Bathhouse Row – Hot Springs

The restored Fordyce on BathhouseRow

The restored Fordyce on BathhouseRow

My husband thought I was nuts – completely nuts. We were visiting my hometown of Shreveport, La. when I said, “Instead of going straight back to Atlanta, we could go up through Arkansas, over to Tennessee, spend the night in Memphis and then get back to Atlanta tomorrow night.” Within a few hours, we found ourselves in Hot Springs where I had vacationed as a child.

Things had changed since those trips in the 1970’s. Well,  not everything had changed, especially not the Arlington Hotel. This historic hotel has looked the same since 1924 and will continue to do so until a natural disaster comes along. I fondly recall walking with my parents across the street from the Arlington into the Hot Springs National Park at dusk. It was the first time I had ever seen fireflies, which we called lightning bugs.

But what had changed – and for the better – was Bathhouse Row. Back in the 1970’s, these large house-like structures seemed abandoned and decrepit. Now, this was a vibrant area and most of the bathhouses had been restored on the outside to their original splendor during the earlier part of the 1900’s.

One bathhouse – the Superior – has been converted into a craft brew pub, two others – the Quapaw and the Buckstaff are fully operational bathhouses. But the most opulent is the Fordyce Bathhouse which was constructed in 1915 at a cost of over $200,000. Renovated and reopened as a museum in 1989, it also serves as the Hot Springs National Park visitor’s center.

Bubbling water from two terra cotta fountains greeted us as we entered the marble lobby.  The original Otis elevator that transported guests throughout the Renaissance Revival building was located around the corner from the attendant’s desk.  We toured both the men’s and women’s (considerably smaller) bathing sections. The women’s bath hall resembled a large locker room filled with stalls each housing a porcelain bathtub and chair. We passed through the pack room and the cooling room. At times, the rooms seemed cold and sterile and even a bit spooky – especially as we saw an old electrotherapy machine that looked like it came from a James Bond movie. Because it is no longer functioning as a bathhouse, we had to envision people travelling from far and wide to find relief for many different ailments including arthritis, liver disease and headaches.

Care for a steam bath?

Care for a steam bath?

No expense was spared when Samuel Fordyce built the 28,000 square foot facility to attract visitors from all over the country. This was most evident in the men’s atrium. This space houses a DeSoto fountain flanked by marble columns and benches while light shines from above through the aquatic themed stained-glass window.

Taking the grand marble staircase, we approached the second floor which had dressing rooms, the men’s massage rooms, exhibits from the bathhouse days and an outdoor courtyard for sunbathing that was segregated between the sexes. A short film detailing the history of the springs, the bathhouses and the creation of the Hot Springs National Park was presented on every half hour.

But the bathhouse wasn’t just a place to bathe. It was a respite from the outside world with a solarium, private state rooms, a music room for the ladies and a billiard room for the men, all of which are on the third floor. Additionally, there was a large wood-paneled gymnasium with athletic rings and pummel horse. At one time, the Fordyce even had a bowling alley in the basement. Today, visitors can see the Fordyce spring and some of the mechanical and pumping equipment in the basement.

All good things must come to an end. Most bathhouses experienced declines after World War II due to the discovery of penicillin and strides in modern medicine. In 1962, the Fordyce closed its doors, followed by the Quapaw in 1968. By 1986, only the Buckstaff was still functioning as a bathhouse.

Fortunately, the National Park Service designated Bathhouse Row as a National Landmark in 1987 for everyone to enjoy. For more infomation visit the website at http://www.nps.gov/hosp/index.htm.

This is the ladies solarium where bathhouse clients would rest and write letters.

This is the ladies solarium where bathhouse clients would rest and write letters.


St. Arnold Brewing – Houston

I’ll take the Weedwacker.

No, make that a Fancy Lawnmower instead.

Believe it or not, I wasn’t at Home Depot or Lowe’s; but rather at Saint Arnold Brewing Company in Houston.

I didn’t expect much when we arrived at the nondescript warehouse that was surrounded by an iron gate in a gritty, industrial section of downtown. Signs in the parking lot warned visitors to lock up any belongings before crossing the streets that seemed deserted. Upon entering a brick lined foyer, everyone was directed to the second floor.

Climbing up the stairs, voices from the second floor grew louder. Here was where the action was – in a huge beer hall that seated over 200 people. One entire wall was flanked by large windows looking into the brewery. At the far end was a bar where we ordered draft beer from about eight Saint Arnold selections.

The bartender took one look at my husband and said, “You need the Endeavor.” I chose the Elissa IPA. We sat down with our group at one of the picnic tables. While waiting on our food, which on this particular day was a balsamic green salad followed by fish and chips, I sampled the stout. I’m not beer drinker and to me stout beer tastes like motor oil. Surprisingly, the Endeavor, which is a stout, was relatively smooth and I enjoyed it. The Elissa was a little too hoppy for me, so I sampled both the Weedwacker and the Fancy Lawnmower. The only difference between the two is that the Weedwacker is fermented with a bavarian  hefeweizen, instead of the kolsch. I liked the lightness of both beers.

Lunch arrived and was quite tasty. The salad was as good as any four star restaurant. The fish and chips were highly breaded, but the portions were substantial and above average for bar food. The cavernous proportions of the room, coupled with the tile flooring, made the acoustics loud. This is not the place to go for an intimate date or a business meeting, but rather for groups of four to six.  At 1:00, the bartender announced it was last call for the unlimited beer. Some members of our group purchased Saint Arnold merchandise including beer glasses and t-shirts.

For a little under $20 this is a great way to sample unlimited draft beer, get a great two-course meal and explore an off the beaten area of Houston. Lunch is only offered on weekdays and reservations must be prepaid a day in advance. The fixed lunch menu is available on the website at http://www.saintarnold.com. Tours are offered for an additional fee.