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Feature Story, Arkansas Times

Daily Arkansas news, politics and entertainment. Featuring the state's most trusted blog, dining guides and dining reviews, movie times and more.

Published: Tue, 24 Apr 2018 00:00:01 -0500

Last Build Date: Tue, 24 Apr 2018 07:00:00 -0500

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Fall into some music

Thu, 09 Sep 2010 04:00:00 -0500

From local mainstays (The Moving Front) to divisive megastars (Nickelback), cult favorites (Times New Roman) to bona fide American icons (B.B. King--twice!), here's our rundown of the best live music of the season. What a summer, huh? Tornadoes, egg contaminations, exploding oil rigs and political tensions running almost as high as the record heat which, for whatever reason, has it out for Arkansas. It's got us all ready for the relief that can only come with a change of season. Thankfully, there's a torrent of great music slated for Little Rock, Fayetteville, Conway and the state at large, ranging from local mainstays (The Moving Front) to divisive megastars (Nickelback), cult favorites (Times New Roman) to bona fide American icons (B.B. King — twice!). Here's our rundown of the best of what's to come in the upcoming months. The music season in Little Rock unofficially kicks off in one of the most sacred music venues in the Holy Land of rock that is Little Rock when Vino's celebrates its 25th anniversary with two nights of raucous shows. Locals Underclaire and Andy Warr & His Big Damn Mouth (Sept., 17, Vino's) start off the weekend with a Friday night gig. Saturday, the veterans band together to celebrate when pop-punkers Ashtray Babyhead, Christian death-metal forebears Living Sacrifice, local legends Ho-Hum and many more return to the venue where they got their start (Sept. 18, Vino's). The long-buzzed Matador Records trio Harlem (Sept. 16, Sticky Fingerz) has long been on the brink of indie-rock success, thanks to its accessible twist on mod-influenced garage rock. The Hold Steady (Sept. 23, Revolution), masters of literate guitar rock, have earned an enormous, dedicated following thanks to their wildly successful, wittily anthemic albums about bar-hopping, John Berryman and redemption. The sound lies somewhere between genre-defining '80s college staples The Replacements and the cryptic yelp of The Fall. The next night brings B.R.M.C., or Black Rebel Motorcycle Club (Sept. 24, Revolution), to the same space. Part of the swaggering "garage rock revival" of the early-aughts, the trio combines a sinister brand of pedal-heavy psychedelia with a rough-edged rock sound that's appreciated stateside, but feverishly adored across the pond. The same night, The Village, a hardcore-emo/metal venue on University, takes a turn for the rural with Robert Earl Keen (Sept. 24, The Village), the duke of Texas country who's influenced virtually every twangy, acoustic singer/songwriter to follow in his wake. Another country music icon, the child-star done good LeeAnn Rimes (Sept. 26, UCA, Conway), is set to perform an afternoon acoustic set as part of the University of Central Arkansas's Public Appearances series. He's still rockin'. The most recognizable man in blues, B.B. King (Sept. 23, Walton Arts Center, Fayetteville) brings his famous tenor, not to mention the Lucille, an icon unto herself, to the hills of Northwest Arkansas. Red Dirt country specialist Stoney LaRue (Sept. 24, George's Majestic Lounge, Fayetteville) rolls in the next day and long-tenured roots-rock act The Black Crowes (Arkansas Music Pavilion, Oct. 2) ends the AMP 2010 Summer concert series soon after. Since releasing a self-titled debut in 2007, The Moving Front (Sept. 25, White Water Tavern) has maintained an enviable status around town thanks to its quick, politically-charged blasts of Brit-tinged post-punk. This show marks the release of the outfit's long-awaited sophomore album, "Everyday Dissonance." Long in the making, loud in the buzzing, Brasher & Co. are joined by a lineup of guest locals including Velvet Kente mastermind joshua. Critically adored lo-fi trio Times New Viking (Sept. 28, White Water Tavern) make the jump from house parties to proper venue with this, its first show in Little Rock. Michael Franti and Spearhead (Oct. 1, The Village) is the festival-hopping unconventional jam band that infuses its jazzy noodling with hip-hop, funk and folk and is always a sure bet to brin[...]

Health law gains acceptance in Arkansas

Thu, 08 Jul 2010 04:00:00 -0500

There's lot to like, including cash infusion for state. Maybe only because it has been six months since the last TV commercials and newspaper ads brandished Frank Luntz's poll-tested slogan "government takeover of health care" national health insurance is enjoying a modest rebound. Even in Arkansas, where a massive ad blitz to influence Arkansas's pivotal congressional delegation turned the popular idea of universal health insurance into an abomination, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 is gaining acceptance, sometimes verging on enthusiasm. Arkansas hospitals look forward to its full implementation in four years, when much of their charitable write-offs and cost shifting will end. The medical profession, which once viewed any move toward expanded coverage as socialism and a loss of control over medical decisions, largely favors the new law. The state government, which must administer big parts of the law, has plunged into the details since its enactment in March and found much that it welcomes, including a huge infusion of cash into the Arkansas economy and even some relief for the severely stressed state budget. Far from bankrupting the state when Medicaid is expanded to cover poor adults in 2014, as some state officials worried during the furious final deliberations over the bill in the late winter, the law should ease state budget problems until late in the decade, when the state will begin to kick in a small match for billions of dollars in federal assistance for medical treatment and hospital care for low-income adults. Meantime, under an unpublicized provision of the new law, the federal government will pick up nearly the full cost of the original ARKids First, the expanded government-insurance program for children that Gov. Mike Huckabee always proclaimed to be his proudest achievement. Mike Beebe, a state senator in 1997, sponsored the bill that expanded government coverage for children of low-income families. Governor Beebe said immediately after the Affordable Care Act's passage that he probably would have voted against it had he been in Congress because he feared that it could increase demands on a state budget that was already stressed. He wouldn't say the other day whether he has changed his mind — "water under the bridge," he said — but he acknowledged that the law could produce some dividends for the state government as well as the public. He still is concerned that a sharply expanded Medicaid program will put a significant burden on the state, even if it is eight or nine years away. "It would be easy for me to say that it will be fine until 2017 or later since I won't be here," Beebe said. "I may not be here next January and for sure I won't be here in 2017. But I have a responsibility to look at the impact things will have long after I leave." "To be fair," he continued, "the counter argument is that all that federal assistance for health services will produce additional tax revenues because of the increased income for providers." A study of the Medicaid provisions last month concluded that more than $12 billion could be pumped into Arkansas's health-care system in the six years after the law's major provisions are implemented. If the Affordable Care Act succeeds in insuring nearly everyone — Arkansas is going to administer it better than Washington or anyone else in the country, Beebe promised — then it should reduce uncompensated care and the shifting of costs for indigent care to insured and paying customers and the taxpayers. When nearly everyone is insured, through Medicaid, one of the other government insurance programs or private insurance, unreimbursed care at hospitals and other providers should be curtailed and that will benefit both state government and people who are currently insured because those costs will not be passed along to them. "I chaired a hospital board for 10 years," Beebe said. "I know what uncompensated care does. I know they say they don't shift costs[...]

Camden comeback slowed

Thu, 01 Jul 2010 04:00:00 -0500

Things have not gone well for Camden in recent years — for most of South Arkansas, really — but they seemed to be looking up last summer. Things have not gone well for Camden in recent years — for most of South Arkansas, really — but they seemed to be looking up last summer. State and federal officials turned out for a ground-breaking ceremony for a new plant, in a town that has grown more accustomed to plant closings. The new plant possessed symbolic significance too, in that it would be on the old International Paper Company property. From 1927 until it closed in 2000, the IP paper mill was a major employer in Camden. More than a thousand people lost their jobs when the mill shut down. (Also shut down was the plant's strong odor, but Camden residents never noticed the smell anyway. Visitors did.) The new plant would also be part of the fashionable "green" movement, intended to help 21st century America move away from foreign and dirty sources of energy, into the clean-energy uplands. Here was industrial development that was good for the economy and good for the environment. Cheering was prevalent. No one was happier or prouder last Aug. 13 than Camden Mayor Chris Claybaker. "I'm the one that first talked with Phoenix [Renewable Energy] and convinced them they should locate on this old IP site," Claybaker said in a recent interview. "We felt something like this would help turn us around — not a panacea but a good step in the right direction." A year later, all stepping has ceased. There's been no construction on the proposed new plant — June 4 was a projected starting date that passed unobserved — and Phoenix has yet to obtain the final approval it seeks from state environmental-quality officials under the "brownfield" program. That final approval won't be given until some rather expensive work has been done to remove contaminants left over from the paper mill operations. Presumably, the money would have to come from Phoenix or from the Camden Area Industrial Development Corp., which now owns the IP property and is leasing it to Phoenix. Even worse, the state securities commissioner determined that Phoenix was selling stock in violation of state law and ordered it to stop. Investigation is continuing. And, certain information about Phoenix executives that might have aroused suspicion had it been known earlier has now come to light. Skepticism is growing that the Phoenix plant will ever become operational, much less be the boon that was hoped for. The situation has become a "nightmare," Claybaker told the Arkansas Times, before he stopped returning our phone calls. Some 400 people were on hand at the groundbreaking Aug. 13, 2009, according to a news release. They'd been told that Phoenix would build a $180 million wood-pellet plant on 44 acres of the old IP property, and that the pellets would be shipped to Europe where "cap-and-trade" laws forced the burning of pellets instead of coal to generate electricity. The plant would employ up to 60 people, it was said, and create 450 more jobs in timber, transportation and other industries that would serve the plant. Among the officials who spoke at the ceremony were U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor and U.S. Rep. Mike Ross, who is a vocal supporter of biomass, such as wood pellets. Pryor, whose family has deep roots in Camden, said that South Arkansas needed clean-energy jobs. Representatives of environmental groups — the Sierra Club, the Audubon Society — were on hand, some waving "Clean Energy" signs. Gov. Mike Beebe sent a representative to the event, as did U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln, who also issued a statement from Washington: "Phoenix Renewable Energy is poised to help make our state a leader in renewable energy production." (Spokesmen for Pryor, Lincoln, Ross and Beebe say they were invited by Mayor Claybaker and others, and that they routinely attend or comment on industrial groundbreakings.) A featured speaker at the ceremony was Sam L. [...]

