- ARGENTA FAVORITE: Four Quarter Bar bartender Jimmy Tolan mixes a drink, the better to fortify customers against ghosts.
Four Quarter Bar, a local favorite since it opened in early 2016, is a place based on a promise. Owner Conan Robinson has worked in Central Arkansas bars for over 20 years, 15 of them at Midtown Billiards. He said Midtown owner Maggie Hinson made him a vow early on in his tenure there, one that panned out when the location at 415 Main St. in Argenta, which Hinson also owns, came free.
"She always told me and another guy, Thomas Colclasure, who owns TC's Midtown in Conway, that for doing what we've done for her for so many years, that one day we'd get bars of our own," Robinson said. "She did make good on that promise. When it came time, and Sidetracks was kind of on its last legs and they were ready to be done, she said, 'You ready to go?' and I said, 'Sure.' "
Part of the charm of Four Quarter is the way it looks: a long, cozy bowling alley of a building that seems to be somehow bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. While the joint looks like it's been there for a hundred years, the interior was actually remodeled fairly extensively before it opened, with an eye toward a sort of classic-watering-hole-meets-dive-bar aesthetic.
"We wanted to keep the historical feel of the building and keep that vibe going, so we hit up a ton of old antique shops and flea markets between here and Eureka Springs," Robinson said. "That's part of it. It's so hard to put your finger on how you get that look. I guess I had this thing envisioned in my head, and somehow I was able to transfer that to the bar."
Even more important than the look of the place is finding the right staff. Robinson said it's one of the things he learned from working at Midtown for a decade and a half: The personality of a bar often depends on the personalities behind the bar, at the door and in the kitchen.
"When you come in, you feel comfortable. They know what you want to drink. You feel like you're at home when you walk in. You get great service," he said. "Of course, I'm up there quite a bit behind the bar and in the kitchen, all over the place. Making friends in the bar scene for 20 years in this town, it's awesome. I can see somebody who I knew from coming into Midtown 10 years ago and remember they used to drink Stoli and tonic or whatever. They'll come in to check out the new place, and I'll say, 'You still drinking Stoli and tonic?' They're like, 'Man, how'd you remember that?' I think it's things like that that will keep people coming back."
When they started talking about bar food for Four Quarter, Robinson said, his mind was on pork. Robinson said one of the first purchases they made for the kitchen was a top-of-the-line electric smoker that uses wood chips to impart perfect flavor to the antibiotic-free and humanely raised pigs supplied by Mountain Home's Brown Chick Brown Sow. The resulting pulled pork makes its way into most of the things on their menu, including sandwiches, nachos, tacos and more.
Being a longtime talent booker, Robinson said that when Four Quarter opened, he knew he wanted live music to be a big part of things, allowing him to tap his deep list of local music connections. To that end, he's expanded the stage and put in a premium sound system. "In my many years at Midtown booking bands, I've built so many great contacts and met so many cool people that play in bands," Robinson said. "I just had to use that to my advantage. We do everything from bluegrass and country to funk music and heavy metal shows. We kind of run the gamut." It's all part of making everyone, from the suit-and-tie crowd to blue-collar workers, feel welcome.
"You want to be able to have people from all walks of life feel like they can have a good time at your place," Robinson said. "You have people that could be from the upper echelons of society or in between or on the lower ranks, and they all feel OK to come out, have a drink and socialize. When people can go out to a bar and feel like they can be themselves, and not have to fit into a certain demographic or characteristic of the bar, then you've got a good place going on."
Like several other historic buildings in what was once the raucous railroad town of Argenta, Four Quarter is rumored to be haunted; in this case, by the ghost of a young prostitute who was murdered there, when it was a brothel called the Dirt Bar, in the late 1900s, by the owner. It's a macabre story that's perfect for late October. "The brothel owner had fallen in love with her," Robinson said, "and in a fit of rage, because she had fallen in love with one of the patrons, he cut her throat and threw her over the top balcony. They say that years later, the same fate befell him: He got in an argument with somebody and his throat was cut and he was thrown over the balcony. People say they chase each other."
While Robinson said he's never personally experienced anything at Four Quarter even though he's spent many late nights there, his employees have shared their own odd tales. The kitchen staff has reported the trashcan lids flipping on their own at times, and bartenders have told Robinson that on occasion, the swivel stools at Four Quarter's copper-topped bar have twisted sideways on their own and then turned back to their original position, as if an invisible person had just bellied up for a drink.
Last year, Robinson was working at Four Quarter when a regular came in as a bluegrass band was onstage playing an old tune from the 1920's, then went to the upstairs area where the shuffleboard and domino tables are located.
"He came downstairs rather quickly," Robinson said. "I met him on the stairs, and his eyes were huge. I could tell something was wrong. I said, 'John, man, you OK?' He was like, 'Well, I went upstairs and there was a lady in the back corner who was dressed in this old-timey clothing. I nodded to her, then I thought that was kind of odd. So when I tried to look back to see her again, she sort of dissipated into the wall.' He said he'd only had one drink, and he was about to leave."
"We're looking forward to Halloween," Robinson said with a chuckle.