Story: Stephanie Maxwell Newton | Photography: Matt Johnson |
An expanding arts scene along with an understanding of the town’s historical importance give Fort Smith its depth of charm
In 2018, its bicentennial year, there has never been a better time to visit Fort Smith. It’s a place that holds immeasurable history, both of the European settlers who established it as a military post 200 years ago and the American natives who lived there for generations prior. The city’s position as a western frontier town was immortalized in Charles Portis’s True Grit, and now, it’s experiencing a surge of attention for art of a different form. Since 2015, murals have been cropping up on walls across Fort Smith’s historic downtown as part of The Unexpected, a public-art initiative started by local creative and event organization 64.6 Downtown. While the artists responsible for the larger-than-life works come from all over the world, their subjects tend to reflect the many facets of Fort Smith’s storied history.
WHAT TO DO >>
Places to gather with the creative community in the Fort Smith area:
Rivervalley Artisan Market
Pendergraft Park // Ongoing
From May to October, you’ll find artisans selling everything from paintings and handmade jewelry to pottery and crafts at this pop-up market in downtown Fort Smith. Stalls are open 5–9 p.m. on the first Tuesday, third Tuesday, and last Saturday of each month, so you can swing by before or after dinner—or during, as there are often participating food trucks. Visit facebook.com/rivervalleyartisanmarket for more information about the market.
Ales for Trails Craft Beer Festival
Harry E. Kelley River Park // July 7
The event calls itself a celebration of “craft beer, live music, and an active outdoor lifestyle,” all of which you can participate in at the festival. In addition to samples of more than 400 craft brews, there will be live music (including headliner Eve 6), a Baggo tournament, food trucks, and a 5K “beer run.” Ales for Trails is a fundraiser for Park Partners, a nonprofit that supports the growth of the trail system for biking and walking in Fort Smith. Visit ales4trails.com for ticket information and an official schedule.
Harry E. Kelley River Park // July 27-28
The Peacemaker Festival was founded in 2015 with the intent to bring a wider variety of live musical acts to Fort Smith. Now in its fourth year, festival organizers are making good on their promise by presenting musicians from all over the country and from blues, country, folk, and rock backgrounds. This year’s headliners include Grace Potter, Anderson East, Paul Thorn, and Ray Wylie Hubbard. Visit peacemakerfest.com for ticket information and an official schedule.
WHERE TO GO >>
Recommended eats, drinks, and places to see along the Arkansas-Oklahoma border:
The historic James Sparks House, an 1887 Victorian mansion in downtown Fort Smith, has been home to this authentic Italian restaurant since its owners led the restoration in the 1970s. talianos.net
Ralph’s Pink Flamingo BBQ
The folks behind this eatery earned their chops through years of barbecue competition, including time spent at such esteemed events as the Kansas City Barbeque Society championship. pinkflamingobbq.com
A local favorite for pho, banh mi, dumplings, and other staples of Vietnamese cuisine served in a casual atmosphere. (479) 782-3227
As the only Arkansas outpost of this Oklahoma franchise, Bricktown’s menu of “twisted comfort foods,” like the Green Chile and Chicken Mac and Cheese, has become a go-to for locals. bricktownbrewery.com/fortsmith
Fort Smith Coffee Co.
A happy turquoise counter and local art grace the interior of Fort Smith Coffee Co., a year-old addition to Arkansas’s growing selection of locally owned coffee shops. fortsmithcoffeeco.com
Savoy Tea Co.
With locations in Fayetteville and Rogers (as well as Oklahoma City) in addition to Fort Smith, Savoy Tea has become a staple of the state’s caffeine scene. Their menu offers hot teas by the cup or the pot, iced teas, matcha shots, an espresso menu, hot chocolate, and even a small selection of lunch items. savoytea.com
The Sound Room
Visit Sound Room for its wallet-friendly happy hour ($2 long necks and $3 well drinks) or, if you’re up for something a little rowdier, stick around for the venue’s live music, which usually starts around 8 p.m. on Friday nights. thesoundroomfs.com
21 West End
This contemporary bar and restaurant celebrated its 10th anniversary last year with a swanky interior update and an expanded wine list. If you intend to stay for dinner, reservations are recommended. 21westend.com
SHOP & SEE
Belle Star Antiques
Spend some time wandering the aisles of this antiques store named for one of the American West’s most notorious outlaws. Head to the back of the store to sort through an impressive collection of vintage vinyl and music memorabilia. bellestarrantiques.com
Card + Cloth
This women’s boutique specializes in trending apparel, accessories, home goods, gifts, and paper products, including custom stationery and cards. instagram.com/cardandclothshop
Fort Smith Regional Art Museum
Fort Smith’s own art museum showcases rotating exhibits from talent both regional and international. Through July 29, see The Essence of Place, a collection of landscape photography of the Southwest by David Halpern. fsram.com
The Fort Smith Masonic Temple, a 1929 art-deco structure designed by Arkansas architect George R. Mann, has found new life as an events venue featuring national music and comedy acts. templelive.com
The Park at West End
In a gated courtyard adjacent to the aforementioned 21 West End is the Park at West End, a play area for kids and grown-ups alike complete with a Ferris wheel, Italian carousel, and 1960s double-decker bus-turned-concession-stand. fortsmith.org/the-park-at-west-end
About a mile down Rogers Avenue from downtown Fort Smith is this bed and breakfast housed in a stunning neo-classical Southern mansion. michaelsmansion.biz
Beland Manor Bed & Breakfast
Beland Manor Bed & Breakfast This B&B offers seven suites, an ever-rotating breakfast menu, and proximity to the campus of St. Scholastica Monastery, whose park-like grounds are open to the public. fort-smith.net