707. Full bar. 11 a.m.-midnight Sun.-Mon., 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Tue.-Fri., 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Sat. Happy hour: 4-7 p.m. Mon.-Fri.
CAJUN'S WHARF During warm weather months, this Little Rock mainstay is fairly undeniable. Why? Its massive, tiered deck offers one of the only views of the Arkansas River. It's especially known as a hotspot for singles looking to mingle. 2400 Cantrell Road. 375-5351. Full bar. 4:30 p.m.-1 a.m. Mon.-Wed., 4:30 p.m.-close Thu.-Fri., 4:30 p.m.-1 a.m. Sat. Happy hour: 5:30-8:30 p.m. Mon.-Fri.
ERNIE BIGGS This dueling piano bar serves up those Billy Joel-tinged memories that have been the go-to choice for River Market nightlife for about as long as there's been a River Market. Live music every night, with a DJ playing upstairs Wed. and Fri.-Sat. If you want to show off your pipes, Thursday is "Keyboard Karaoke." 327 President Clinton Ave. 372-4782. Full bar. 8 p.m.-2 a.m. daily. Cover $5-$10 Wed., Fri.-Sat. Drink specials Sun.-Thu.
WILLY D'S Another long-time River Market piano bar, where locals and tourists congregate to get sloppy and sing. Menu features solid bar food and is in the process of being revamped to include upscale burgers and entrees. 322 President Clinton Ave. 244-9550. Full bar. 7 p.m.-2 a.m. Tue.-Fri., 7 p.m.-1 a.m. Sat. Cover $5 Fri.-Sat. gets you in to Willy D's, Prost, and Deep. Daily drink specials vary; happy hour all night Tuesday.
DISCOVERY With roots that extend back to the actual days of disco, "Disco" has long been the place people go when they should be going home, but can't shake the itch to dance, dance, dance. Only open on Saturdays, the cavernous warehouse in Riverdale offers different dance areas for different tastes — true club music in one spot, contemporary pop and hip-hop in another. Another reason to prolong your Saturday night on the town: Lately, they've been booking big-name rap acts like Twista and the Ying-Yang Twins for shows that start around 2:30 a.m. Although it regularly wins Best Gay Bar in our annual Best of Arkansas poll, Disco long ago broadened its appeal, though it still remains gay friendly. 1021 Jessie Road. 666-2744. Full bar. 9 p.m.-5 a.m. Sat.
JIMMY DOYLE'S COUNTRY CLUB If David Lynch ever makes an outlaw country movie, he'll set it at Jimmy Doyle's Country Club, the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction honky tonk way out on I-40 on the outskirts of North Little Rock. Tucked between trucks stops off the interstate, the imposing brick building might be mistaken for a porn emporium if not for the marquee. Inside, it's 10,000 square feet of weird. They have dozens of tables set up with white table cloths and a mammoth red velvet curtain behind the stage, so for a moment you might think you've accidently crashed a prom — only nearly everyone is over 50, whiskey drunk, and telling raunchy tall tales. Once upon a time, folks like Marty Stuart performed here and there's still something grand and magisterial about the whole affair. Nowadays the entertainment is simple rowdy fun: usually karaoke on Friday nights and the Arkansas River Bottom band on Saturdays, featuring one-time B-level country star Jimmy Doyle himself. The crowd is urban cowboys and truckers and old-timers, and on a good night, it's a raucous scene with two-stepping all over the dance floor. Or on a quieter night, go talk up Jimmy Doyle (you'll know him by the snow-white mullet pompadour) and get your fill of too-good-to-check stories of the bad old days on the road, encounters with short women with unusual names, etc. A one-of-a-kind Arkansas landmark, pure redneck psychedelia: our favorite bar in the state to meet unhinged characters and possibly our favorite bar in the wide world to sing David Allen Coe karaoke. 11800 Maybelline Road, NLR. 945-9042. Full bar. 7:30 p.m.-2 a.m. Fri.-Sat. Happy hour: 7:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m. Fri.-Sat.
