The Arkansas Times has again opened up the voting to the public for the “Toast of the Town” awards that highlight the bars and bartenders around town. I’ll run through the categories here and give you some ideas of what I think should get votes. You should then link over and vote, and leave some comments about what I missed or what I got wrong. You have until September 19th to make this happen.
The difficulty in some of these categories is that there are restaurants with great bar programs, so some of the vote ideas here are going to be for restaurants that excel in some of the bar categories.
I know, highly subjective. When I think about the “Best Bar”, I am looking for a place that will give me the most freedom. Can I get a beer if I so desire? Can they make a cocktail for me? Am I comfortable? This rules out the dedicated wine bars and beer & wine only locations. This also rules out places that managed to mess up a gin and tonic.
Big Orange – Midtown
The first time the Yellow Rocket concepts people got to build a bar from scratch and they created an amazing experience. The open shelving showing off their liquors combined with their curated beer taps and excellent cocktails makes them a contender.
South on Main
The old Juanitas space never looked so great. The bar is still shaped the same, but it was rebuilt behind the scenes for easier bartender access. Couple the great drinks with great food in an atmosphere that is both casual and refined to really enjoy what may be the best bar in town.
I have three people I think would all make wonderful options for best bartender.
David Burnette – South on Main
David is a true maestro behind the bar. He whips up exacting classics but also pushes for some real innovations. He and I also share a love of bitter flavors so I may be a bit biased.
Dylan Yelenich- Big Orange
Dylan is really coming into his own as a bartender, but does double duty as one of the most passionate lovers of beer behind a bar I know. I’ve had the pleasure of his acquaintance for over a decade now and I am not sure we could have ever seen where our paths would take us.
Conan – Midtown
Midtown is an institution. Conan is an institution at Midtown. He is a bartender who not only knows his stuff, but manages to keep up with a bar three people deep for hours on end in the wee hours of the morning. He makes what I consider the best quick-form, non traditional Singapore Sling in the state.
Best Wine Bar
By the Glass
Of the three main wine bars in the central Arkansas area, it is really hard to go wrong here. All of them have great points (By the Glass for its comfortable atmosphere and selection, the chic decor of Zin and the excellent nibbles, and the neighborhood friendliness of Crush).
If I have to pick only one, I have to go with Crush on this one because I enjoy spending time there the most.
Best Sports Bar
Fish & Chips
I don’t watch a lot of sporting events in bars. I spent a lot of time watching the World Cup in bars, though, and my recommendation would be Dugan’s for letting the American Outlaws take over during Team USA’s matches. I’d love to hear what some of the other great spots from readers, though.
Best Pick Up Bar
Look, I am married. It has been quite a long time since I went out looking for attractive women for whom I can buy drinks. I don’t really think I am too qualified to weigh in on the state of pick-up bars in the city. Readers, what say you?
Best Gay Bar
As noted above, married and straight. While Discovery is the perennial favorite in this category, I am curious if any of the readers have thoughts on the best Gay Bar in Central Arkansas that I may not know about?
Best Bar for Live Music
White Water Tavern. The shows are crowded, loud, intimate, and unforgettable. Music is as integral to WWT as beer & whisky.
If you don’t opt for WWT, Midtown, Stickyz, and Rev Room have all been great this year with the shows coming through.
Best Dive Bar
It is no secret that I love Midtown Billiards. I am going to say this is the finest dive bar in the state and there is no arguing with me.
Best Hotel Bar
We don’t have a lot to choose from, but it is a difficult task to upset Capital Bar & Grill at the Capital Hotel. I know that the Hive in Northwest Arkansas is supposed to be fantastic but here in Central Arkansas is there a better hotel bar?
Okay, maybe the Arlington Lobby is another good option for Central Arkansas hotel bars
Best Neighborhood Bar
This is hard because every neighborhood has its own feeling and vibe. Every place seems drawn to different things. I don’t think I can make a recommendation for all of you because each neighborhood should make that decision on its own. How about you share your recommendation in the comments for different neighborhoods?
Best Bar for Pool, Darts, Shuffleboard, or other games
There are a lot of places you can play games, but I am voting for Pizza D’Action here. I always see people playing darts and they are always having a good time. Whether there are some better maintained places or places with more options seems like a secondary concern to whether it is someplace people have fun.
