Best of 2016

All the news that's fit to print

After finishing our Best Of list each August, there’s part of us that thinks: That’s it. That’s the last one. We’ve officially tapped every cool thing this state has to offer. But a lot can happen in a year. Case in point: this past one. Because as the headlines made clear, from field-goal-kicking homecoming maids and world-record-setting cyclists to award-winning whiskey and an exceptionally good cup of joe, this year was one for the books, month after month

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SEPTEMBER   OCTOBER   NOVEMBER   JANUARY  

FEBRUARY    MARCH    APRIL    MAY    JUNE 

READERS’ CHOICE 


 

SEPTEMBER 2015

BEST (OPEN SOURCE) FOR THE KIDDOS’ CODING PROWESS

GOV. ASA HUTCHINSON’S COMPUTER SCIENCE INITIATIVE

Teach your kids coding, they say. They’ll have what it takes. They’ll be the next Margaret Hamilton—or less ambitiously, a software engineer making a six-figure salary. Well, bring them to Arkansas, we say. Because believe it or not, after the state passed a comprehensive law last year that made coding courses a requirement for all public and charter high schools (thanks, Gov. Asa Hutchinson), we became the nation’s first epicenter for that kind of rounded education when the school year kicked off last September. Take that, Silicon Valley.

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OCTOBER 2015

BEST (AND MOST BADASS) HOMECOMING MAID

SAVANA MELTON

There’s something unusual about Savana Melton. And no, it’s not how she spells her first name. It’s the fact that, thanks to her soccer training, the rising junior has one heckuva kick—one that earned her a spot on North Little Rock High School’s football roster last season. One that she used to nail 50 of 56 extra points. And one that came in pretty darn handy on homecoming night, when, after she traded the red spangly gown and shimmering headband she wore as a member of the court for a set of football pads, Savana helped secure a 35-28 victory over the Searcy Lions.

BEST REASON TO JUMP (YOUR BIKE) FOR JOY

INTERNATIONAL MOUNTAIN BICYCLING ASSOCIATION’S 2016 WORLD SUMMIT IN … BENTONVILLE?

We Arkansans are used to our ruggedly beautiful state flying under the national radar. And while we like to think our neck of the woods is a secret worth keeping to ourselves, we were pleasantly surprised last October when the International Mountain Bicycling Association announced it was choosing Bentonville as the location for the 2016 World Summit. But really, with the explosion of single-track trails in the state (our personal favorite: The Railyard, a jump-filled Rogers bike park that opened last December and will host a demo by mountain biker extraordinaire Danny MacAskill during the summit), it was only a matter of time until the nation—nay, the world—took notice. (imba.com/world-summit)

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whs_webNOVEMBER 2015

BEST FOR SOURCING WHERE’D-YOU-GET-THAT? GOODS

WITH HOME SUPPLY

You know the feeling: You’re browsing a shop in (enter big city here), and you think to yourself, Dang, I wish we had a place like this back at home. Design-savvy twins Rebekah and Sara Fess felt that, too—only they decided to do something about it. Opened back in November, the twins’ downtown Fayetteville boutique is equal parts Instagram gold (the sheepskin-strewn chairs! the light!) and stocked-to-the-hilt outpost for good-looking home goods sourced everywhere from Denmark to Brooklyn. In other words, it’s a clubhouse of sorts for aesthetes tired of having to get the good stuff online. (44 E. Center St., Fayetteville; withhomesupply.com)

BEST REASON TO DIAL IT BACK

A PHONE BOOTH IN PRAIRIE GROVE

Oh, the lowly phone booth. When it comes to convenience, functionality or portability, the iPhone’s got it beat. Hands down. (Or … hands free?) However, we know of at least one phone booth that has it where it counts—specifically, the lone booth of Washington County (one of just two still working in the state), which was honored back in November when the National Register of Historic Places put a ring on it (the first—and only—phone booth to be listed). And so, yes, time may have passed it by and technology made it obsolete. But if nothing else, you’ll never have to worry about dropping it in the toilet. (nps.gov/nr/feature/places/15000291.htm)