CLUB ELEVATIONS "The club on the hill" in Southwest Little Rock is where the restless gather to dance and eat free soul food until the wee hours. With pool tables, a nice-sized dance floor and "sexy dress" contests on Saturdays. 7200 Colonel Glenn Road. 562-3317. Full bar. 9 p.m.-5 a.m. Thu.-Mon.
DEEP A dance-club bar underneath Willy D's, with DJ spinning, big dance floor, and a long bar for schmoozers and wallflowers. A $5 cover gets you in to Deep, Willy D's, and Prost, so you can pack your sing-along, lounging, and booty-shaking into one night. 322 President Clinton Ave. 244-9550. 9 p.m.-2 a.m. Thu.-Fri., 9 p.m.-1 a.m. Sat.
ELECTRIC COWBOY A cultural experience that's required of anyone who's still limber enough for a night on the town. All ages and ethnicities converge on this warehouse in West Little Rock to ride the mechanical bull and dance to the "Cupid Shuffle" on the basketball-court-sized dance floor. 9515 Interstate 30. 562-6000. Full bar. 7:30 p.m.-5 a.m. (or close) Wed.-Sun. Daily drink specials.
SWAY A sleek, downtown dance club that regularly hosts theme events and after parties. There's a smoking patio out back. 412 Louisiana St. 907-2582. Full bar. 9 p.m.-2 a.m. Fri.-Sat.
TRINITI Formerly known as Backstreet, this gay-friendly club features two dance floors, pool tables and a drag show. 1021 Jessie Road. 664-2744. Full bar. 9 p.m.-4 a.m. Fri.
BIG WHISKEY'S AMERICAN BAR AND GRILL We long suspected the location at the west end of the River Market strip of bars was under the influence of a curse, given the fate of two other watering holes that came and went from there over the years — the first one sleek and snazzy, the other quaint and casual, with a red bicycle parked on the sign over the door. Big Whiskey's American Bar and Grill seems to have broken the bad ju-ju, staying put and taking full advantage of the corner of Cumberland and Markham's prime bit of stroll-watching real estate. The newest in a small chain of bar-and-grill restaurants that started in Springfield, Mo., Big Whiskey's is friendly, classy and pub-like all at the same time, a place to grab a beer with friends or savor an appetizer or entree. Given that Big Whiskey's is planted just across the parking lot from the Arkansas Times, we must admit we've sampled more than a few items from their bar and menu, and found all to be good. As a bonus, we've further found that Big Whiskey's attracts a slightly older crowd on weekends, which is a good thing if you don't relish the thought of blaring music and jostling for bar space with college kids at the places just up the street. 225 E. Markham St. 324-2449. Full bar. 11 a.m.-1 a.m. daily. Happy hour: 4-6 p.m. Mon.-Fri.
GUSANO'S For several years now, this writer been lobbying the City Fathers to rechristen the first block of President Clinton Ave. Lewinsky Row, to no avail. Come down there on a Friday or Saturday night, and you'll see why we might push for that, with young folks in clothing of various degrees of tightness partying and milling about everywhere. No impeachable offenses that we can see, but it's clear a lot of folks are having a very good time. Right in the middle of that row is Gusano's Chicago-Style Pizzeria, a large, old-timey joint that features some of the more unique food offerings in the River Market, including a new menu of calzones, specialty pizzas and one of the few Chicago-style deep-dish pizzas around. While you probably wouldn't want to eat one of those babies while on your way to a white-linen party, it's some fine, sloppy eating for those who don't mind being seen in public in a bib. The roots of what's grown into a regional chain with seven outlets in three states, Gusano's was started in 2004 by Little Rock's Ben Biesenthal, a native of Chicago who pined for the gooey pizzas of his homeland. Since the place was started, it has slotted in nicely among the other bars and restaurants along the River Market strip, well-known as a place to catch the game or a UFC fight on TV and enjoy a pizza and a cold beer. 313 President Clinton Ave. 374-1441. Full bar. Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Sun.-Thu., 11 a.m.- 1 p.m. Fri., 11 a.m.-12:30 a.m. (thirty minutes after midnight) Saturday. Happy hour: 3-6 p.m. Mon.-Fri. and all day Thu.