True soul

Thu, 01 Jul 2010 04:00:00 -0500

It doesn't get more home-style than Mr. Bell's Soul Food. There are homey restaurants. And then there's Mr. Bell's Soul Food Restaurant in Rose City. Eating at the recent Pine Bluff transplant feels like you're in the back room of the Bells' house. Hand-written signs advertising "Frog Legs" and "Cheesecake" share wall space with paintings of sailboats and angels in the small strip-mall storefront. Above the buffet hangs a glossy of the Original Blind Boys of Mississippi. More often than not, the Bells, Leon and Loretha, are minding the restaurant alone. Mr. Bell cooks, talks on the phone, greets familiar faces and repairs the TV (last time we were in, Quincy Jones' "Sanford and Son" theme announced that he'd successfully gotten it working). Mrs. Bell smiles just about unceasingly, chatters amiably, serves from a buffet steam table, pours drinks, waits on tables and works the cash register. Which means that it doesn't take much to derail the efficiency of the place. A long line, a big takeout order, a phone call — all can spell a delay in service at the counter and table. But take a breath, good things come to those that wait. Like baked chicken, breaded and juicy. Or fried pork chops, deliciously smothered in thick brown gravy. Or a smothered, surprisingly tender turkey leg, covered in the same gravy (it's good on just about everything). Or slow-cooked green beans, a lighter shade of green than usual because of all the butter. Or cabbage, richly flavored, we're guessing, with the not-so-secret ingredients of soul food — butter, sugar and some sort of pig parts. Or dessert-quality candy yams. Or, perhaps the jewel of the restaurant, the actual desserts: decadent white coconut cake ($2.99) topped with an inch of icing; moist, pink strawberry cake ($2.49), buttery peach cobbler ($2.99 for 8 oz., $5.89 for 16 oz.). Like most of its ilk, Mr. Bell's operates with a rotating daily buffet. For lunch, a meat and two veggies and a roll or hot water cornbread (both of which oddly come in plastic sandwich bags) cost $6.99. Or, for $10.99 on weekdays or $11.99 on Sunday, from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m., you can do all-you-can-eat. But you'll have to abide by 10 House Rules, printed on a large poster hanging on the wall, sensible all. For instance, "No. 2 Advance payment must be made. No. 3 Only take what you can eat, and please eat what you take ... No. 7 No Doggy Bags." Of course, it would take a special appetite to be able to eat more than the standard meat and two and a dessert. And we wouldn't be surprised to learn that our ability to put all that away makes ours a special one. Portions are heaping. Mrs. Bell, like all good buffet minders, always digs deep into the compartments in her steam table to pull out the best of her fixin's, the meatiest beef tips, the gooiest section of mac and cheese. More than most popular down-home joints around Central Arkansas, Mr. Bell's also serves up true soul food, just about any offal you'd want: chitterlings ("chitterlings every day," the sign outside brags), chicken gizzards, pigs' feet, turkey necks. None were available on the daily buffet when we stopped in, and we didn't feel like waiting around for them to be cooked to order. A reason to return. Be warned: The Bells aren't lying with the "items subject to change" note on the takeaway buffet schedule, though every time we stopped in, the ever-reliable chicken and pork chops were on the menu. And what's life without a little variety? Mr. Bell's Soul Food 4506 Lynch Drive North Little Rock 945-9000 Quick bite Don't miss Mr. Bell's Arnold Palmer: half tea, half lemonade ($.99). A refill will cost you $.59, which seems a bit trifling, but don't let it hold you back. Nothing's been more refreshing in this Seventh Layer of Hell we've been living in lately. Hours 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, 12 p.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday. Other info Credit cards accepted. No alcohol. [...]

Sex: A cottage industry

Thu, 24 Jun 2010 04:00:00 -0500

That's the allegation in Cabot, though the case has some wrinkles. On May 12, the Lonoke County sheriff's office arrested two women and one man, all charged with prostitution or the solicitation thereof, in the sleepy, prosperous Greystone neighborhood of Cabot. The bust grabbed quick headlines. Two women allegedly running an Internet-advertised prostitution business in an unlikely setting was a natural. But questions linger about how law enforcement officials finally made a case to try to stop it. The final chapter isn't written. Charges are pending, defendants have lawyers prepared to fight them and the outcome may not be as open and shut as many had assumed. The basics, from a Lonoke County sheriff's news release, are simple enough. Deputies served a search warrant at 105 Ridgecrest Square in the Greystone subdivision. Arrested there were 33-year-old A.E. Samontry and 40-year-old Pornpiemon Phouangmany, U.S. citizens of Laotian descent. A 46-year-old North Little Rock man, Jerry Richard, was arrested for patronizing a prostitute. The investigation began because of complaints from neighbors about the amount of traffic in the neighborhood. The suspects were quickly released on bond. The offenses are misdemeanors, with relatively minor penalties. Further reporting raised interesting angles in the case. For one, the man charged with solicitation does not fit the typical john-prostitute profile. He's the former husband of one of the women. The setting has media appeal. Greystone is a quiet slice of suburbia on Cabot's northwest side, off Highway 5. It's full of new brick homes and borders a country club with a lush golf course. Lawns are manicured, driveways are swept and little bicycles with pink tassels hanging from the handlebars lie on their sides in front yards along the street. It is a far cry from the seamy "strolls" of big cities where prostitutes gather. (Think the gritty portions of Roosevelt Road in Little Rock, a historic hotspot for the flesh trade.) "I've been with the sheriff's office for 16 years and this is the first prostitution case that I've worked, I guess you could say," says Lt. Jim Kulesa with the sheriff's office. "It was a surprise and the media and public response to it has been, well, I guess everybody thought it was kind of funny. It's not something you see every day." The women who were arrested have said they were running a massage business out of their home. They do not appear on the state list of licensed massage therapists. The women have entered not guilty pleas. A sign that once sat on the side of Highway 5 advertising the business has been taken down. Advertisements were also placed on the site, one of many Internet site like Craigslist where classifieds and personal ads can be placed, but the Cabot ads are no longer there. There remain, however, many other suggestive ads from women in Arkansas offering massage and other intimate services. (The Arkansas Times has a link to classifieds in many categories, but not sexually related ads.) Kevin Blakely lived next door and rented the house to the two women for two years. He said it's possible the women could have been running a legitimate business, but the circumstantial evidence suggested otherwise. "Until somebody can prove that they were doing something illegal it's just hearsay," Blakely says. "As we started to really pay attention, because of the frequency of the cars, your mind starts to wonder if it's drugs or what it could be. But after three or four months of watching them you're pretty sure what's going on, because it's always one male in the vehicle and he's always there for 45 minutes or an hour. So after awhile you think about it and you only come to the one conclusion. I think the police feel they have enough evidence." The Lonoke County case wasn't like most prostitution cases in which an officer goes undercover and w[...]

'Every day was a Tuesday'

Thu, 17 Jun 2010 04:00:00 -0500

A visit to the Arkansas State Tuberculosis Sanatorium, a place built on The White Plague. The buildings are mostly abandoned now. Thank God. Thank God. The long roof of the nurse's dormitory is pocked with gaping holes. The old dairy barns and pig barns that fed the pale multitudes have long since fallen into ruin. The main hospital — the Nyberg Building, a tenth of a mile long, six stories high; an Art Deco colossus capable of housing over a thousand souls — has been largely given over to dust and the occasional pigeon. There is a sadness there. It's palpable. It makes you believe crackpot theories about how buildings become batteries, charged with misery. In the upper floors of the Nyberg — empty room stacked upon empty room — the sorrow cooks out of the walls like dark heat. There is a constant feeling there: that the doorways are filled with eyes. One hundred years ago this year, the Arkansas State Tuberculosis Sanatorium near the sleepy hamlet of Booneville began accepting patients. The place eventually grew into a self-contained city, with its own farms and fire station, orchards and laundry, school and newspaper. It was a place where those with the deadly and contagious disease could be segregated and — to the extent which they could before the sacrament of antibiotics were visited on us all — treated. In a very real sense, it was built to be a place where those who lived there never had to leave. Uncounted thousands of them never did. On Sept. 18, the city will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the sanatorium by opening a new museum full of artifacts from there. For Logan County, the sanatorium was a place of community prosperity — a recession-proof industry for over 60 years. For the few remaining old timers who lived there as patients, however, it's a place of conflicted memories. Even now, Booneville is hard to get to, which is probably why it was selected as the site for the sanatorium in the first place. Back before the interstates, it was a long, quiet, dusty drive to the sanatorium from little towns all over Arkansas. Today, you leave I-40 at Ozark and drive south for another 45 minutes, down a winding two-laner that descends through fields and forest land. The Sanatorium — still called The Hill by locals — is on the outskirts of town. You see the water towers first, then the tall smokestack. A switchback road brings you to the main gate. Soon enough, the massive, blonde-brick Nyberg Building looms out of the pines. Now the site of the Booneville Human Development Center, which houses developmentally disabled adults, the sanatorium grounds are a faded ghost of their former self, with only a few of the buildings occupied and used today. Act 378, which approved the establishment of an Arkansas State TB sanatorium, was signed by Gov. George Donaghey in the spring of 1909 and allotted $50,000 for building the sanatorium and another $30,000 for upkeep. The city of Booneville, then a farming community in Logan County, offered to donate 970 acres on nearby Pott's Ridge for the project, and the decision was made to locate the sanatorium there. Though the original group of buildings at the sanatorium was modest, the compound grew with the disease. In 1913, the state appropriated funds for a 24-bed hospital, and the next 30 years saw construction rarely stop on The Hill, including a state of the art dairy with electric milking machines, employee cottages, a guinea pig nursery to supply research and testing animals for the hospital, a water treatment facility and housing for children with TB paid for by the Masonic Lodge. By the late 1930s, with tuberculosis reaching epidemic proportions and no cure or preventative in sight, it was clear that a much larger facility was needed. State Sen. Leo F. Nyberg of Helena — a TB sufferer who would eventually die at the sanatorium — worked to pass fun[...]

