If spring fever has revved you up for antiques shopping, we suggest a drive to Little Rock. You can make a fun weekend in and around this town, with a couple of surprises that have nothing to do with great old stuff.
The Little Rock area offers dozens of antiques shops, and if you're on a serious hunt for something specific, a few phone calls before you come to town will give you a head start. But if you just want to show up and start browsing, that's fine. I found the small newspaper Arkansas Antiques with its large maps especially helpful for getting familiar with all the antiquing areas of town--before I ever left home. To get a copy ahead of time, call Arkansas Antiques in Dardanelle at (479) 229-2493.
In keeping with the theme of the grand past, I stayed at The Capital Hotel downtown. It has history, but also a fresh redo with big rooms and the friendliest staff I've run across in a long time. Weekend rates for couples start at $124; (501) 374-7474, 1-800-766-7666, or www.thecapitalhotel.com. If you prefer a sleeker feel, a new Peabody hotel sits across the street.
The closest and fastest shopping you can do from here is The Heights area around Kavanaugh Boulevard. Beware if you're "junk" antiquing: This is more of a district for designers. Some items are neither antiques nor bargains. But you'll see lots of beautiful things. (Most of the shops on this stretch aren't open Sunday. If you see a must-have, go ahead and buy it.)
Even if you just browse, do stop in Antiquarius to see an amazing array of fine pieces. This grand shop has stood at 3625 Kavanaugh Boulevard for 20 years. And visit Sarah's Antiques and Uniques, one of the neighborhood's newest shops, for estate jewelry, silver, pewter, china, and century-old books.
If you feel like dressing up and spending a lot on dinner, go to Ashley's in The Capital Hotel. The food is good, but I think a bit overpriced for what you get. However, the pampering setting, service, and convenient location might be worth your splurge. Across the street at The Peabody hotel, you can relax in the huge lobby bar with live jazz or a pianist every evening. After live music (which goes till 10 p.m.) and sips, you might want to head to bed early. Tomorrow's a long day of shopping, and you'll need your energy.
Saturday--Scoping It Out
A couple of antiquers told me they don't like to stop for Saturday lunch because they lose too much shopping time. For those that serious, I suggest an early-morning stop at Boulevard Bread Company on North Grant Street to feast on pastries and coffee; then order a lunch to go for later. (Bring along a small ice chest to keep your sandwich or gourmet cheese cold until your shopping break.)
Now, several other antiquers with bigger appetites insisted I work my shopping schedule and map around lunch at the original Cotham's Mercantile and Restaurant in Scott. I loved this option too. About 15 minutes outside of downtown on a country road, this old general store now only sells meals. But a lot of the outdated, fascinating merchandise still hangs on the walls, and a few barnyard animals wander the property at swamp's edge.
Don't miss the restaurant's Hub Cap Hamburger. When it comes to the table, you'll understand the name. There is a newer Cotham's in Little Rock. But I didn't even check it out, because this side trip sounded so fun. Make room for the fried pies and homemade onion rings--mmm, sweet and crispy. Call (501) 961-9284 for hours and definitely for directions.
Okay, it's time to move. While you're out here, you must go to Morris Antiques a few minutes away in Keo. Nine buildings hold 60,000 square feet of merchandise. Again, even if you don't plan to buy, you still should see the large-scale furniture and a few museum-type oddities, such as an old hearse.
For the last mad dash of the day, I'd send you to English Antiques Gallery. But get there well before the 4:30 p.m. closing in order to buy today. (They're not open on Sunday.)
For dinner, try out-of-the-way (though the crowd in the restaurant belies it) Brave New Restaurant. It's a little tough to get there, so call for detailed directions; (501) 663-2677. They keep a smoker on the patio and often have a smoked appetizer on the menu--such as salmon with a mustard sauce and capers. I also lucked into scallops on my visit, and a wonderful white cake with white icing.
Sunday--The Big Finish
Take a lazy morning, rest your feet, and have a big breakfast. Spoil yourself with room service and the Sunday paper. Then pull on those comfy walking shoes. You have a few more antiques shops to hit before you wave goodbye to Little Rock.
Twin City Antique Mall opens earliest at 9 a.m. and carries lots of Depression-era glass and other small collectibles. Very nearby, I-40 Antique Center deceives. You won't believe what all you'll find in this large metal building down a service road off I-40. Owners Leland and Georgiana Gunn say they carry items ranging in price from $20 to $12,000. I spied some pretty antique leather books. This is the kind of chockablock warehouse you can wander for a couple of hours, finding affordable trinkets or big-deal treasures.
For more information: Contact the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau, P.O. Box 3232, Little Rock, AR 72203; (501) 376-4781, 1-800-844-4781, or www.littlerock.com.
This article is from the March 2003 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.