ZACK'S PLACE Hemingway might have extolled the virtues of a clean, well-lighted place, but we're willing to bet that Papa wouldn't have minded settling into to the dim and comforting confines of this South University institution. Zack's is a bar as it was meant to be: music, pool, darts and a half-a-dozen televisions playing whatever games happen to be on at the time. From mixed drinks, beer, and an almost insanely long list of shooters, Zack's is the place where you can either settle into a quiet corner with a stiff one — or get out on the floor for some of the karaoke they put on every Tuesday and Saturday. The bar also makes a pretty mean hamburger, and remains one of the last great refuges for the smoking class in the city. 1400 S. University. 664-6444. Full bar. 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Mon-Fri., 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Sat. Happy hour: 2-7 p.m. daily.
BUFFALO WILD WINGS A mancave on steroids, Little Rock's link in the Buffalo chain features more TVs than a house on "Cribs," a patio for outdoor dining, karaoke on Tuesday and Saturday nights, a full menu of burgers and other goodies, plus wings from "mild" to "paint stripper." Venture into their upper reaches of their wing hot zone at your own risk. 14800 Cantrell Road. 868-5279. Full bar. 11 a.m.-1:30 a.m. Mon.-Sat., 11 a.m.-12:30 a.m. Sun. Happy hour 3-7 p.m. Mon.-Fri.
FLYING DD The only bar in town where you can drink and watch, or participate in, sand volleyball. League games happen on Sunday. 4601 South University Ave. 773-9990. Full bar. 6 p.m.-2 a.m. Mon.-Fri., 6 p.m.-1 a.m. Sat. 1. 6 p.m.-midnight Sun.
FOX AND HOUND BAR AND GRILL For those who prefer their booze with a side of diversion, it's hard to beat the Fox and Hound, which features 10 pool tables, two dart boards, lots of TVs, plus live music, karaoke and open mic on selected nights (check foxandhound.com for details). They've got great bar food too. 2800 Lakewood Village Drive, NLR. 753-8300. Full bar. 11 a.m.-2 a.m. daily. Happy hour: 3-7 p.m. Mon.-Fri.
THE TAVERN SPORTS GRILL As West Little Rock stretches ever toward the horizon, bar culture is catching up to the westward flight, including The Tavern, in the Chenal Promenade. With 16 beers on tap and a menu of wings, sandwiches, salads and pub grub. 17815 Chenal Parkway. 830-2100. 11 a.m-11 p.m. Sun.-Thu., 11 a.m.–1 a.m. Fri.-Sat. Happy hour: 3-7 p.m. Mon.-Fri.
WEST END SMOKEHOUSE AND TAVERN Anybody who says West Little Rock can't do hip hasn't been to West End Smokehouse, Shackleford's hip-and-with-it nightspot that seems to be the place to congregate for those looking for fun, food and a longneck in that neck of the woods. 215 N. Shackleford Road. 224-7665. westendsmokehouse.net. Full bar. 3 p.m.-2 a.m. Mon.-Thu., 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Fri.-Sat. Happy hour: 11 a.m.–7 p.m. Mon.-Fri.
BIG ORANGE Big Orange has the reputation as a place serving upscale burgers cooked to perfection and some of Little Rock's best fries and shakes. And while that's all true, there has been some serious research done by resident bar geniuses Lee Edwards and Dylan Yelenich in order to build one of the most impressive collection of liquors around. Each cocktail on the menu is the result of finding the best quality and combination of liquor and mixer to make a complete flavor profile. There are no pre-bottled mixers here, just fresh squeezed juices, homemade syrups, and some of the most knowledgeable bar backs in town. Enjoy these drinks in the attractive dining room or outside on their spacious patio, or if mixed drinks aren't your thing, rest assured that the beer selection at Big Orange is just as impressive as the hard stuff. And in a couple of weeks all this will be available at Big Orange II, in the Midtowne shopping center on Markham and University. 17809 Chenal Parkway. 821-1515. 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sun.-Thu., 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Fri.-Sat.