Film feast

Thu, 03 Jun 2010 04:00:00 -0500

(image) With more movies than ever before and a new $10,000 prize, the Little Rock Film Fest has a new clear direction.

The Little Rock Film Festival has, in past years, framed itself as "a filmmaker's festival," "a community experience" and an "event" augmented by parties and special guests that keep the city atwitter. It's still all those things, according to festival director Jack Lofton, but in its fourth year, it's landed on a motto that seems to have staying power: "an international festival with the Southern experience."

The new focus is already on display. On Wednesday, the five-day festival kicked off with a screening of "Winter's Bone," the Ozarks-set Sundance Grand Jury winner that's competing for the LRFF's new Best Southern film award, a $10,000 prize sponsored by the Oxford American. Pair that award with what Lofton describes as the festival's "Southern hospitality" — that it pays for filmmakers' travel and accommodations and hosts nightly parties for them with free food and booze, largesse not usually extended by a festival of its size — and there you go, the Southern experience.

The "international" side of the formula remains unchanged from years past. The programming remains thrillingly diverse, with everything from a documentary about Chinese cab drivers to an Arkansas-made narrative short about a crazed hot sauce magnate among the line-up. Some 100 films will screen today through Sunday (that's up from 85 last year) at venues throughout Little Rock, mostly at Riverdale 10 and the Clinton School (see page 13). They'll be accompanied, more often than not, by their filmmakers. Near 60 will travel from far and wide to join 40 or so from Arkansas. There'll be panel discussions and workshops and most screenings will be followed by questions and answer sessions.

Plus, there's a gang of special events. Among the highlights: Thursday, the annual Movies in the Park series hosts a special free sundown screening of "O Brother, Where Art Thou" at Dickey-Stephens Park. On Friday at 10:30 p.m., there's a late night river cruise on the Arkansas Queen, where Bear Colony, Chase Pagan, Stella Fancy and DJ Cameron Holifield will perform. "Project Runway's" Anthony Williams hosts a fashion show at the Peabody on Saturday at 9:30 p.m.; DJ Cameron Holifield provides the soundtrack. Also on Saturday, the Arkansas Music Video Competition returns to Revolution at 9 p.m., with performances by Ace Spade and the Whores of Babylon, Brian Frazier, Michael Witham, Floor Plan, The Winston Family Orchestra and DJ/VJ g-force. The Arkansas Times-sponsored gala moves to Sunday this year. Awards will be presented there at 5:30 p.m. All of the parties require either a ticket or a party pass, which also affords access to all films. The party pass does not, however, provide entry to the gala, which costs $75.

The LRFF website,, offers a handy interactive feature that lets you plan your schedule. You'll need the help. This year's lineup is easily the festival's best.

Dinner specials

Thu, 11 Feb 2010 23:00:00 -0600

The year 2009 didn’t see a remarkable boom in restaurants. But Arkansas still managed to welcome some bright additions to its dining scene and old favorites continued to satisfy. The year 2009 didn't see a remarkable boom in restaurants. But Arkansas still managed to welcome some bright additions to its dining scene and old favorites continued to satisfy. You'll see both old and new in this year's results in the Arkansas Times Readers Choice contest to select the best restaurants in Arkansas. Ballots were distributed in our weekly paper and voting also was conducted on-line. As ever, we tried to weed out blatant efforts to stuff the ballot box. Enough said. On to the results. OVERALL LITTLE ROCK Brave New Restaurant RUNNERS-UP: Ashley's, Lulav, Ya Ya's, Trio's AROUND ARKANSAS Mike's Place of Conway RUNNERS-UP: James at the Mill of Johnson, Bordino's of Fayetteville, Michelangelo's of Conway NEW LITTLE ROCK Capi's RUNNERS-UP: The House, Maddie's, Union AROUND ARKANSAS Sassy's Red House of Fayetteville RUNNERS-UP: Casa Colina Mexican Grill and Cantina and the Garden Bistro, both of Eureka Springs ITALIAN LITTLE ROCK Bruno's RUNNERS-UP: Ristorante Capeo, Prego, The Villa AROUND ARKANSAS Ermilio's of Eurkea Springs RUNNERS-UP: Michelangelo's of Conway, Pesto Cafe and Bordino's of Fayetteville CHINESE LITTLE ROCK Fantastic China RUNNERS-UP: Fu Lin, Pei Wei, Chi's AROUND ARKANSAS Jade China of Conway RUNNERS-UP: PF Chang's of Rogers, Hunan Manor of Fayetteville, Lucky Dragon of Berryville JAPANESE LITTLE ROCK Sushi Cafe RUNNERS-UP: Shogun, Mount Fuji, Sekisui AROUND ARKANSAS Fuji Restaurant of Springdale RUNNERS-UP: Shogun of Fayetteville, Kobe of Rogers, Wasabi of Fayetteville MEXICAN LITTLE ROCK Senor Tequila RUNNERS-UP: La Hacienda, Casa Manana, El Porton AROUND ARKANSAS La Huerta of Conway RUNNERS-UP: La Hacienda of Hot Springs, Casa Colina of Eureka Springs, Los Amigos of Conway FUN LITTLE ROCK Purple Cow RUNNERS-UP: Playtime Pizza, Flying Fish, Cajun's Wharf AROUND ARKANSAS Sparky's Roadhouse of Eureka Springs RUNNERS-UP: Mike's Place of Conway, Larry's Pizza of Bryant, Buffalo Wild Wings of Hot Springs OTHER ETHNIC LITTLE ROCK Taziki's RUNNERS-UP: Star of India, Layla's, Lilly's Dim Sum,Then Some AROUND ARKANSAS Taste of Thai of Fayetteville RUNNERS-UP: Thep Thai of Fayetteville, New Delhi of Eureka Springs, Rolando's of Hot Springs BAKERY LITTLE ROCK Community Bakery RUNNERS-UP: Boulevard Bread, Silvek's, Old Mill AROUND ARKANSAS Ed's Bakery of Conway RUNNERS-UP: Rick's Bakery of Fayetteville, Little Bread Company of Fayetteville, Ambrosia of Hot Springs PIZZA LITTLE ROCK Damgoode Pies RUNNERS-UP: U.S. Pizza, ZaZa, Pizza Cafe AROUND ARKANSAS Larry's of Bryant RUNNERS-UP: Tim's of Fayetteville, Chelsea's Corner Cafe of Eureka Springs and Old Chicago of Conway BARBECUE LITTLE ROCK Whole Hog Cafe RUNNERS-UP: Sims, Corky's, Chip's AROUND ARKANSAS McClard's RUNNERS-UP: Penguin Ed's of Fayetteville, Craig's of DeValls Bluff, Smoke House of Heber Springs BREAKFAST LITTLE ROCK Ozark Mountain Country Restaurant RUNNERS-UP: Satellite Cafe, IHOP, Mimi's AROUND ARKANSAS Stoby's of Conway RUNNERS-UP: Common Grounds of Fayetteville, Mud Street Cafe of Eureka Springs, Pancake Shop of Hot Springs CATFISH LITTLE ROCK Flying Fish RUNNERS-UP: Grampa's, Cock of the Walk, Catfish City AROUND ARKANSAS Catfish Hole of Fayetteville RUNNERS-UP: Fish House of Conway, Dondie's of Des Arc FRIED CHICKEN LITTLE ROCK Popeye's RUNNERS-UP: Kitchen Express, Capital Hotel Bar, Bobby's Country Cookin' AROUND ARKANSAS AQ Chicken House of Springdale RUNNERS-UP: Holly's of Conway, Momma Dean's Soul Food Kitchen of Fayetteville DELI/GOURMET SHOP LITTLE ROCK Boulevard Bread RUNNERS-UP: Jason's Deli, Diane's, F[...]

