Oaklawn Park opened its 119th season earlier this month, giving racing fans plenty of reasons to visit Hot Springs. The Arkansas racetrack added nine stakes to the schedule for a total of 45. Oaklawn’s rich 3-year-old series, offering points toward qualifying for the 2023 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, begins Jan. 1 with the Smarty Jones Stakes and continues with the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes Jan. 28, and the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes Feb. 25, before culminating with the April 1 Arkansas Derby.
The resort town also provides fans plenty of reasons to make Oaklawn a racing destination. Here is a glimpse into some of the area’s new hot spots.
Food and drink
The Heist is an intimate lounge located above Vault restaurant in an 1890s historic bank building rumored to be where Al Capone kept his money. The opulent ambience features 1920s décor, specialty cocktails, live music, and late-night small bites. They open at 6 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Book a stay at The Lofts at Vault, the third tenant of the building, which combines the 1890s building with modern design.
One of the best new brunch spots in town is Café Kahlo, serving authentic Mexican cuisine with delectable flavors. If you’re looking for something savory, try the chilaquiles, huevos rancheros, asada omelet, or chorizo and egg scramble. For a dish to satisfy the sweet tooth, check out the homemade flan, sopaipillas, cheesecake, or the pancakes con fruta. The bar menu includes spiked coffee flights and fresh twists on traditional favorite such like bloody marys and mimosas.
Mainline Sports Bar & Sports Book is Oaklawn’s newest family-friendly, sports-themed experience. It is located on the first floor of the grandstand, and it opened at the beginning of the month. It features three Topgolf Swing Suites, two axe throwing lanes, shuffleboard, over 90 TVs, and sportsbook wagering. Regular dining tables are walk-in only. Reservations for TopGolf Swing Suites and axe throwing can be made online at OpenTable.
Local favorites with big updates
DeLuca’s Pizza is undoubtably one of the most popular places to celebrate a winning day at the track. The handmade dough and fresh local ingredients have drawn accolades from a vast array of publications, including Southern Living and Garden & Gun. It began on Park Avenue with six tables. Five years ago, DeLuca’s moved to Central Avenue.
In January, DeLuca’s is expanding again. Proprietor Anthony Valinoti has taken on the space next door. The centerpiece of the new space is a vast wooden bar with a storied past: it was Eddie Fisher and Elizabeth Taylor’s house bar. Chef John Currence, a James Beard Award winner, Top Chef Masters contestant, author, and Oxford, Miss. restaurateur, gifted it to Valinoti. DeLuca’s will increase the number of seats in the restaurant, and the bar will be open until midnight on Friday and Saturday with a new late-night menu.
J&S Italian Villa has been a mainstay on the Hot Springs dining scene, but new ownership has reimagined the restaurant with updates to the menu, dining room, bar, and lounge. A two Michelin Star chef from Milan helped train the staff in techniques such as making pasta from scratch. Don’t miss the Badly Cut Pasta, a pleasing array of mishmashed pasta shapes and sizes accompanied by pan seared calamari, shrimp, mussels, and scallops. Other menu offerings include Chilean sea bass, veal, and rib-eye steaks.
Will’s Cinnamon Shop, purveyor of rolls made from scratch, opened a food truck in Uptown on Park Avenue. The classic cinnamon rolls come with the choice of icings like traditional white icing, cream cheese, lemon, orange and maple coffee icing and a selection of toppings, including sprinkles, pecans, bacon, chocolate, and caramel.
Shop and stay
Villainess, a sister brand of the perpetually popular Bathhouse Soapery and Caldarium across from Bathhouse Row, established Villainess Alchemy’s “Theatrum Chemicum” next door. Here, guests can sign up for “apotheclasses” and create their own bathing, body, and beauty essentials. Villainess Alchemy is a carefully crafted imaginative space offering a one-of-a-kind experience.
Top off a Hot Springs trip with a stay at Maison 226, a newly renovated historic building located in the heart of Hot Springs. Enjoy a cup of morning coffee on New Orleans-style balconies shaded by magnolia trees. Each suite is jazz-themed and includes original art by Patrick Cunningham. Maison 226 is within walking distance of great dining options and a short drive to the track.