CAPITAL BAR AND GRILL Don't be deterred by the doormen, or the wood paneling, or the white tablecloths. Powerbrokers mix it up here, but so do discerning drinkers in jeans and tennis shoes. They come together for outstanding food that's relatively cheap for what it is (the burger, for instance, is among the best in town—and made from grass-fed beef for those who care about such things — and only $11), and for a drink menu that's nearly unrivaled in town. Last we checked, it's the only Little Rock bar to carry Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve, perhaps the most revered (and scarce) bourbon on the market. You can't go wrong with the cocktail menu — if you can find a better summer drink than the Capital's Pimm's Cup, let us know. But don't just rely on the cocktail menu. Ask the bartenders questions; they're knowledgeable and courteous. 111 Markham St. 374-7474. Full bar. 11 a.m.-close daily.
COPPER GRILL Primarily a restaurant, Copper Grill is also a popular downtown watering hole that has its own neighborhood built in, since it's on the ground floor of condominium tower 300 Third, with 12 floors of customers. It's a sunny, modern blond-wood affair that in addition to the dining tables has a long bar and a small area with comfy chairs, though you can't really sink into them if you want to converse with your confreres in drink. We perched on their edges instead for a recent after-work cocktail confab. It was a Thursday, so the restaurant filled up quickly and kept the wait staff busy, leaving us in the capable, if overworked, hands of the bartender. We had four different cocktails among us, though one didn't really count, since it was well vodka (McCormick) that our calorie-conscious friend mixed with her own diet soda. The standout was the sophisticated, refreshing and delicious Gin Harvest, made with Brandon's gin, agave syrup, muddled basil and lime and a "splash" of soda. It was the kind of cocktail you dress up for (preferably in a summery sort of outfit, seersucker for men, cotton pique for women) and not one we've seen on any other drinks menu. The blueberry lemontini (Stolichnaya Blu Beri and lemonade, with dried blueberries in the bottom of the glass) was just the thing for the almost 22-year-old in our midst; the more mature Cosmopolitan (with Stoly, Cointreau, lime and cranberry juice) was a crisp, barely sweet and aesthetically lovely drink that wasn't shy on the booze. One can also order an organic Cosmopolitan mixed with Prairie organic vodka and organic cranberry juice. Except at happy hour, drinks run $8.50 to $11 (a Rose Margarita made with rose-infused tequila, St. Germain Elderflower liquor, Monin Rose syrup and fresh lime juice, garnished with a "hibiscus salt" rim). The confetti dip — a sort of cheese dip filled with chopped vegetables and doused with a bit of jalepeno — served with very salty pita chips kept us from getting too unruly, and the bartender also brought us a plate of grilled vegetables for the carb-shunning member of our party along with a fresh glass of Stoly to replace the McCormick. Our six drinks and two appetizers ran about $57, thanks to happy hour prices of $5 for the mixed drinks. Wines are $3 and well drinks $2.50 at happy hour. Copper Grill is known for its excellent cooking, including burgers, sweet-potato fries, fish tacos, homemade macaroni and cheese and fancier fare. 300 E. Third. 375-3333. Full bar. 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Sat. Happy hour: 3-7 p.m. Mon.-Fri.
THE FOLD This converted garage in Riverdale advertises drinks and "botanas," a Spanish word meaning snacks. With a build-your-own margarita menu, The Fold provides numerous combinations of tequila, mezcal, and mixers to fit nearly any taste and budget. Non-margarita fans aren't ignored either, with several signature drinks highlighting the restaurant's attention to quality, fresh ingredients. The "snack" side of the menu is a little pricy to fit the usual definition of the word, but there are plenty of tacos, salsas, and varieties of ceviche available to help soak up all that booze. The patio makes nice use of the restaurant's limited space, with free wi-fi that stretches out to even the furthest tables. 3501 Old Cantrell. 916-9706. Full bar. 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Tue.-Sat, 5 p.m.-11 p.m. Tue.-Thu., Sun., 5 p.m.-12 a.m. Fri.-Sat. Happy hour: 4-6 p.m. daily.