A dream of light rail for Northwest Arkansas

Thu, 11 Feb 2010 23:00:00 -0600

A recent study led by the University of Arkansas Center for Community Development found that Northwest Arkansas is a strong candidate for light rail. From Spokane to Orlando cities throughout the country are developing passenger light rail. There are at least 30 existing systems and another 40 or so on the boards. A recent study led by the University of Arkansas Center for Community Development found that Northwest Arkansas is a strong candidate for light rail. The study, which included work by University of Arkansas and Washington University at St. Louis architecture students and design professionals from Minnesota and California, has won two major national design awards. The study is an “advocacy document” says UACDC director Stephen Luoni. “Were pushing the conversation to get to that level of support to get to a feasibility study.” Like the rest of the world, Arkansas is making a dramatic shift toward urbanization. The population of Northwest Arkansas is estimated to grow from its current 300,000 to 1 million by 2050. Current urban planning models are increasingly focused on reducing sprawl through transit-orient development. That means compact, pedestrian-oriented neighborhoods centered on transit hubs. Northwest Arkansas provides important characteristics for light rail. Rail systems are most efficient when they are arranged in a linear configuration rather than in amoebic conglomerations. The string of merging cities from Fayetteville to Bentonville originally grew up around rail service — two-thirds of the population lives within one mile of the main rail line. As much as 66 percent of the cost of building a new light rail system is used in acquiring the property. Most of this right of way already exists in Northwest Arkansas and is used lightly by the Arkansas Missouri freight line. The service laid out in the study runs from the Drake Field airport south of Fayetteville, up through the chain of towns to Bentonville then veers off to XNA airport. It connects higher education facilities U of A and NWA Community College, major shopping centers, and major employers such as Tyson and Wal-Mart. But will Arkies ride? Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission surveys show that current public interest in developing light rail is mixed. The 2030 Transportation Plan informal survey showed 65 percent approved of developing light rail but only 5 percent saw themselves using light rail twice a week or more. According to the UACDC, that's always the case. Once people find they can work, read or relax on the way to their jobs and they can count on getting to the airport or an event on time with no parking worries, train ridership increases. Light rail is flourishing in some unlikely places. Dallas, for example. If Americans love their highways and their cars then Texans love them on steroids. It would seem like a stretch to get many cowboy boots to walk onto a light rail car. Voters in Dallas at first balked at measures to get rail started. But the city eventually found funding for a pilot project. Currently 65,000 people ride the DART trains every workday and the numbers continue to increase — as does expansion of the system. Then there's the question of development. “Dallas has had $10 billion of investment around [light rail] stops,” Luoni says, “and it's mixed use, walkable and compact.” There are alternatives to rail. Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), which utilizes train-like buses on dedicated lanes, has been successful in cities from the environmental poster child Curitiba, Brazil to Eugene, Oregon. “BRT doesn't make sense here” Luoni asserts “There are large infrastructure costs — it only works if you have the right of way and it's not as energy efficient.” But bus lines can grow as a co[...]

Diners, drive-ins and dives

Thu, 11 Feb 2010 00:00:00 -0600

In what’s become an annual tradition in the Best Restaurants issue, we asked for nominations for the best unheralded dining in Arkansas. And we were flooded with responses. In what's become an annual tradition in the Best Restaurants issue, we once again turned to our readers for help. On our Eat Arkansas blog, we asked for nominations for the best unheralded dining in Arkansas. And we were flooded with responses. Below, with help from friends and regular contributors, we present a crowd-sourced take on “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” — a collection of little known gems worth seeking out. Keep the finds coming at Eat Arkansas ( BJ'S MARKET CAFE Mammoth country helpings. Great pies. 45 Market Plaza, NLR. 945-8884. — Ernest Dumas BIG RED DRIVE-IN Let others enjoy CJ's Butcher Boy Burgers and the world-famous Feltner's Whatta-Burger. Locals will head to Big Red for burgers, fried chicken and big, messy banana splits. Some pass up on the decent burgers for the Chuckwagon sandwich, a chicken fried steak treated like a burger. Can't go wrong with the fried catfish, though, served up hot in a basket with fries. 1520 S. Arkansas, Russellville. 479-968-1960. — Kat Robinson BULLDOG RESTAURANT During strawberry and peach seasons, there's nothing better than a milkshake from the Bulldog. So thick with fruit, sometimes a straw won't work. 3614 Hwy. 367 N., Bald Knob. 501-724-5195. — Caroline Millar DONALDSON COUNTRY STORE Made to order when you order it, good fat burgers and deli sandwiches, too. Get a basket. And dip yourself a pickle or two while you're at it. Front Street, two blocks east of Hwy. 67 in Donaldson. 870-382-2219. — Kat Robinson ED WALKER'S The sign will tell you to order up a French dip sandwich. That's not a bad idea, but it's not all you'll find on the menu. Flash your lights for service to order, and choose some Texas toothpicks (fried onion and jalapeno straws) or a chile relleno. But if you choose the Giant Hamburger ($22.99) you'd better be driving a van. That's five pounds of beef on a custom-made bun, served up with a generous portion of French fries and a platter of tomatoes, onions, pickles and lettuce. Impressive, tasty and ample enough to feed a family reunion. If you can manage dessert, a slice of homemade cake or strawberry shortcake in a chilled glass should set you up fine. The fact that Ed Walker's is the last restaurant in the country that has car hop service for beer deserves mention. 1500 Towson Lane, Fort Smith. 479-782-3352. — Kat Robinson FATIGA'S Hidden in a strip mall shopping center a half mile from the Oklahoma border, Fatiga's Sub Station is a Yankee-sandwich mecca in the unlikeliest of places: Siloam Springs. While the menu has expanded to pizzas and other items in the past decade, Fatiga's strength — and what makes it one of the truly best eating experiences in Arkansas — is its selection of Italian subs. The gold standard is the capicola, roast beef and cheese, but be sure to try to the red Reuben, too. Both are worthy of a pilgrimage to Siloam Springs, but it's also an easy detour on any trip to or from Fayetteville. 1004 S. Mount Olive St., Siloam Springs. 479-524-6277. — Jason Weinheimer GIBBS GROCERY & HUNTERS' OUTPOST You won't find a busier establishment at six in the morning on the first day of hunting season. The popular gas station/restaurant/hunting supply store hugs the west side of Highway 167 south of Sheridan. The breakfast crowd goes for eggs to order or, if in a rush, a Saran-wrapped biscuit with sausage or ham and egg and maybe even cheese inside. For lunch, it's a choice of a rather decent burger, deli sandwich or po' boy, or a good old-fashioned homemade pimento cheese [...]

On the trail of the chili dog

Thu, 11 Feb 2010 00:00:00 -0600

Be aware of slaw and beans. During the January cold spell, some people who've worked in downtown Little Rock for many years started reminiscing about the legendary D and D, a cafe on Main Street that was best-known for its chili dog, although you could get the chili on anything you wanted — spaghetti, burgers, fries, probably salads and desserts. On cold days, and especially cold, snowy days, it seemed like everybody who worked downtown ate lunch at D and D. The owner of D and D was murdered — by a former employee, not a dissatisfied customer — in 2002, and the restaurant died not after that. Can one still find a good chili dog in Little Rock, our geezers wondered? Research ensued. The answer is yes, there are good chili dogs and they're not hard to find. Maybe not as good as D and D's — in our memory, that was a chili dog for the gods — but quite tasty. We'll admit we didn't go to every chili dog emporium in Pulaski County — even our chili-dog appetite is sometimes sated — so it's possible we missed the best of all. But we found quite nice ones, some of them downtown, within blocks of the old D and D site. At 201 E. Markham St., The Hop is on the first floor of a building that houses the Arkansas Times on the second floor. But we judged on quality, not proximity. “I will put it up against any chili dog in town,” says Iris Isgrig, a co-owner of The Hop. “You can't beat a good Nathan's dog.” The Hop uses all-beef, Nathan's wieners, and its own beanless chili. (The presence or absence of beans is a touchy subject, a deal-breaker for some aficionados. Slaw is regarded much the same way.) The available add-ons include mustard, cheese, slaw, relish, onions and peppers. One reviewer was not overwhelmed by the first c-dog he ate at The Hop, but he figured out why. Relish always belongs on a regular hot dog, but never on a chili dog. Our man made the deletion, and it's been smooth sailing since. The Hop's dog is the classic foot-long, incidentally. Some places use a standard-length bun. If there's such a thing as an upscale chili-dog vendor, Dave's Place might be it. Also downtown at 210 Center St., Dave's is a semi-refined sandwich, soup and salad shop. Owner and Chef Dave Williams doesn't prepare the chili dog every day; it depends on his mood. (And it's never available in the summer.) When he's in the mood, he puts beans in his chili, which is also heavy on spices and light on water. He uses all-beef dogs, toasts the buns and omits mustard and slaw. “Some people don't like mustard. I used to put slaw on every once in a while, but nobody wanted it.” The nearby Downtown Deli does nice work with mustard, and Fritos are available. Fritos are the perfect accompaniment to a chili dog, and we downgrade places that don't stock them. Potato chips have their uses, but they don't go with chili dogs. We solicited recommendations for c-dogs, and we probably got more for the Buffalo Grill's than any. We went to the Grill at 1611 Rebsamen Park Road. The no-beaners would have been outraged again. (We may as well face up to it: They're wrong.) “We make chili with beans,” manager Brooks Browning said. “That recipe has been here since the beginning of the restaurant in the early '80s, almost as long as I've been alive.” And the chili dog is one of the most popular items on the Buffalo Grill menu. The Times reviewer did have the kind of experience that has turned some against beany chili, however. A bean fell from the fork and left its mark down the front of his white shirt. It was worth it, though a gentlemen wearing an expensive tie should probably stuff his neckwear inside his shirt before digging in. Some people like jalapenos on their chili dog, including Govern[...]

