It’s almost spring, a good time for day trips and an update on hospitality doings in the Spa City.
► Hot Springs Mayor Pat McCabe tells Whispers his Hotel Hale, the renovation of the old Hale Bathhouse on the city’s Bathhouse Row, is close to completion, though work continues. McCabe and his wife, Ellen, are partners in the $1.28 million project.
McCabe has asked the National Park Service, which owns the property and leases it to the McCabes, for a final inspection, and the Park Service is targeting the week of March 25.
The couple are interviewing potential staff hires and have brought aboard Chef Fermin Martinez, former owner and chef at the Park Avenue Bistro in Hot Springs, to oversee the two dining areas in the Hale: Zest, the front dining room, and Eden, in the back of the property. Diners also might remember Martinez, a Mexico City native raised in Brooklyn, from Bohemia Continental Cuisine, his revival of the beloved Bohemia restaurant on Park Avenue.
Zest will serve 73, Eden 120, and a hotel deck will serve 28. Zest will be open Tuesday through Thursday for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and Friday and Saturday for breakfast and lunch. Eden will be open Friday and Saturday nights, for Sunday brunch and for special functions.
If you recall, the 12,000-SF, two-story boutique Hotel Hale will feature seven guest rooms and two suites, along with meeting and special events space.
The Hale, which was built in 1892 and is the oldest of the bathhouses on Bathhouse Row, was closed as a bathhouse on Oct. 31, 1978. The McCabes have been working on transforming the Hale since 2014.
McCabe, president and CEO of Levi Hospital, expects to provide “some level of service” at the hotel the week of April 1, the week after the NPS inspection. And he’s expecting overnight guests the week of the Arkansas Derby, which will be run April 13, though the website and reservation service were not up as of Thursday.
Harrison Construction Co. of Hot Springs is the general contractor, and Bob Kempkes and Chris Sheppard of Taylor Kempkes Architects are the architects.
► Charles D. “Danny” Bradley Jr. tells us the 35-day partial government shutdown has set back the opening of his Crystal Ridge Distillery at 455 Broadway in Hot Springs. “We’re really about a month behind where we wanted to be, and of course that’s about the exact length of the government shutdown,” Bradley said.
Bradley was working with the federal government to obtain his distillery license and with the U.S. Small Business Administration on a loan. The distillery is also working with Simmons Bank of Pine Bluff on funding. Bradley had said back in October that he hoped to be open by March 1.
“I really don’t have a good open date yet,” he said last week. “I would say that it would probably be another five to six weeks, which is just a complete guess.”
Crystal Ridge will focus on making and selling moonshine — grain alcohol — as well as other spirits like vodka in an educational and family-friendly environment. In addition to the production area and a retail space, the 15,000-SF facility will have a bar and restaurant and a private party space that can accommodate 220-500.
► And Hot Springs Distilling, the craft distillery planned for 121 Ross St. in Hot Springs, has also been delayed.
“I thought we’d be open by the first of the year,” said Keith Atkinson, the accounting professor at the University of Central Arkansas who’s undertaking the project with his son, Scott. “But it’s probably going to be July, and I’m just guessing about that.”
Atkinson also cited the federal government shutdown as one of the reasons behind the delay, saying that he understood the Alcohol & Tobacco Trade & Tax Bureau, the agency that licenses distilleries, to be five months behind.
However, Hot Springs Distilling is getting close to local and state Health Department approvals, Atkinson said. “But who knows about the feds?”
Arkansas Business first reported on plans for Crystal Ridge Distillery and Hot Springs Distilling last year before the passage of the state casino amendment and the announcement of the $100 million expansion of Oaklawn Gaming & Racing.
“It made me smile,” Atkinson said. “I wasn’t aware that that was going on.”