LOCAL LIME More than six months after the folks behind Big Orange and ZaZa opened their take on tacos, it can still be a challenge to find a table at Local Lime. But here's a pro-tip: There's almost always room at the bar. Which is nice since Local Lime's marble-topped, U-shaped bar is one of the city's best. It's got comfy padded seats. The lighting is cool. There's a steer skull mounted in the middle of the liquor shelves. Ah yes, the liquor shelves. They're filled with perhaps the area's best selections of tequila and mezcal (along with all the other basics). In keeping with that theme, there's no better warm weather cocktail menu. Local Lime features nine variations of margarita, including a frozen margarita that's billed as "Arkansas's best frozen margarita." Those who want to expand their cocktail horizons can try a Mexican Mule, a pineapple mojito made from muddled grilled pineapple or a Bloody Maria that features Reposado Tequila and Sangria along with more typical ingredients. 17815 Chenal Parkway. Full bar. 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Mon.-Thu., 11 a.m.-midnight Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Sun. Happy hour: 2-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri.
MADURO It's only been a year and change since Maduro opened up on Main Street, but the cigar-friendly bar already has the feeling of an established favorite spot. It's got the amenities of a swanky, upscale joint (fantastic booze selection, hip decor, overstuffed leather chairs) yet it maintains a very relaxed and welcoming vibe. And, of course, you have to factor in that there just aren't that many drinking establishments where one can fire up an Ashton Cabinet and not get a funny look. If you want to enjoy your smoke with a nice single malt scotch or rum, Maduro is at the top of the list of places in Central Arkansas. Early on a recent Saturday night, the place was populated by a good-sized crowd of cigar smokers sitting around those aforementioned comfy chairs. We sat at the bar and enjoyed our first taste of Espolon Reposado, a very tasty tequila. The bartender was friendly and knowledgeable, offering some recommendations for rum. As for the cigars, well, we're no experts, but judging from the selection and quality of liquor (the bar boasted more types of Laphroaig than we've seen anywhere else), the stogie options likely range from the good-but-affordable all the way up to true high-roller fare. Little Rock was obviously in need of a good cigar bar, and Maduro has stepped in to fill that need. 109 Main St. 374-3710. Full bar. 3-11 p.m. Mon.-Thu., 3 p.m.-midnight Fri.-Sun. Happy hour: 4 p.m.-7 p.m. Mon.-Fri.
MONTEGO CAFE Helping to bring Main Street back to life with an island flair, Montego Cafe is an excellent combination of Caribbean food, deceptively strong rum drinks, and live music. Bar staples like pizza or nachos can be "made Rasta" with a dose of Montego's jerk seasoning, but it's the jerk wings, fish tacos, and fried plantains that will make this a spot for good food. Mojitos and other sweet drinks comprise most of the menu, but the cafe also boasts a wide variety of beers for lovers of liquid bread. Even better are the happy hour drink specials, with $6 pitchers and discounted drinks available from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. daily — with the occasional extension to accommodate the sporting events that might run later. 315 Main St. 372-1555. Full bar. 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Tue., 11 a.m.-2 am. Wed.-Fri., 5 p.m.-1 a.m. Sat., 7 p.m.-12 a.m. Sun. Happy hour: 4-7 p.m. daily.