Quite a haul

Thu, 11 Feb 2010 00:00:00 -0600

It took us three casts to catch a seat at the Bonefish Grill. Was it worth the effort? Sure. We had to see what all the fuss was about. It took us three casts to catch a seat at the Bonefish Grill. The first time, we cavalierly waited until Saturday afternoon to call for a reservation that evening; none were to be had until after 9 p.m. Then we cavalierly drove out on a Tuesday night thinking we'd be safe. Nope. An hour, maybe an hour and 20 minutes, wait. So we decided on our third try not to be cavalier and call a couple of days ahead. The only reservation we could get was for 4:45 p.m. And you know what? The place was packed, the spinning front door emptying a non-stop stream of folks into the bar. They never quit coming, even through an hour-long downpour that started about 5:30 p.m. You'd think Bonefish was the only restaurant in town. Was it worth the effort? Sure. We had to see what all the fuss was about. Our waitress, looking competent in a white chef's coat, asked us if we wanted the menu presented, and we said yes indeed. We paid special attention to her descriptions of the fish, of course: salmon, grouper, mahi mahi, Chilean sea bass … Chilean sea bass? Wait a minute. Isn't Chilean sea bass on the no-no list? The fish — also known as the Patagonian toothfish, though never on menus for obvious reasons — has long been on Seafood Watch's avoid list. Seafood Watch (of the Monterey Bay Aquarium) says those who would choose (or serve) a sustainable food should nix Chilean seabass for several reasons: It's badly overfished, most served in the U.S. has been caught illegally, and the method of capture — with bottom longlines — drowns thousands of seabirds, including the endangered albatross. Still, Chilean sea bass is on most every menu in town where fish is served, so why should Bonefish Grill be any different? Indeed, the waitress said, it's the most-ordered fish on the menu. Perhaps it should be different because Bonefish makes such a big deal on its website about its dedication to “responsible” fishing. It touts its “partnership” with the Ocean Trust and the OSI Seafood Advisory Council, both of which “help us employ best practices.” That sounds like they've got some scientific support, until you do a little research and discover that OSI is the parent company of Bonefish Grill (Outback Steakhouse was its first business, hence the initials) and the Ocean Trust is apparently a one-man non-profit outfit created by the company. (On the positive side, the Ocean Trust has awarded grants to projects to restore Ridley's Sea Turtle, mangrove reserves and flounder stock. A gesture perhaps, but who'd turn it down?) The publicity company for OSI declined comment, except to say a new menu is in the making. None of this is particularly startling, of course. Bonefish Grill is a money-making proposition — with $2 million in sales last year, it was the 26th highest-ranked restaurant in Little Rock — not a conservation outfit. In the name of research (and we confess that we enjoyed having a reason to sacrifice our virtue), we ordered the grouper (another no-no), the Atlantic farm-raised salmon (also a no-no) and mahi mahi (OK). One of us had crab cakes as well, and as long as they weren't made from imported King Crab, one can order them without compromising one's commitment to eating sustainably. All were delicious if not unique, thanks in part to a nice mango salsa, delicious jasmine rice and haricots verts (French green beans), the salmon (served on a plank) especially so. There was a tiny bit of a wait, but the company was good and so were the drinks (a well-made Cosmopolitan and a glass of dry Riesling, both generous). W[...]

Don't forget the bar

Thu, 11 Feb 2010 00:00:00 -0600

Arriving early at Theo’s is part of the experience, because that way you can get at least one drink in the cozy cocktail lounge before sitting down to dinner. We did just that, arriving early for our 7 p.m. reservation so we could enjoy a pinot noir and peruse the menu. Arriving early at Theo's is part of the experience, because that way you can get at least one drink in the cozy cocktail lounge before sitting down to dinner. We did just that, arriving early for our 7 p.m. reservation so we could enjoy a pinot noir and peruse the menu. Since 2005, Theo's American Kitchen has been Fayetteville's hip hangout for residents and out-of-towners alike. Owner and Arkansan Scott Bowman opened Theo's after 11 years of working in the bar and restaurant scenes in Atlanta and Boston. Bowman says he paid close attention to the trends, techniques and ins-and-outs of upscale dining to create a “version of all those great places I worked in or ran for someone else, and all the places I truly love.” Bowman put so much of himself into the restaurant, he decided to name it after his father and grandfather, both of whom were named Theo. Theo's exudes a sophisticated, contemporary vibe. The dining room, with its classic leather banquettes, candlelit tables and contemporary artwork, is situated around the glass-walled kitchen, allowing diners an intimate look into how their meal is coming along. The cocktail lounge is similarly decorated, with comfy leather couches, low-slung tables and booths and an expansive mirror-backed bar. A quick glance around the restaurant on any given night finds a diverse crowd — couples on a date, businessmen gathered for an informal meeting, girls on a night out, sports fans glued to the flat-screen TVs above the bar. Theo's drink selection doesn't end at wine and beer — though its award-winning wine list is vast. Theo's is known for its in-house cocktails and martinis, like the refreshing Basil Gimlet or the indulgent French 75. Thursdays from 5 p.m. until close, the cocktail lounge hosts a $5 Martini Night, featuring a wide and creative array of martinis. While the drinks are a definite draw, the main attraction at Theo's is the food. Executive Chef Brian Aaron says he and his team combine “the freshness of coastal cuisine with the comfort of Southern cooking and hospitality.” Aaron graduated from Denver's Johnson & Wales Culinary Arts College in 2001. He held positions at Kansas City's Zin and Starker's restaurants before moving to Fayetteville in 2005. The menu changes seasonally, as Aaron emphasizes fresh, in-season ingredients and local fare whenever possible. The current menu boasts appetizers like beef tenderloin carpaccio, pan-seared scallops, and even BBQ sliders. Main courses include pasta dishes, such as the basil pesto fettuccini with toasted pine nuts; fish, including buttery salmon in parchment paper; and beef, including serious bone-in cowboy rib-eye. After noshing on house-made artisanal breads, we began our meal with the pan-seared scallops, served on a bed of dressed arugula, with thick slices of slab bacon and a carrot beurre blanc sauce. The next course was curried shrimp garnished with sweet potato wedges and a savory coconut whipped cream. We split the lobster, shrimp and grits with champagne cream for the main course, and sealed the meal with a slice of the gingerbread cake with a Gran Marnier creme anglaise. The food was amazing, the service was knowledgeable and seamless, and the atmosphere was intimate and relaxed. We'll definitely be back for more. — Laura Hobbs [...]

Dueling catfish

Thu, 11 Feb 2010 00:00:00 -0600

Garland City, Arkansas, is small. In fact, you could drive right by it and be none the wiser. Just over 350 people call it home, but on a Friday or Saturday night, the population of this sleepy city more than doubles. And it’s all thanks to catfish. Garland City, Arkansas, is small. In fact, you could drive right by it and be none the wiser. Located about 23 miles east of Texarkana on Highway 82, it's one of those towns that are at least 20 minutes from everywhere. Just over 350 people call it home, but on a Friday or Saturday night, the population of this sleepy city more than doubles. And it's all thanks to catfish. Garland City may be tiny, but it's able, with the help of some neighboring cities, to keep two catfish restaurants in business. There's Doc's Fish and Steak House, which has been around in one form or another since the late '60s. And in 2004, West Shore Restaurant opened its doors, serving catfish fillets and steaks mere miles away from the already well-established restaurant owned by Kim “Doc” Mills. “I guess if you lose one fish dinner to 'em you've lost it and I'm sure we have,” Mills says. “But if you just look at the numbers on a piece of paper, you couldn't tell when they opened. It's hard to imagine that that many people will support two places.” “I hurt him for a little bit,” says Ralph West, owner of West Shore Restaurant. “Everybody told me that two fish houses in Garland was just too much, but we've been doing pretty well.” If you've read the papers lately, you might think that Garland is better known for corruption than catfish. The city's former mayor, Yvonne Dockery, resigned as part of a plea bargain after pleading guilty to felony theft. Even though Mills doesn't consider himself a particularly political person, he decided to run for mayor and finish out Dockery's term. Mills lost in a run-off last week by nine votes. “I'm not disappointed though,” he says. “You can't really make a living being the mayor of Garland anyway, so the restaurant will remain my top priority.” And catfish has been a priority in his family for generations. Mills' grandmother Ramie Ham opened up Ham's Restaurant in 1969, which was co-owned at that time by West and his father. The Wests sold their half to Mills in the early '70s before opening another restaurant and Ham's thrived until it burned down in 1992. At the time, Mills was working for Tyson Foods, but wanted to start his own business, although he “never dreamed it would be a fish restaurant.” “I had a little ol' portable building and I just whittled and hammered and drilled holes and redid stuff in that thing until I finally made a little kitchen out of it,” Mills says. “By the time I finished it, Ham's had burned and I thought well, maybe I'll cook up a little fish plate and it just snow-balled from there.” Mills cooked to-go orders from that little shack for a year before adding on a dining room built with scrap wood and putting in a couple of mismatched tables. From there the restaurant grew and grew, with Mills making additions to the dining room as needed. All told, the dining area has been expanded eight times, the kitchen three. Where there was once only a small cook shack now stands a sprawling maze of ramshackle rooms that seats 150 people comfortably. The walls are adorned with old neon beer signs, a 115-pound stuffed catfish, a two-headed calf and rusted farm tools so old even the most skilled harvester in Miller County wouldn't know what to do with them. West Shore has that same rustic charm, although you can tell it was all built more recently and all at once, not just piec[...]

Campaign climate

Thu, 04 Feb 2010 00:00:00 -0600

A paper published by a think tank last month warned that Sen. Blanche Lincoln’s ascendancy to the Agriculture Committee chairmanship was a bad omen for passage of climate-change legislation in 2010 due to her close ties to agricultural producers and processors seen as major contributors of greenhouse gases. WASHINGTON — A paper published by a think tank last month warned that Sen. Blanche Lincoln's ascendancy to the Agriculture Committee chairmanship was a bad omen for passage of climate-change legislation in 2010 due to her close ties to agricultural producers and processors seen as major contributors of greenhouse gases. The paper, written by former Washington Post reporter Dan Morgan, was released by the German Marshall Fund of the United States, about a week before Lincoln became one of only three Democrats to co-sponsor a bill — largely drafted by lobbyists for carbon-emitting industries — that would gut the Environmental Protection Agency's plans to proceed on its own with carbon restrictions. Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska was lead sponsor. The Post reported Jan. 11 that lobbyists greatly assisted in writing the bill. Two days later, the German Marshall Fund, which describes itself as a “non-partisan American public policy and grant-making institution,” released Morgan's paper that fingered Lincoln. Called “The Farm Bill and Beyond,” the 62-page document warned: “Lincoln's appointment was yet another example of Democratic real politik trumping policy interests: It may weaken the chances for climate-change legislation, but it will strengthen her fund-raising ability going into a tough 2010 re-election campaign. Lincoln will be well positioned to influence trade and climate policy, farm subsidies, and food issues such as the use of growth hormones in milk and antibiotics in animal feeds (a key interest of Arkansas-based Tyson Foods, the world's largest processor of and marketer of beef, chicken, and pork).” Lincoln was appointed chairman of the committee in September. Morgan, a freelance writer on energy and agriculture, summed up that “Old Ag forces have been immeasurably strengthened” by Lincoln's gaining the chairmanship in the fall. He defined “Old Ag” as the major farming organizations and commodity groups who favor the status quo in government subsidies and programs. Old Ag also sees agriculture “as a loser in climate-change legislation,” Morgan wrote. Agricultural practices are blamed for producing at least 15 to 20 percent of greenhouse gases by United Nations panels. Meat production, highlighted by deforestation to make room for grazing, and manure that emits nitrous oxide and methane gas, have been especially blamed. But crop practices that include fertilizer applications and some cultivation techniques are also viewed as contributors. Morgan contributed an article to his former newspaper in August that coined the term “Agracrats” to describe Democrats from intensive farming states in the South and Great Plains. They overlap significantly with the conservative Blue Dog Democrats, he said, and added their desire to protect farm programs was certain to cause flare-ups with more liberal Democrats. “The furious farm-bloc reaction to the climate bill approved by the House Energy and Commerce Committee … [in June 2009] caught House Democratic leaders off guard,” Morgan wrote in the Washington Post story. An examination of Lincoln's Senate record on climate-change policy over the past decade shows some flip-flops in votes and positions on climate change. In Senate testimony and press releases she has general[...]

