- SWEET, SALTY AND COLD: Margaritas, competing Thursday, May 4, at the River Market.
At 6 p.m. Thursday, May 4, bartending teams from 15 Central Arkansas restaurants and bars will face off in the River Market pavilions for the Arkansas Times' Margarita Festival, presented by Don Julio tequilas, in partnership with Steve Landers Auto Group.
During the live competition, each team will provide one sample of a unique margarita to each of the 500 festival-goers, who will be voting for their favorite cocktails via text message. The team with the most votes at the end of the night wins bragging rights for having the best margarita in the land — that is, until next year's showdown. Loca Luna and Hot Springs' Taco Mama (two of the margarita competitors) will also sell food, and — lest anyone get too tequila-sodden — other beverage options, including FRIO and Captain Morgan Rum drinks will be available for purchase..
As if tequila tasting itself wouldn't be entertainment enough, there also will be salsa tunes and Jimmy Buffett standards from Club 27's Little Rock Salsa, which almost certainly means there will be dancing (or, at the very least, some hip swaying). The festival will last until 9 p.m., and River Market neighbor Ernie Biggs dueling piano bar is the unofficial after-party spot; a festival wristband will waive your cover to go boogieing into the night.
If you haven't already purchased tickets to this year's festival, you'll have to wait for the 2018 event: All 500 tickets have been sold.
This year's cocktail competition will include entries from:
109 & Co. – Derrick Hall
Craft cocktails are the bread and butter of this downtown bar and lounge, and though its signature drinks tend to be whiskey- or gin-based, the possibility of a margarita from this sophisticated outfit sparks curiosity.
Big Whiskey's – Jana Miller
The all-American vibe of this River Market staple restaurant and bar could yield a margarita that's a crowd-pleasing contender.
Bleu Monkey Grill – Ozzie Oseguera & Joey Godoy
At this family-friendly Spa City restaurant with a Caribbean-inflected menu, margaritas — including some with distinctly tropical twists — top the list of specialty drinks.
Boulevard Bistro – Summer Blake
Artisanal is the watchword at this longtime Little Rock lunch staple, which has been offering a dinner dining experience (and a full bar) for over two years now, so a carefully wrought recipe is a guarantee.
Cache Restaurant – Robby Wellborn
Cache has earned its reputation as a downtown fine-dining go-to with its exquisite business lunches and sophisticated dinner menu, but the upstairs bar, lounge and balcony offer a great atmosphere and a place to cut loose. Expect a surprise from this team.
Cajun's Wharf – Rick Flores
Any bartending team who can keep up with the droves of singles at Cajun's Big Swinging Deck parties is sure to perform well under pressure. The portions of margarita samples won't have the heft of a mason-jar-sized Play-De-Do, but we're expecting a signature twist.
Copper Grill – Stephen WIlson
Consistent quality is what keeps frequent Copper Grill diners coming back time and again. And when they shake it up, it happens behind the bar.
Late-night crowds prove this team's mettle on a daily basis, and classic cocktail recipes are its stock-in-trade. Though margaritas aren't typically the first thing one might imagine drinking in a piano bar, the tequila does flow.
Loca Luna – T.J. Spignert
Satisfying the tastes of Little Rockers is what has made Loca Luna an institution here for over 20 years.
O'Looney's + Loblolly (Allied Forces) – Seth Barlow
What happens when a boutique liquor store hooks up with a boutique ice cream joint? An imaginative entry that is sure to blow our minds.
The Pizzeria – Dillion Garcia / The Perfect Margarita
The craft cocktails at this bar are one of Little Rock's treasures, and the skilled bar staff has earned a loyal following among regulars. Expect them to take no shortcuts and to settle for nothing less than excellence.
Revolution Taco and Tequila Bar –
In some ways, Revolution will be on home turf, as a tequila bar and music venue in the River Market district, but no one's betting on this team to play it safe.
Samantha's Tap Room and Wood Grill
Reading a cocktail menu isn't necessarily supposed to be fun, right? But that is somehow the case at the bar at Samantha's. Will the bartenders seek inspiration from one of their signature drinks, or will they play a wild card?
Taco Mama – Shane Bratton / Taco Mama's House Margarita
Mexican food with real culinary chops needs a house margarita to do it justice, and Hot Springs' Taco Mama does not disappoint. Let's hope that's equally true for the traveling team.
Trio's - Merrick Fagan / Grapefruit Mint Margarita
Say what you want about ladies who lunch and brunch, there's no substitute for good taste, and this Little Rock favorite has it in droves — no doubt that holds true for its margaritas, too.