BEST TURNAROUND

LITTLE ROCK TROJANS BASKETBALL

We’ll admit we weren’t expecting much from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock when the college hoops season rolled around last November. Sure, they’d just rebranded as “Little Rock’s Team,” but the Trojans had also just come off a losing season, so we had no reason to suspect, well, magic. But after setting a school and conference record for most wins—capped off with a Cinderella first-round victory at this year’s NCAA tournament against fifth-seed Purdue—that’s exactly what we got. We’ve never been happier to be proven wrong, and judging by the attendance records set and shattered and set again, neither was the city the Trojans call home. (lrtrojans.com)

BEST PLACE TO FILM

THE STUDIOS @ BESPOKE

It’s not every day that a space equipped for online and TV production surfaces around these parts. That’s why when Bespoke Media Group opened The Studios @ Bespoke, the mid-South’s largest production studio and sound stage in Little Rock’s Riverdale area in November, we took notice. And with the likes of Patagonia, Wal-Mart and the Discovery Channel seeking out Bespoke’s services, so too has the rest of the nation. In fairness, however, with 7,500 square feet of shooting space and a 50-foot infinity shooting backdrop, the place is actually pretty hard to miss. (2207 Cantrell Road, Little Rock; bespokemg.com)

BEST REASON TO CALL THE HOGS

THE HENRY HEAVE

Every so often in college football there’s a play so miraculous, so improbable, so glorious that it deserves its own name: the Fumblerooski, the Kick Six, the Immaculate Reception. And then there’s the Razorback’s season-defining lateral that led to their overtime upset of No. 18 Ole Miss last November. Not only does it have three names—the Henry Heave, the Hog and Ladder, or simply 4th-and-25—but it’s inspired websites (4thand25.com), T-shirts, memes and even its own day: April 25. Now, how long is it until the season kicks off?

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JANUARY 2016

BEST PLACES TO HANG, LIKE, ANYTIME, IN BENTONVILLE

PRESSROOM AND FOXHOLE PUBLIC HOUSE

Looking for a French 75 at 11 p.m. on a Tuesday or a steamed bun three hours after lunch? Maybe a midmorning pick-me-up in the form of chia pudding? Bentonvillians: You now have options, thanks to the new-and-improved Pressroom (new chef, new menu, new incredibly swanky digs) and nearby Foxhole Public House (which joined the ’hood in January). Both restaurants—which would be at home in, say, Park Slope or Portland—are open pretty much all day, Monday through Saturday, from lavender latte to late-night Negroni. (100 NW Second St., eatatpressroom.com; 401 SW A St., foxholebentonville.com)

bonyx_webBEST MONUMENTAL DECISION

THE NATIONAL WWI MEMORIAL

Maybe you thought you heard wrong. Maybe you thought they’d transposed the numbers of his age in the news release when it was announced back in January. Because the idea of Joseph Weishaar, a 25-year-old, newly minted architect from the U of A, winning an international design competition to design the WWI Memorial in Washington, D.C.—one which had drawn 363 entries from across the globe—is pretty darn hard to swallow. But then … then maybe you saw his idea and realized that, well, that’s actually exactly what the Pershing Park memorial, located just a stone’s throw from the White House, needed to be: subdued, unobtrusive, dignified. And although it’ll be more than a year before construction gets underway and the memorial’s completed—we’re saying it’s worth the wait.

BEST INSPIRATION FOR GETTING OFF THE COUCH

TARZAN’S CYCLING WORLD RECORD

How far would you go to set a world record? For Kurt Searvogel, the Sheridan cyclist and software engineer better known ’round these parts as Tarzan, it was 76,076 miles—or more than three laps around the Earth. On Jan. 10, 2015, Tarzan set out to break the 75-year-old cycling record for the most miles cycled in one year, and after averaging 209 miles a day—a good 12 hours on the bike—he matched the record with six days to spare (and ended up besting it by 1,011 miles). How’s that for a New Year’s resolution?