Blessed are they ...

Wed, 03 Feb 2010 23:00:00 -0600

Last summer, a small number of serious students at Harding University, the Church of Christ college in Searcy, committed themselves to a budget of $10,000 to stage a conference to explore contemporary interpretations of Christ’s instruction to “love.”  Last summer, a small number of serious students at Harding University, the Church of Christ college in Searcy, committed themselves to a budget of $10,000 ? on top of their student loans ? to stage a conference to explore contemporary interpretations of Christ's instruction to “love.” Believing they had the university's approval and permission to use campus facilities, the students named their conference “Peace by Piece” and arranged to pay travel costs and honoraria for 10 speakers. By the week of Thanksgiving, they had established a website, prepared a registration table to be set up in the student center, and were ready to announce plans for the event ? to be held in February ? at the school's daily chapel service, which Harding students must attend. That's when Harding administrators told them that their conference was not welcome on campus. They could not announce it at chapel. They could not advertise it on campus. The students say they were told that administrators pulled their support when they learned that women were among the scheduled speakers. Publicly, Harding officials have said only that some of the speakers “represented perspectives counter to our religious positions.”  No one from Harding's administration responded to phone calls from the Timesseeking comment. Karen Kelly, an assistant professor of nursing at Harding, who is among the conference's scheduled speakers, did not answer a request for an interview, either. One Harding professor, who is scheduled to speak at the conference, did agree to talk. However, Mark Elrod, who teaches political science and international relations at the school, stipulated that he could only be interviewed if he was not identified as an employee of Harding University and if a copy of his statements were provided to him ? and copied to Harding officials ? before publication. The Timesdeclined. Concern about any association of Harding with the conference is apparently significant enough that brief biographies of the speakers that were posted on the conference website, which at first identified Kelly and Elrod as Harding faculty members, were changed to say only that the two teach “in Searcy, Arkansas.” Harding's decision to disavow the conference was a blow to the student organizers, and not just because it meant they would have to find a new venue and new ways to publicize the event. The students, who see themselves as a minority on campus, were disappointed that school officials were so opposed to participating in the “conversation” they'd hoped that the conference would begin with other students, the faculty and the administration. They see their minority status as arising from an understanding of their Christianity that includes a commitment to justice. “It grew out of some questions we've stumbled upon, or that we decided to ask,” Josh Nason said. “We saw the conference as a way of starting a conversation with the people living around us.” Kevin Lillis put it this way: “A lot of our sense of justice has stemmed from our experiences. We wanted to start dialoging with friends and the administration ? to have somethingto start building around ? so those who haven't had the experiences we've had can see that maybe we're not so different.” The group turned a difficult situation to its benefit. They [...]

A commitment to community

Wed, 03 Feb 2010 01:00:00 -0600

Today’s “emerging church” movement has started to blend together several once disparate faith traditions. Christian scholars have noted that since the Great Schism in 1054, when Christianity split between east and west, major changes in the faith have seemed to occur about every 500 years. Martin Luther and Henry VIII broke from the Catholic Church in the early 1500s. After that, things remained fairly unchanged until Catholicism's Second Vatican Council in the 1960s ? and today's “emerging church” movement, which has started to blend together several once disparate faith traditions. Proponents of the emerging church movement, many from evangelical backgrounds, call this developing interfaith dialogue a “conversation.” In the past two decades, some of them ? part of what is called the “new monastic movement” ? have gone so far as to form themselves into “intentional communities” modeled on the ancient traditions of Catholic monasteries. Themes of the emerging church and of new monasticism run prominently through the Peace by Piece Conference that students at Harding University are holding this week in Searcy. In Little Rock, a Sunday school class at Christ Church has begun studying the new monasticism, and another group, comprised of people from several denominations, is considering establishing itself as an intentional community downtown. Many in the new monastic movement trace its origins to the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian and Nazi resister who was executed by the Third Reich in the last days of World War II. Bonhoeffer wrote: “... (T)he restoration of the church will surely come only from a new type of monasticism which has nothing in common with the old but a complete lack of compromise in a life lived in accordance with the Sermon on the Mount in the discipleship of Christ. I think it is time to gather people together to do this ...” It is partly in response to that call for “a complete lack of compromise” that Dave Pritchett, Zachary Seagle, Kevin Lillis, and the six other Harding students are organizing themselves into an intentional community that they plan to locate, perhaps permanently, among the Dogon people of Mali. The word “intentional” here signifies the undergirding belief that a life of faith cannot be cultivated in a haphazard fashion. Like monks and nuns in the Catholic monastic tradition, members commit to sharing “a rhythm of life,” devoting regular time to prayer, and doing work that honors Christ's instruction to “love thy neighbor.” Some of the speakers at this week's conference in Searcy come from intentional communities that have been established ? as most of the new ones are ? in “resource-poor,” inner-city neighborhoods across the U.S. One of the speakers, Ragan Sutterfield, who will be speaking on the relationship of food to theology, is from the group in Little Rock that is “trying to discern what form  a new monastic community might take here.” Sutterfield, like the organizers of the Peace by Piece Conference, said his focus is on “seeking forms of life that allow us to live out our faith holistically.” “That is a common thread to many of these new movements that seem to be emerging in Christianity: the idea that the Christian faith is not just something that you do on Sunday, and it's not like fire insurance, about going to heaven or staying out of hell. “It's about how we live, day to day, in the world. It's about doing justice, caring for the poor, and creating communities of peace that wel[...]

A passion for justice

Thu, 28 Jan 2010 00:00:00 -0600

Samuel Totten remembers the moment his life changed. FAYETTEVILLE ? Samuel Totten remembers the moment his life changed. It happened at City Lights, the legendary bookstore in San Francisco owned by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. A couple of years out of college, Totten was living nearby, trying his hand at writing a novel. After a daily, five-hour writing session and a cheap meal at a Chinatown restaurant, he'd spend his evenings reading in the bookstore's basement. On one of those evenings, he happened to pick up a magazine with a cover headline that caught his eye: “Torture in Chile.” The article was by Rose Styron, a human rights activist and journalist. He'd never really thought about the subject before. As he read the article, he was horrified. First, he was appalled by the suffering of the Chilean people at the hands of their own government in the early 1970s. Second, he was disturbed to find that such brutality was not at all unusual. Why had he, self-described as “fairly well read, and interested in a variety of social issues,” not realized these things were going on? Why had his education failed to enlighten him about all this? These questions would send him on a life-long journey of discovery. The journey would take him around the world more than once, and bring him to Fayetteville, Ark. But as widely as his travels carried him, they mostly moved in a direct personal line. Once the magazine article awakened his conscience, his own inner trajectory was set. To understand Sam Totten, it's useful to understand how driven he is. He works at full throttle. And he does several things at once. These days, he's known internationally for his study of genocide, an interest that grew directly out of the article he read in City Lights. But descriptions of Totten as a genocide scholar invariably add that he's also a professor in the education department at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. It's a bifurcated identity that he shoulders with no outward indication that either of those callings might constitute a full-time career for other academics. In a series of interviews and e-mail exchanges in preparation for this article, he was amused when asked about his double load and what he did on his free time, if any. “I have little free time,” he admitted. “That is a choice I've made. … I have no hobbies.” Here's an abbreviated version of the pace he's maintained for years: He's published numerous books on genocide, represented the State Department in interviewing victims of the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe in Darfur, and has been developing a master's-level course in genocide studies at the National University of Rwanda. He's often on the go world-wide, speaking at conferences and seminars. This summer, he gave five separate talks at two conferences on genocide in Toronto, and taught a graduate-level course on genocide in Rwanda. The intensity of the pace is normal for him. When he took some time off with his wife and friends for a few days after the conference, he lugged along the manuscript of his latest book so that he could do some last-minute editing in his spare moments. Meanwhile, he's taught at the university in Fayetteville since 1987. As a professor of education, he's published widely in that field, too. He's done articles in professional journals related to his abiding interest in writing. He's described research into how writing is being taught in the country's schools, and how teachers are often poorly prepared to help their students become better writers.[...]