1620 SAVOY The fine dining restaurant 1620 got a new owner, a new name and a new look last year, adding a patio and a second bar, the Savoy Lounge. The dining room menu ranges from $8 appetizers to a $50 "cowboy-cut" 26 ounce-ribeye, set to live jazz Thursday through Sunday. There's also a DJ on the patio Thursday through Sunday. Thursday night is Ladies' Night, with drink and appetizer specials. 1620 Market St. 221-1620. 5-10 p.m. Mon.-Sat., bar stays open to midnight Fri.-Sat. Happy hour: 5-7 p.m. Mon.-Thu.
NEXT BISTRO Popular with a younger, often quite loud crowd, Next isn't anyone's idea of a quiet neighborhood bar. The patio offers some respite from the noise, as well as a place for smokers, but it can be hard to get anyone's attention at the bar when the place is busy. The food portion of the menu has been on-and-off depending on who is on staff to make it, but the martinis are among some of the best in the city. 2611 Kavanaugh. 663-6398. Full bar. 4 p.m.-2 a.m. Tue.-Fri., 5 p.m.-1 a.m. Sat.
ROCKET TWENTY-ONE Burgers, blackened chicken, fish tacos by day, filet mignon and rack of lamb by night, set in a chic modern dining room complete with oversized fish tank. Now offering live music and valet parking. Private dining room available, two patios. 2601 Kavanaugh Blvd. 603-9208. 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 5 p.m.-close (kitchen closes at 10 p.m.). Mon.-Sat. Happy hour: 5-6:30 p.m. Mon.-Sat.
SONNY WILLIAMS' STEAK ROOM Upscale piano bar where the business crowd picks up their well-made cocktails and well-cooked steaks. Oh, and a little birdie told us new Razorbacks coach Bret Bielema has been known to stop by and order a "Walmart," a cocktail of his own concoction involving Diet Coke, vodka and Bailey's. Live piano daily. 500 President Clinton Ave. 324-2999. 5-11 p.m. Mon.-Sat. Happy hour: 5-6:30 p.m. Mon.-Fri.
ZIN URBAN Perhaps in an alternate universe, the development of the River Market took a different course: tailored suits and cocktail dresses in lieu of tank tops and cutoff jeans, swanky lounges instead of boozy piano bars, a vibe more Bryant Park than Bryant. Zin Urban — with its ultra-modern decor and excellent wine selection — occupies this unlikely universe, though it manages to be as inviting as it is sleek. The atmosphere is clean and mellow and the music is low (electronic, inoffensive, maybe some flutes), so you can focus your attention on fine wine and good conversation. The staff is knowledgeable and happy to lend a hand if you don't know your tannins from your midpalate, and you can try out your inner sommelier with a menu featuring light snacks, including a variety of artisanal meats and cheeses. "Wine flights" are available with a tasting sampler of multiple wines of a specific region or varietal "in order to get a feel for breadth and depth." Wine tastings with samples from around the world on Wednesday 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.; date-night deal with wine and tapas on Saturday nights. 300 River Market Ave. 246-4876. Beer and wine only. 4-10 p.m. Mon.-Wed., 4-11 p.m. Thu., 4 p.m.-midnight Fri.-Sat., 5-10 p.m. Sun. Happy hour: 4-6 p.m. Mon.-Fri.
BY THE GLASS A Heights wine bar with an ample meat and cheese menu and live music to drink wine by. 5713 Kavanaugh Blvd. 663-9463. 4-10 p.m. Mon.-Wed., 4-11 p.m. Thu., 4 p.m.-midnight Fri.-Sat. Happy hour: 4-6 p.m. Mon.-Fri.
CRUSH WINE BAR Crush Wine Bar isn't fooling around: Its wine menu has 80 wines by the bottle and 40 by the glass. Tapas-style appetizers of meats and cheeses. All-night happy hours on select wines, beer and tapas vary daily. 318 Main St., NLR. 374-9463. 4 p.m.-10 p.m. Tue.-Thu., 4 p.m.-11 p.m. Fri.-Sat.
