We recently went on and adventure to Arkansas. This is the first in a three part series of things we ate, drank and experienced while we were there.
El Dorado, Arkansas
A Modern Day Company Town And Tourist Destination
Sitting just 20 miles from the Louisiana border and about a 90 minute drive from Little Rock, El Dorado is full of local pride and hospitality. Pronounced like tornado, as you’ll be corrected throughout the small south Arkansas town, El Dorado is an up and coming city making strides to improve the lives of its citizens while attracting travelers and new residents alike.
El Dorado was born of the 1921 oil boom and again had a population surge during the the 1930’s oil rush. Living in the area at that time was truly like the Wild West with outlaws and shootouts including the Tucker – Parnell shootout (1903) that resulted in a decades long family feud likened to the Hatfields and McCoys. Today, both Murphy Oil and Murphy USA call El Dorado home. Being rather secluded in Southern Arkansas, the company has invested heavily in the community.
There’s some cool stuff going on in El Dorado. The main sites of interest mostly orbit the town square and Murphy Arts District. Murphy Oil has helped fund the arts district to bring business cooperation and marketing for the area in to focus on downtown’s strengths. The square is closed multiple times a year for festivities ranging from Christmas Lightings to a summer concert series. The weekend we visited, El Dorado was hosting a Kansas City Barbecue Society qualifying competition. The heavenly smell of hickory smoke filled the entire downtown.
Murphy Oil has a huge influence on revitalizing El DoradoThe streets of El Dorado are full of boutiques, salons, and cafes. There’s even the Union Square Guest Quarters that we discovered has several lodging options throughout the city. We dined at Fayray’s on Reubens and Meatloaf Sammies. The crew at Fayray’s also boast one of the largest selections of Arkansas craft beer in the city. Yes, we tried a few!
The new Griffin Restaurant and First Financial Bank Music Hall share a building in the Murphy Arts Disctrict. They sit inside a former automotive dealership and features the culinary creations of Chef Austin Johnson and a dining room stage that hosts local entertainment. Dining at Griffin was a lovely experience. We sampled wines from their extensive list. We were served a myriad of snacks including oysters, hush puppies with honey, fried cheese curds, charcuterie, and some of their best deviled eggs we have ever tried. Oxtail tagliatelle, fried catfish, crispy duck, and fried chicken were giving us some serious flavor. The music hall is an adjoining 2500 seat venue and outside amphitheater. Regional and national acts like Ludicris and Chanda Pierce to a first-ever El Dorado performance by Ron White in May 2020. He’s one of our favorites. We wonder if they’ll have us back for the show?
If you’re looking for an after dinner or after show drink head back over to Union Square to visit Marilyn’s on the Square or The Mink Eye. You can get regional beers and cocktails in two very unique spaces.
Are you a golfer? Outside the downtown area, Mystic Creek Golf Course is striving to be an Augusta National level course that offers membership and public use. Along with 18 holes of pristine, challenging fairways and greens, Mystic Creek is close to breaking ground on a multimillion dollar clubhouse that it hopes to complete in Fall 2020. They are hosting the 2020 Sunbelt Conference Championship and are so excited to be a part of collegiate sports.
There’s plenty of history to be found in El Dorado and the Arkansas Museum of Natural History houses the complete history of the oil mining industry and its impact on the town. This interactive and intriguing collection of both historical and scientific information on the black gold that created El Dorado is fascinating. Quick fact, you will notice the color purple around El Dorado a lot. It’s the Wildcat’s High School color as well. The purple is to honor the biproduct of mining, bromine, which is used, among other things, as a purple dye in the clothing industry. Not into science? There’s art too!
Regional fine arts talent has a home in the South Arkansas Arts Center. A former National Guard Armory building, the refurbished space had a stunning exhibit of mixed-media works by Curtis Graff on display in the main gallery. Graff’s brightly colored work often masks a very dark hidden message in its visuals. We also had time to stop in the Backwoods Art and Frame Gallery who’s owner showcases local and regional artists like these pieces.
El Dorado may be off the radar of many travelers, but give it a second look. Offering a pocket of culture, cuisine, and outdoor experiences, El Dorado is perfect for a weekend getaway from large city living.