Hip deep in health care

Thu, 21 Jan 2010 23:00:00 -0600

Mike Ross and Blanche Lincoln are the Times' Arkansans of the Year. As chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Wilbur Mills was long in the thick of things, including the creation of Medicare 40 years ago, and Sen. J. William Fulbright's influence in foreign affairs, especially during the Vietnam war, made him an international symbol of high-toned dissent. But that was way back, and even then it was rare for twomembers of the Arkansas congressional delegation to be so prominently engaged with the same great issue at the same time, and to be so widely and earnestly censured, as were Sen. Blanche Lincoln and Rep. Mike Ross in the fight over health-care reform. For all they did, and didn't, they're the Arkansas Times' of the Year for 2009. Ross, a leader of a conservative Democratic faction known as the Blue Dogs, negotiated with President Obama and congressional leaders, but wound up voting against the House version of health-care reform, calling it “fiscally irresponsible.” The bill passed anyway. Lincoln was a member of the Senate Finance Committee, which wrote the original version of the Senate's bill. That bill was revised many times but it resembled the original when Lincoln cast one of the 60 votes needed for Senate approval. She said the bill was imperfect, but “a vast improvement over the status quo.” She was among a small group of senators who worked out an alternative to the divisive “public-option” provision. The two versions of reform must be reconciled by the two houses before final passage. Very likely, a government-run health insurance program ? authorized in the House version but absent from the Senate version ? will be absent from the final bill.  Both Ross and Lincoln opposed the “public option,” as did insurance companies and right-wing Republicans. Liberal Democrats were loudly dissatisfied with the two Arkansans. Ross has generally pleased conservatives, and there are many of them in the Fourth Congressional District. Lincoln seems to have pleased hardly anybody on health care, and has been maligned left and right by columnists, bloggers and authors of letters to the editor: “Blanche Lincoln does not deserve to be re-elected. Again and again she has proved that she cares more about the interests of corporations than she does about the well-being of Arkansans. She fought for a giveaway to drug companies, but worked for the insurance companies to kill the public option. She's happy to advocate for eliminating the estate tax for the wealthiest Americans, but doesn't believe working Arkansans should have the right to unionize for better pay and benefits. …  ” “Thanks to Sen. Blanche Lincoln for helping to ruin Christmas and endanger the nation if this horrific health care monstrosity isn't stopped. Maybe she's happy that she supported the sick leftist, progressive radicalism of Barack Obama and his Chicago thugs, but her constituents are not. Of course, that means nothing to her now, since she and the rest of her arrogant Democratic goons have clearly demonstrated that they could care less what the American people think, but it may make a big difference come election time.” Lincoln is regularly threatened with political ruin for being too liberal. And for being too conservative. One is reminded of the Arkansas Supreme Court throwing an initiative off the ballot for being excessively long, and unacceptably short. Both Ross and Lincoln are up for re-election. Ross is said to be safe, Lincoln otherwise. The natio[...]

A child shall lead them

Thu, 21 Jan 2010 01:00:00 -0600

10-year-old Will Phillips was the leading nominee by readers for Arkansan of the Year. As is our custom, we solicited from readers and staff ideas for people to be honored as the Arkansan of the Year for 2009. Among readers, the leading nominee was a runaway: • 10-year-old Will Phillips, a West Fork fifth grader, won acclaim and national TV appearances for his silent protest in support of equal rights for all Americans, particularly gay people. He refused to recite the Pledge of Allegiance with his class, which prompted a failed effort at coercion by his substitute teacher and a trip to the principal's office, along with jeering from classmates. Will stood firm. Others of note in Arkansas last year: • Arkansas military members. Hardly a week passed without news of Guard or Reserve or active duty Air Force troops coming and going from duty in world trouble spots. • Kris Allen. The clean-cut Conway singer won a popular victory as America's Idol. • Lt. Gov. Bill Halter saw the state lottery he championed (and for which he was Arkansan of the Year last year) come to full flower. He also arranged Arkansas's participation in a mass free medical clinic that illustrated how badly the country needs health-care reform. • Ernie Passailaigue was drawn to Arkansas by almost $400,000 a year in pay and perks to add to his South Carolina lottery retirement. He was joined by some other high-priced South Carolina help, but the lottery was up and running quickly with revenues meeting even the most optimistic forecasts. • Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar. The stars of a reality TV show about their huge family, they welcomed a premature 19th child who weighed barely more than a pound after an emergency C-section and suddenly wanted privacy for their family after years of seeking publicity relentlessly and profitably. • Debra Hale Shelton. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's one-person news bureau in Conway continued to be a one-woman procession of news scoops, most about the financial mess at the University of Central Arkansas created during the administration of former president Lu Hardin. • Jerry Jones. Rose City's favorite son opened a billion-dollar new stadium for his Dallas Cowboys, also home to an annual game between his alma mater, the University of Arkansas, and Texas A&M. • Bobby Petrino. OK, the Liberty Bowl was a close call. But the Hog football coach seems to have convinced most Razorback faithful that a mature adult is in charge and the future is bright. • Hillary Rodham Clinton. The former Arkansas first lady became secretary of state and performed with grace, grit and energy. • Charlaine Harris. The Magnolia vampire novelist became a mega-hit internationally. • Cliff Lee and A.J. Burnett. The Arkansas natives were two of the best pitchers in major league baseball. • Gov. Mike Beebe. Careful and expert at legislative matters, the governor steered a calm and popular course through difficult economic times. Pressed to answer questions on tough issues — guns, gay rights, etc. — he'd invariably give the right answer, if quietly. • Free speech. The Arkansas legislature resisted a gun lobby onslaught and preserved public access to the list of people with permits to carry concealed weapons. The Arkansas Times' publication of the list prompted several threats of violence from gun nuts. • Justin Moore. The country singer was Billboard's top new country artist of the year and hit No. 1 with his “Smalltown U.S.A.,[...]

Latinos in Little Rock

Thu, 14 Jan 2010 00:00:00 -0600

When I first arrived in Little Rock on May 21 of last year, I knew precious little about the region and the state of Arkansas in general. When I first arrived in Little Rock on May 21 of last year, I knew precious little about the region and the state of Arkansas in general. I knew that Bill Clinton had been governor of this state before becoming the 42nd president of the United States, and that he had been born in Hope. And that was about it. During the last 25 years, I have made many journalistic “pit stops” all over the Southwest, Northwest and Midwest. Everywhere I've lived and worked, I've encountered more or less the same stories from immigrants I interviewed: Something about how a relative or friend, back in the old country (be it Mexico or some other Central American or South American nation), had related to them how it was possible to earn a much better wage, and access a much higher standard of living, in some city in California, or Texas, or Oregon, or Kansas, or any of the other states traditionally associated with Latin American immigrants. Their beliefs, based on information they'd gotten from people who'd never been to the U.S., were almost like fairytales: When they got to their destination in the southwest, they thought, they would encounter money growing on trees, sweet manna falling from the sky, and untold riches would shower them in no time at all. I interviewed them shortly after they had arrived, whether it was right on the border, in El Paso, Texas; Albuquerque, N.M.; Pueblo, Colo., or in Stockton, Fresno, or some other town in the San Joaquin Valley in northern California. The immigrants I interviewed in Little Rock did not come here directly. Most had first arrived in California, but some came here from Chicago, or Florida, and a few from as far away as New York. It was after months, or years, that they made their way to Little Rock. Like me, most of them had never heard of Little Rock — or Arkansas, for that matter — before arriving here. Unlike me, they came here fleeing from insidious gang violence, interracial strife, and disappearing or dead-end jobs. All the Latin American immigrants I have interviewed here have told me that they are thankful they found Little Rock, since it has provided them with jobs that they can live on, and a peaceful, family-friendly lifestyle they most definitely did not find at their first destinations. Many of them, especially the ones from Central American countries, are wary and do not volunteer information easily (many of them have been deported before by la migra, the border patrol and immigration authorities, and therefore do not trust strangers, even if they do speak Spanish). But once I got past their justified mistrust, I was able to glean that most of them are savvy about the way things work in the U.S., and do not cling to any misguided rags-to-riches, pie-in-the-sky fantasies. One Central American man in his sixties, Walter Alvarez, summed it up best when he told me, about a week after my arrival in Little Rock, that while it might be true that the construction job he had at the moment was not very well paid, and that in some instances in the past he feels that he has been exploited, “Still, even so, my current economic situation is better than what it was in the past, and certainly much, much better than what it was in my native country. Look, let's be honest here: People often say that we, the undocumented Latin American immigrants[...]

Big ideas

Wed, 06 Jan 2010 23:00:00 -0600

The Jan. 7 issue of the Arkansas Times is our yearly Natives Guide, a guide to life in Pulaski County. Our regular issue will return Jan. 14. Here: Big ideas, about schools, gardening, bocce and more. Make elected officials work and make the lottery work for art By 607 1. The only time we see a lot of elected officials in our communities is when it's time to vote. We need more community interaction. The answer? Force city and state officials to do mandatory community service hours in the areas they represent. It would familiarize people with those who're speaking for them and expose the officials to ideas they might never hear otherwise. 2. Devote an allotted portion of lottery money to vouchers to artists who perform community service. Maybe make a stipulation that the volunteer work has to relate to education. It would enrich the quality of life for our creative class, which is key for growing population and tourism. And we can always use more community interaction. The more interaction we have in our communities, the less crime we'll have. Adrian “607” Tillman is a rapper, community servant and world traveler. His latest album, as part of the group Ear Fear, is “Album of the Year.” Rethink private schools By Dr. Walter M. Kimbrough We should develop a new private school system, funded by philanthropists and Little Rock businesses, mandatory only for students who are performing below grade level. The new system would recruit and hire the top administrators and teachers from around the nation, with starting teacher salaries in excess of $75,000, and bonuses based on student performance. As a part of this system, there would also be a free boarding school option for students from the most impoverished areas to give their parents an opportunity to stabilize their personal lives while the child can safely focus on education. This new private district would provide resources (human and financial) comparable to our ever-expanding private schools in the area, except the students will be mostly poor, and mostly people of color. New facilities and campuses would be constructed throughout the area. The three largest school districts would be consolidated into two districts — Little Rock and North Little Rock. For Little Rock (and potentially North Little Rock) the district would be led by a superintendent that is hired by and reports to the mayor. There would be no school board. After hearing Joel Klein and recently Michelle Rhee talk about how this facilitates real change, I am convinced boards and their bureaucracy can't do it. But this will require bold leadership by the superintendent and mayor; there will be no room for timidity. Essentially, the students with the toughest challenges would migrate to the private school system with the strongest teachers and resources, while the public schools would be able to focus on already proficient students and focus on pushing them to become exceptionally performing students. Dr. Walter M. Kimbrough is the president of Philander Smith College. Grow food for the kids By Ragan Sutterfield Study after study has shown how basic cognitive and social function improves with better nutrition, but we still serve our children food that is highly processed and of low nutrient value. We need to provide our children with better nutrition and that would ideally come from locally produced, high nutrient value vegetables. We also have a c[...]