THE ITALIAN KITCHEN AT LULAV Owner Matt Lile decided to go Italian this year (hence the name change), with dishes from both Northern and Southern Italy and a new wine menu. 220 W. 6th St. 374-5100. Full bar. 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 5 p.m.-close Mon.-Sat., 6:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 5-10 p.m. Mon.-Sun. Lounge (special events only): 5 p.m.-close Mon.-Sat. Happy hour: 5-6:30 p.m. Mon.-Fri.
SO The food is so upscale here, with a focus on seafood (black grouper, Kumamoto oysters, John Dory), culinary wizardry (like pistachio cream cheese-filled chocolate crepes with Guajillo pepper cherries jubilee) and a deep wine list. 3610 Kavanaugh Blvd. 663-1464. Full bar. Lunch 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Mon.-Sat., dinner 4 p.m.-close Mon.-Sun. Happy hour: 5-7 p.m. Mon.-Fri.
DUGAN'S PUB A hint at the things that are sure to be happening in coming years on the south side of the River Market District, Dugan's pub is probably just the kind of relaxed, friendly watering hole that condo-builders envisioned springing up in the shadows of the nearby residential towers when those buildings were still on the drawing board. Situated at the corner of Third and Rock streets, it's a lovely little place, with big picture windows and patios on each side that make it perfect for people watching, a fireplace for chilly nights, a beautiful curved bar, plentiful stained glass, and a preponderance of dark wood on the inside. For those seeking something more intimate, the bar has several cozy nooks with tables inside. The love-project of former Markham St. Grill and Bistro owner Don Dugan, the bar somehow manages to feel both modern and vintage at the same time. The menu has a little something for everyone, from pub grub to burgers to bar fare, plus a nice slate of traditional Irish goodies like corned beef and cabbage, bangers and mash, and Guinness-sauteed chicken. For those on a liquid diet, they also feature all the pourables, including Guinness on tap, 14 different varieties of Irish whiskey, 13 different scotches, and a whole bunch of domestic suds. They've also got karaoke on Wednesday nights, trivia on Tuesdays, and dart boards. 401 E. Third St. 244-0542. Full bar. 11 a.m.–2 a.m. Mon.-Sat. 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sun. Happy hour: 4-7 p.m. Mon.-Fri.
THE HOUSE Once upon a time in pub-loving England, someone decided that if you're going to sit down and enjoy a nice pint, you might like some delicious food to go with it. Nothing wrong with fish and chips or bangers and mash, mind you, but might as well put some effort in and do it well. And thus the gastropub was born, eventually crossing the pond to the New World to pop up in foodie-friendly cities across these United States. The House has the formula down pat. Rotating selection of great beer on tap, including interesting local options? Check. Cozy, laid-back atmosphere, equally comfortable for putting one back with dinner or having one too many on a big night out? Yup. Outstandingly made comfort food with a gourmet touch on old favorites? Yes indeed. And yeah, we get it, there's something about the word "gastropub" that might make you suspicious of silly fads and upcharges, but listen: good beer is good, and it's even better with knockout sweet-potato waffle fries served with house-made curry ketchup. The House goes all-in on decadent fantasy food and has some of the best (and most inventive) burgers in town, including one dusted and grilled with Guillermo's espresso and topped with mole sauce, the "Birds Nest" served egg-in-a-basket style, and a Mac & Cheese burger that is, well, ridiculous. Served on brioche buns from Arkansas Fresh Bakery to complete the gluttonous joy. Service is always friendly; we keep hearing complaints that it can be inattentive, but either we lucked out on recent visits or we were too burger-stuffed and beer-blissed to notice. 722 N. Palm St. 663-4500. Full bar (fancy cocktails and impressive rotating whiskey selection if you're not in the mood for a pint). 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Mon.-Fri. (lunch served 11 a.m.-2 p.m., dinner served 5-10:30 p.m., drinks only otherwise), 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Sat.-Sun. (brunch served 10 a.m.-2 p.m., dinner 5-10:30 p.m., drinks only otherwise). Happy hour: 11 a.m.-7 p.m. daily.