Best Bar for Food
What food do you crave? When you have a drink, what do you want to eat? CBG has a great menu, but does it meet your deepest desires when imbibing? South on Main does remarkable stuff, but I can’t recommend them for everything.
Stickyz has what seems to me to be one of the perfect bar menus in town. The food is consistent and tasty with a definite preference for what people drinking may want. They play to the strength of the kitchen and don’t try to overreach. If you want more refined food, Baci has a truly phenomenal menu right now.
Best Happy Hour
I’m voting South on Main with the advent of their “Social Hour” Happy Hour. It may be my weaknesses for David Burnette’s cocktails or a fine Old Fashioned, but free boiled peanuts and an amazing atmosphere go a long way. A close runner up is the Reverse Happy Hour at Big Orange Midtown. As the dining winds down, the Happy Hour kicks up as Big Orange offers specials late to close.
Best Drinking Brunch
If you want to get a nice tipple or two with brunch, perhaps a “working” brunch as Hunter S Thompson called it, you may need to look for someplace special. Can you stretch out? Can you order a brunch special? What can you do? Ya Ya’s Brunch buffet is one of the best buffets I have seen and they have a full bar!
Best Patio or Deck
This is a tough one. I know that Cajun’s Wharf gets a lot of attention for their truly prodigious deck, but it isn’t my favorite. Baci’s deck may be smaller, but it wraps around the side and always has shade nestled off of Kavanaugh. Maybe I just like the trees and people watching better than the river, but that is where I place my vote.
Best Beer Selection
On numbers alone, it is hard to argue against The Flying Saucer having the best beer selection in Little Rock. A tip of the hat needs to also go towards Big Orange Midtown for the consistently curated list of brews that includes some wonderful craft beers outside the ordinary list in many other places.
I don’t always want ice cold beer, but I know that is the draw for many. Who does this better? Is there one place that shines on putting out icy cold brews for their customers?
Best Tequila Selection
Local Lime put the flag on the map for tequila in town. While Casa Manana also has a truly impressive collection available for you, the presentation from David Suro-Pinera of Siembra Azul Tequila at Local Lime on Tequila demonstrates the amount of effort they are putting into expanding the tequila knowledge and care in town. Check out the hour long video at the Little Rock Foodcast and revel in the knowledge shared for all of us.
Best Bloody Mary
According to my lovely, and almost always correct, wife, Midtown’s Bloody Marys are incomparable. Anyone arguing with my wife on this?
Midtown Bloody Mary
I didn’t think so.
When I want a martini, that means that I need gin, vermouth, and a garnish. There are several places I can consistently get a wet martini, chick full of dry vermouth, with a lemon twist but I wonder whether they mean cocktails in general here? Martini has become almost generic for a cocktail served in that “V” cocktail glass. So if I am looking at overall cocktail bar here, I am going to have to vote for South on Main’s amazing bar program, Baci’s consistently delicious drinks and atmosphere, or Maduro’s growing bar program.
Local Lime. Yes, I know I keep putting Yellow Rocket restaurants on this list but the simple fact is that Lee Edwards and his crew tested dozens of margarita variants to find the perfect house margarita. Then they tested dozens more variants to find the best way to freeze them! The simple addition of a shot of liqueur led to thousands of words from Steve at Little Rock Foodcast, so something has to be right here.
Best Local Brew
Ooof. This one is tough. Oh so tough to choose with so many local brews out there. I am going to put a vote to Stones Throw for their Redemption Rye because that beer was one of my favorites last year. I also need to thank Ian Beard from Stone’s Throw for helping me take some steps deeper into beer loving, even before he got that brewery started. Josiah Moody just launched Moody Brews and I expect that it will be a contender sooner rather than later.
Best National Brew
We don’t get it here. It has a history with my family. Yuengling is the beer from the oldest brewery operating in the United States. It is a Pennsylvania tradition and for me it signals family and my grandparents. Is it a cheap beer? Yes. Is it the best beer ever? No. It gets my vote, however, for the intangible reasons I mention above.
Best Liquor Store
Colonial Wine & Spirits. Sorry to all of my friends who work other places, but Colonial has really been everything I could want in a liquor store. They have an amazing stock and I have noticed their prices dipping back down a dollar or two per bottle keeping in line with other places. The tasting bar, growler fill station, and dedication to providing the best spirits and education they can offer gives them my vote hands down.
So what do you think? Tell me what I missed in the comments below!