BEST YES-IT’S-WORTH-THE-DRIVE COFFEE

ONYX COFFEE LABS

Coffee-loving Arkansans who don’t live in Northwest Arkansas—we know what you’re praying to the coffee gods for: Please let Onyx come to town. Not only do the folks behind the java “lab” make a mean cup of coffee (direct-sourced beans, micro-roasted small batches and all that jazz), they were recently recognized for their organic, environment-friendly practices. Medaling in the “Coffee” category of the 2016 Good Food Awards this past January for their Colombian Granja la Esperanza, Onyx “emphasized fairness and transparency from seed to cup.” And if that weren’t enough, that same month, the operation was crowned the 2016 Coffee Bar of the Year by Imbibe magazine, so we’d say Onyx’s hug in a mug is well worth the drive. (Multiple locations; onyxcoffeelab.com)

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FEBRUARY 2016

BEST NEW FACILITY FOR THE CULTURALLY INCLINED

PULASKI TECHNICAL COLLEGE’S CENTER FOR HUMANITIES AND ARTS

When Pulaski Tech’s brand-spanking-new Center for Humanities and Arts opened back in February, the week-long celebration was fitting. Personalities such as Grammy-winner Mavis Staples and Pulitzer-winner Douglas A. Blackmon christened the space. And this past May, soprano Maria Fasciano-DiCarlo sent some serious notes high up into the stratosphere during her La Boheme performance. The center has brought in some big names, and we’ll be keeping an eye out for other plans on the books—because that $30-million worth of art studios, music labs, galleries and a 500-seat theater just calls for some bustle and buzz. (3000 W. Scenic Drive, North Little Rock; pulaskitech.edu/charts)

BEST 60 MINUTES SPENT LOCKED IN A ROOM

ESCAPE ROOMS

Finally, an adventure for lovers of the great indoors. Escape rooms—you know, those places where families, friends and co-workers looking for a bonding experience willingly get locked in a small room full of puzzles and clues and channel their best Sherlock Holmes to break out as the clock winds down—have been popping up around the country for some time. So we were ecstatic when Arkansas sprouted two last fall (hats off to you, Ozark Escape Room and NWA Escape), and even more so when North Little Rock’s Central Arkansas Escape Room soon gave us a shorter drive. And as soon as Little Rock’s Mystery Mansion opened its doors in February, we found ourselves flipping over furniture, sorting through “tornado debris” for clues, occasionally scratching our heads and, yes, eventually finding our way out. (2122 S. Broadway St., Little Rock; mysterymansionescape.com)

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MARCH 2016

BEST REASON TO TOAST

ROCK TOWN DISTILLERY

True, Arkansas doesn’t exactly fall along the proclaimed U.S. Whiskey Trail, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have our very own world-class distillery. In fact, just this past March, Rock Town’s grain-to-glass enterprise struck gold at the prestigious San Francisco World Spirits Competition. A panel of spirit mavens sniffed and sipped 1,899 entries from more than 60 countries, and Rock Town’s rye whiskey was one of the quaffs to come out on top. Looks like you better watch out, Kentucky. (1216 E. Sixth St., Little Rock; rocktowndistillery.com)

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BEST REASON NO. 562 TO RELOCATE TO BENTONVILLE

NORTHWEST ARKANSAS’ NEW CONTEMPORARY ART SPACE—NAME TBD

Look, there’s nothing wrong with cheese. We love cheese. Grate stuff. But if it comes down to it—if we’re given the chance for an old 1940s-era Kraft plant to be Walton-ified, repurposed into another Crystal Bridges-esque bastion for contemporary art, as it was announced in March—you had better believe we’ll brie there. Especially if it means the sprawling State of the Art exhibition gets a permanent home in the 63,000-square-foot space (don’t worry, the Chicago firm brought in to rehab the space has promised to keep the industrial feel). And even though we’re not terribly keen on waiting—the as-yet-unnamed space is scheduled for a 2018 opening—we’ve got a feeling it’ll age pretty darn well. (crystalbridges.org)

BEST ADVENTURE IN CRAFT BEER

REBEL KETTLE BREWING’S DARING DRAFTS

Is it possible that Arkansas has too many craft breweries? Well, no. But we do appreciate the effort the capital city’s newest brewery is putting in to stand out from the crowd. After opening their doors in March in east Little Rock, the sud slingers at Rebel Kettle have made a name for themselves in a suddenly crowded market with a rotating selection of off-the-wall concoctions, like mango-habanero IPA; peanut butter and raspberry ale; coconut cream curry hefeweizen; and more saisons than you can shake a stick at. The only problem is deciding where to start. (And trying to limit the number of Koolicles you consume while sidled up to the bar.) (822 E. 6th St., Little Rock; rebelkettle.com)