More big ideas

Wed, 06 Jan 2010 01:00:00 -0600

On recycling, education and more Recycling at apartment complexes By Glen Hooks   Several years ago, the city of Little Rock took a strong, positive step by providing curbside recycling for its citizens. The program makes it very easy for the average household to live in a more sustainable way, but there are two easy ways that the program could be improved. First of all, our tiny recycling bins should be at least as big as our trashcans so as to encourage more recycling. For those of us who recycle consistently, the small bin is not nearly large enough for a week's worth — I find myself dealing with multiple small bins, or saving a portion of my recyclables for the following week's pickup. Secondly, we need to make recycling available to the large number of our citizens who live in apartment complexes. This can easily be done by requiring landlords to place a recycling dumpster on properties that have more than, say, 10 units. On numerous occasions, friends of mine who live in apartments have dropped their recycling off at my house because they can't recycle at home. We should address this problem for the people who want to do the right thing and recycle. Taking these two small steps will dramatically increase both the availability and the volume of recycling here in Central Arkansas, and make our city a greener place to live. Glen Hooks is a long-time environmental advocate and the regional director (Eastern U.S.) for the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign.     Teach throughout the year By Dr. Ginny Blankenship   Here's a big idea: Why not throw out our antiquated school calendar and give kids the chance to learn throughout the entire year? Although we're no longer living in a 19th century agrarian economy, our education system is — and we'll all pay the price unless we make some radical changes. The research is clear that the three months of learning lost every summer vacation (four if you count the slow-down that typically occurs after standardized tests are finished in April) has a huge impact on how much material students are able to recall the following year, and the effects are cumulative. Students who have access to camps, art classes and other enrichment programs during the summer months are more likely to stay on track. But over half of Arkansas's students are low-income and not always fortunate to have the same opportunities. For them, high-quality, extended learning opportunities are even more critical. There are many ways to restructure the school calendar without losing vacations and breaks along the way. It will take some time to get everyone on board and work out the logistics. But this is one big idea whose time has come, and the Little Rock and Pulaski County school districts should help lead the way. Think it can't be done? Look at KIPP Delta Public Schools in West Helena. With a student population that is almost entirely low-income and African-American, KIPP is open for business about 60 percent longer than traditional public schools in Arkansas. Students are actively engaged in learning during the summer, after school, and even on some weekends — and they have some of the state's highest test scores to show for it. KIPP achieves all of this with 20-30 percent less state funding than other public schools. It can be done for all of our students, and it must. Dr. Ginny Blankenship is the chief development officer a[...]

Jesus on his back

Thu, 24 Dec 2009 00:00:00 -0600

No matter what you might have heard on TV, there was nothing fancy about it. No matter what you might have heard on TV, there was nothing fancy about it. In fact, the only Jesus-y thing I can think of about that night is that my boyfriend, Honey Patterson, has this lighted statue of the Virgin Mary hot glued to the dashboard of his Chevelle. Somehow, he's got her wired into the speakers, so when the radio gets going on a song with a strong bass line in it ? BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! ? she blinks. Honey's Catholic, or at least his people are, and for some reason he thinks that's funny as hell. Even though I'm Baptist with some Pentecostal on my Daddy's side, doing the things me and Honey did in front of the Virgin Mary can really tear you up in hindsight, especially given how it all turned out. Personally, I believe that any woman who could go through being knocked up by God deserves some respect. It's hard enough when the father is in jail halfway across the county, so I can only imagine what it's like being pregnant by God, Him off somewhere, taking care of all the fish in the sea and all the birds in the blue sky and everything that creepeth and runneth and swimmeth. But, to get to my point: Contrary to what has been said, I can wholeheartedly attest to the fact that my baby Jimmy was made just like every other baby all the way back to the beginning of time, which is to say: The Old Fashioned Way. Same thing with how he was born. When Jimmy came out, he was screaming to beat the band, and looked just like any other baby. You couldn't tell there was anything different about him until they rolled him over. It's one of those trick-of-the-eye things, you know? At first, it looks like a big birthmark ? which is, they tell me, exactly what it is. It's almost like it doesn't want to be seen. But when you hold him out at arm's length, and turn your head just right, it falls together, and there, before you ? right in the middle of his back but a little off-center, from his shoulder down to the top of his butt ? is the prettiest picture of Jesus you ever seen. And not some Andy Gibb-looking Jesus, either. This is him looking the way you know he had to look coming from where he did in the world, with a wide, soft face and eyes dark as the bottom of a well. The first one to see it was an El Salvadorian nurse who was hosing Jimmy off in a sink. Her face went pale and her eyes went wide, and then she backed away, crossing herself and mumbling in Spanish, until her ass hit a tray of instruments and they went into the floor with a clatter like the end of the world.   You know that if twenty-five thousand people will go up to Minnesota to look at a cross that formed on a diner griddle, they were going to come out for this. The day after Jimmy was born, somebody snuck a camera into the nursery and then posted the pictures on the Internet. Soon, the whole world knew. My doctor kept us in the hospital for a couple days while the deep thinkers checked out the birthmark to make sure it wasn't cancerous or something. On Wednesday, though, they said we could go. The nurses up on the maternity floor hadn't let me look out the window or watch the TV, and they told Momma not to say anything to upset me, so the first I heard about the hubbub was when we got ready to leave, me in a wheelchair and Momma beside me, Jimmy sleeping sound as a rock, wrapped up in[...]

Raise your glass

Thu, 17 Dec 2009 23:00:00 -0600

It came to us in one of those rare drink-abetted epiphanies that actually hold up the next morning: Why not create a companion poll to our established Readers Choice restaurant contest that celebrates that other culture of consumption? It came to us in one of those rare drink-abetted epiphanies that actually hold up the next morning: Why not create a companion poll to our established Readers Choice restaurant contest that celebrates that other culture of consumption? After all, for aiding the mix and the mingle, for keeping us ? or at least the sinful among us ? up late, for simple refreshment, there's not much to rival booze and bars. So here we are, with the results of our first-ever drinking poll. Readers voted on ballots printed in the weekly edition and via an on-line survey. Much like the restaurant poll, we list winners in a number of categories for Little Rock/North Little Rock alongside those from elsewhere Around Arkansas.   BEST BAR Winner: Capital Bar and Grill Runners-up: White Water Tavern, Sticky Fingerz Rock 'N' Roll Chicken Shack, The Afterthought   Around Arkansas Winner: Maxine's, Hot Springs Runners-up: George's Majestic Lounge, Fayetteville; Theo's, Fayetteville   BEST BARTENDER Winner: Spencer Jansen (Capital Bar and Grill) Runners-up: Josh Johnson (The Afterthought), Mac Watts (Sticky Fingerz), Lee Edwards (Salut Bistro)   BEST LIQUOR STORE Winner: Colonial Wine & Spirits Runners-up: Markham Liquor; Popatop, Little Rock; Heights Fine Wine and Spirits   Around Arkansas Winner: Lake Liquor, Maumelle Runners-up: Ace Liquor Center, Cabot; Liquor World, Fayetteville BEST SPORTS BAR Winner: West End Smokehouse & Tavern Runners-up: Big Whiskey's American Bar & Grill, Gusano's, Fox and Hound   Around Arkansas Winner: Buffalo Wild Wings Grill & Bar, Fayetteville Runners-up: Grub's Bar & Grille, Fayetteville; Gusano's, Conway   BEST PICKUP BAR Winner: Cajun's Wharf Runners-up: Midtown Billiards, Ciao Baci, Hillcrest Fountain   Around Arkansas Winner: On the Rocks, Fayetteville Runners-up: Theo's, Fayetteville; the Conway VFW   BEST GAY BAR Winner: Discovery Runner-up: Star Bar Lounge, Off Center/Pulse, UBU   Around Arkansas Winner: Tangerine, Fayetteville   BEST BAR FOR LIVE MUSIC Winner: Sticky Fingerz Rock 'N' Roll Chicken Shack Runners-up: White Water Tavern, Revolution, The Afterthought   Around Arkansas Winner: George's Majestic Lounge, Fayetteville Runners-up: Maxine's, Hot Springs; Smoke and Barrel, Fayetteville   BEST DIVE BAR Winner: Midtown Billiards Runners-up: White Water Tavern, Pizza D'Action, Town Pump   Around Arkansas Winner: Maxine's, Hot Springs Runners-up: Arlie Muck's, Fort Smith; Roy's First & Last Chance, Paragould   BEST HOTEL BAR Winner: Capital Bar and Grill Runner-up: The Lobby Bar and Mallards Bar at the Peabody   Around Arkansas Winner: The Arlington, Hot Springs Runners-up: The Inn at Carnall Hall, Fayetteville; Basin Park Hotel, Eureka Springs BEST BAR FOR POOL Winner: The Underground Pub Runners-up: Smokehouse & Tavern, Zack's Place, Midtown Billiards   Around Arkansas Winner: Art's Place, Fayetteville   BEST BAR FOR FOOD Winner: Capital Bar and Grill Runners-up: Sticky Fingerz Rock 'N' Roll Chicken Shack, Afterthought, Midtown   Around Arkansas Winner: Grub's[...]