BAR LOUIE Here's something unusual: With the Bar Louie mobile phone app, you can send a friend a drink! "Friends don't let friends go thirsty," the bar declares. 11525 Cantrell Road. 228-0444. Full bar. 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Mon.-Fri., 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Sat., 11 a.m.-midnight Sun. Happy hour: 4-7 p.m. Mon.-Fri.
HIBERNIA Irish-owned bar and restaurant serves fish and chips, bangers and mash and a full Irish breakfast, just as an example of its authenticity. Traditional Irish music on first and third Monday evenings, second and fourth Sunday afternoons, Songwriter Sunday third Sunday, live music the rest of the week. 9700 N. Rodney Parham Road. 246-4340. Full bar. 3 p.m.-close Mon.-Fri., 11 a.m.-close Sat.-Sun. Happy hour: 3-7 p.m. Mon.-Fri.
THE HILLCREST FOUNTAIN Smoker-friendly neighborhood bar, with a loyal following and a rollicking patio. They have pool and shuffleboard, and while they don't serve food, you can BYOF. Note: you can call the phone number, but you will only get a busy signal. 2809 Kavanaugh Blvd. 614-9818. Beer and wine. 4 p.m.-1 a.m. Sun.-Wed., 4 p.m.-2 a.m. Thu.-Sat. Opens at noon on Sundays during football season.
MARKHAM STREET GRILL AND PUB Live music, Razorbacks on the television and buckets of beer to wash down the mahi-mahi and 50-cent wings: It doesn't get more Arkansan than that. 11321 W. Markham St. 224-2010. 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Mon.-Thu., 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Fri., 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Sat., 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Sun. Happy hour: 4-7 p.m. Mon.-Fri.
MISS KITTY'S SALOON A welcoming, gay-friendly bar with (smoking allowed, FYI) that offers a wide variety of good times, from foosball and pinball to karaoke (Wednesdays), trivia night (Thursday) and weekly talent and drag shows. 307 W. 7th St. 374-4699. Full bar. Wed.-Sun. 7 p.m.-2 a.m.
THE PANTRY A few German/Hungarian specialties like grilled bratwurst, weiner schnitzel and Goulash share the menu with paninis, burgers, steak, Cuban sandwiches and lasagna and are paired with a generous beer list, an equally generous wine list and cocktail specials (and we do mean special, i.e. Dark Tail, a combination of Old Rasputin Stout, XO Cafe Coffee Liqueur, Sambuca Rinse and coffee bitters). Coffees too. 11401 Rodney Parham Road. 353-1875. 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 4-midnight Mon.-Sat., bar 4-close Mon.-Sat. Happy hour: 4-6 p.m. and after 10 p.m. Mon.-Sat.
RENO'S Music, good pub grub in a cozy neighborhood bar that allows smoking. 312 Main St., NLR. 376-2900. Full bar. 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Wed., 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Thu., 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Fri., 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Sat. Happy hour: 4-6 p.m. Mon.-Fri.
SALUT BISTRO Located in the bottom floor of the Prospect Place office tower off North University, Salut is an Italian restaurant by day and a late-night club until the wee hours (closing time is 5 a.m. Friday and Saturday). The light-strung deck is the place to try Salut's inventive drinks, too, like the Queen Bee (Jack Daniels, honey, muddled mint, orange juice, fresh lemon and Sprite). If you have one at lunch, you can then waddle over to U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin's office in the lobby and give him a piece of your mind. 1501 N. University Ave. 660-4200. 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 5 p.m.-9:30 p.m. Tue., 5 p.m.-5 a.m. Fri.-Sat.-Sat. Happy hour: 11 p.m.-5 a.m. Thu.-Sat.
TWELVE MODERN LOUNGE The only club in town where 21-24 year-olds aren't welcome. Twenty-five is the cut-off. Twelve regularly hosts after-parties and special events. 1900 W. Third St. 301-1200. Full bar. 9 p.m.-2 a.m. Fri.-Sat., 7 p.m.-2 a.m. Sun. Happy hour: all night on Sunday.