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ohs_webAPRIL 2016

BEST LIVE-MUSIC LAURELS

GEORGE’S MAJESTIC LOUNGE GETS NATIONAL NOD

There’s something about college that, even years (and decades) removed, fuels a remarkably rose-colored collection of memories. The Old Main Lawn seemed greener. Fayetteville was funkier. Beer tasted better. Pizza was pizza-ier. Music shows at George’s Majestic Lounge were … well, actually, those are still pretty darn good. Which is probably why everyone’s favorite collegiate haunt found itself on online music mag Consequence of Sound’s list of “100 Greatest American Music Venues” this April, hobnobbing with names such as Cain’s Ballroom, Ryman Auditorium and Bowery Ballroom. “There aren’t many bars like this left in the world,” the write-up opines. We couldn’t agree more—and that’s not just the nostalgia talking. (519 W. Dickson St., Fayetteville; georgesmajesticlounge.com)

BEST CURIOSITY SHOP

ELECTRIC GHOST SCREEN PRINTING

Back in April, when a storefront on Little Rock’s South Main Street was taken over by Electric Ghost, we were excited to see the company finally settle down in its first brick and mortar location. And although the local operation is known for its custom screen printing, the new space has some glorious goods to sift through (think geodesic glass terrariums, a smorgasbord of cacti and a healthy dose of statement pillows). With a chic rustic-minimalist design and a logo that vaguely resembles those cute googly eyed Pac-Man ghosts, you’ll be tempted to order customized shirts for, like, any occasion. (1218 Main St., Little Rock; electricghost.com)

BEST FIX FOR YOUR LOST, LONELY SOLES

OLD HEIGHTS CORNER STORE

Ever heard of “enclothed cognition,” the idea that our state of mind changes based on what we wear? (In other words: No, old and tired sneakers sitting patiently by the door; it’s not me. It’s you.) Either way, it’s a sound enough reason to hit up Old Heights Corner Store, which opened its doors this past April. Whether it’s nailing that jump shot or just looking fly on a night out, its high-end kicks will get anyone to go from couch to 11. And with walls and furniture built using the maple floor from a 1950s basketball court, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a reason not to keep coming back for stylish workout gear that’ll help burn more than just a hole in your pocket. (5919 Kavanaugh Blvd., Little Rock; rockcitykicks.com)

BEST NEIGHBREWHOOD

NORTH LITTLE ROCK’S ARGENTA

Back in 2014, when Diamond Bear opened its new production facility and ale house in North Little Rock, our dream of ending a bike ride through the city’s funky Argenta neighborhood with a pint of local brew finally came true. And then, when Flyway Brewing set up shop in January (after years of anticipation) and Core Brewing Co.—that beloved Springdale-based operation—opened right on the neighborhood’s main drag two months later (seemingly under the cover of darkness), we knew we were witnessing the birth of Central Arkansas’ next great craft-beer destination.

BEST TINY ANIMALS

ARKANSAS HERITAGE FARM AT THE LITTLE ROCK ZOO

Maybe you’re not a “zoo person.” Maybe you don’t have kiddos. Maybe your idea of a Saturday well spent requires air-conditioning and a cold one. We get it. But we’d venture a guess that, even if you don’t know it yet, there’s a dwarf-miniature-horse-in-a-big-red-barn-sized hole in your heart waiting to be filled. Good thing, then, that the Little Rock Zoo opened the barn doors this April to the Arkansas Heritage Farm, which, thanks to a partnership with Heifer International, now houses a herd of utter cuteness. (We’re particularly smitten with the extremely pettable African pygmy goats and that fluffy Silkie chicken.) (littlerockzoo.com)

chunkydunk_webBEST MOVERS AND LIST-MAKERS

KIRSTEN BLOWERS & MO ELLIOT

We’d be remiss not to acknowledge two of our state’s young game changers, who just so happen to run trendy Fayetteville shops a half-mile from each another. Kirsten Blowers, the brains behind clothing boutique Riffraff (and current queen of the internet, BTW), earned a spot on Forbes’ 30 under 30 list in April. Mo Elliott, founder of outdoor clothing company Fayettechill, landed on the Outdoor 30 under 30 a month later. Coincidence? Well, no. Because with Fayettechill’s sustainably produced apparel and Riffraff’s burgeoning Southern-tinged, e-commerce empire, we’d say they’re forces to be reckoned with. (205 W. Dickson St., Fayetteville; fayettechill.com; 19 S. Block Ave., Fayetteville; shopriffraff.com)

BEST WAY TO HAVE YOUR COOKIE AND EAT IT, TOO 

BE SARA SLIMP OF CHUNKY DUNK: A MILK & COOKIES TRUCK—AND NOW, THE ROOT CAFE

Sara Slimp knew it was going to be bittersweet, bidding adieu this past April to the Fayetteville community who’d so embraced her milk-and-cookies food truck. But she also knew she couldn’t turn down an opportunity to work as pastry chef for The Root Cafe, which, as she says, would enable her to learn from some of the best in the business. And then a surprise cherry-on-top type of situation materialized on her last day in the truck. Two customers—Laura Morrow and Tori Karr—offered to run Chunky Dunk for her in her absence, which was good news for Sara, but even better news for, well, us: We can snag a snickerdoodle when we’re up Fayetteville way, and then snack on a slice of the farm-grown-carrot cake Sara’s whipping up at The Root. (1500 S. Main St., Little Rock, therootcafe.com; 693 W. North St., Fayetteville, chunkydunkcookies.com)

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MAY 2016

BEST INSPIRATION

JEFFREY GLASBRENNER

On May 18, for 25 minutes in minus-40-degree temps, he stood on the top of the world—a feat that made him, Arkansas native Jeffrey Glasbrenner, the first American-born amputee to stand atop Mount Everest. In fairness, given the scope of his accomplishments, this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. This is a guy, after all, who was a star for USA wheelchair basketball and a three-time Paralympian. Who’s run more than a dozen marathons and 25 long-distance triathlons. Who’s planning to summit the world’s seven highest peaks (Everest was No. 2 on the list). In other words, Everest, schmeverest.

outfitters_webBEST WAY TO SPEND A SUNDAY

LITTLE ROCK KICKBALL

Twelve years ago, it probably seemed strange that on any given Sunday, motorists would see Little Rock’s Interstate Park swarming with people, sometimes uniformed, sometimes costumed, red playground balls lofting up over the softball fields. Granted, even as the 25th season wrapped up in June, it’s still kinda strange—but when you’ve got 84 teams showing up to the plate on a weekly basis, all of whom can go on at length about the merits of the adult-appropriated grade-school sport (how it’s a way to reclaim childhood whimsy and a fine reason to drink Pabst on a Sunday), we can say there’s one thing for certain: It’s still fun as hell. (lrkickball.com)

BEST PLACE TO OPEN A WORLD-PREMIERE PLAY

ARKANSAS REPERTORY THEATRE

Why Little Rock? Well, if you’re asking Broadway vet Jason Alexander—you know, George from Seinfeld—he’d say,“Why not Little Rock?” While some might have chosen to premiere a new production in a city such as New York or Chicago, Jason, playwright Scooter Pietsch and producer John Yonover opted for a test run of Windfall, a comedy portraying a group of co-workers entering a lottery pool together, in our smaller but just-as-arts-committed market last June. Our only regret is not striking it rich with the lotto tickets they handed out during their introductory Q & A. (601 Main St., Little Rock; therep.org)

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JUNE 2016

BEST ATTENTION DRAW

ILLUSTRATOR SALLY NIXON

There was a time when you didn’t see her everywhere. When she wasn’t cropping up in Lena Dunham’s twice-weekly newsletter. When she wasn’t getting written up on national websites like Bustle, Mashable, Huffington Post et al. When her followers on Instagram numbered in three digits, rather than five. (Best as we can tell, the 27-year-old Little Rock-based illustrator was swept to the front of the internet’s collective consciousness just as her yearlong “Drawing a Day” project wrapped this past April.) Truth is, however, those days are getting tougher and tougher to recall. And we wouldn’t have it any other way. (sally-nixon.squarespace.com)

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