There is a history of Little Rock defining its neighbor across the Arkansas River. On early maps, the grubby outpost across from the state's capital city is given the condescending name of "Opposite Little Rock." Even after it became its own city in the late 1800s, after a town blossomed around a railroad crossing, Little Rock annexed it in an attempt to bring control to the rowdiness of the community. In the early 1900s it became its own city again: Argenta. (No one's sure of the name's origin: Some say it could've come from a local mine — argenta is Latin for silver — and others point to an inn from the Civil War called "The Argenta"). Even though by the late 1910s the growing town was named North Little Rock, the downtown — still called Argenta — has retained that counter-spirit of defining itself. You can spend a whole day there without needing a thing from those colonizers across the river.
When you wake up, in that revolutionary spirit of independence from Little Rock, I'd start off with some coffee to add even more pep to your already marching step. Mugs Cafe (515 Main St.) opens at 7 a.m. every day but Sunday and is a go-to spot. The shotgun storefront has all the decor of a modern coffee house — think lightly stained wood and open lighting and Macbook Pros. The coffee's good and the biscuits and gravy are only $6. The Joint (301 Main), known more for its nightlife, also opens at 7:30 a.m. and serves coffee, perhaps to people who enjoyed its theater troupe's performance or a concert the night before. If you slept late, sit down at Skinny J's (314 N. Main) or Reno's Argenta Cafe (312 Main, smoking in the front, nonsmoking in the rear), both open at 11 a.m.
Nourished and caffeinated, there are shops to stroll to. I recommend, if you're into skateboards and local musicians, popping into Paramount Skateboards (703 Main). There, a group of Central Arkansas rappers and producers sell apparel and hang out; they'll often be making beats and joking around. Or, on weekends, you can stroll through the Argenta Farmers Market in the lot at the northeast corner of Sixth and Main, which will be transformed into the Argenta Plaza in the not-too-distant future. Creative folks could head to the Innovation Hub (201 E. Broadway) — a nonprofit co-working space with laser cutting, printmaking and ceramics studios along with 3D printers and more gear for the maker-minded. The Hub holds classes, exhibitions and also just space to hang out. A day pass is $20 and a monthly membership runs $70 a month for an individual.
It's free to enjoy nature, and North Little Rock has not only the state's largest urban park — Burns Park on Interstate 40 west of downtown — but a true gem in Emerald Park, those partly rugged woods along the bluffs overlooking the Arkansas River. The River Trail runs by portions of both parks on its way to Argenta (east) or the Big Dam Bridge (west). Golf, tennis, baseball, soccer, camping: Burns Park has it all.
It's time to lunch, now, after whatever activity you've chosen. If you are willing to drive, try Margo's Catfish Diner (807 Willow St.) It's a little market where they fry things: catfish into fried catfish, potatoes into french fries, corn meal into hushpuppies. And it's delicious. An added treat is the mustardy coleslaw and homemade pickles (my waitress saw me scarfing them down and brought out a bunch more just to be nice about it). It's one of the more underrated catfish spots in the city. But if fish is not the lunch move for you, try out two barbecue spots: Lindsey's Hospitality House (207 Curtis Sykes Drive), which also has great sides and pies, or the White Pig Inn (5231 E. Broadway).
Ready for a brew? Flyway Brewing (314 Maple St.) is the perfect afternoon beer spot: Its large windows let in a flood of light. Its Bluewing Berry Wheat, a blueberry-infused beer — light, crisp, sweet — is perfect for the afternoon boozing. Sit back and relax.
As afternoon slides into evening there are tons of entertainment options. Most notably, the behemoth of parking and shows is Verizon Arena (1 Verizon Arena Way.) Shows there are usually on the costly side; for less expensive fun take note of the Four Quarter Bar (415 Main St.), which often brings in good bands for cheap. The high-ceilinged bar can also be a great spot to keep drinking as the sun sets — smoking inside, of course. Dart into Cregeen's Irish Pub (301 Main St.) for a quick Guinness and a local singer. The truly ambitious can decamp and drive way out to Jimmy Doyle's Country Club (11900 Maybelline Drive), which is only open on Fridays and Saturdays. As Will Stephenson put it in his Arkansas Times piece on the place: "Friday nights are for karaoke, Saturdays are for the house band. There are no other nights." It's a throwback to another era in many ways, including being cash-only; you could have to go over to the ATM in the liquor store next door. All good options for some music and beer.
If looking for an elegant evening of fine dining, the best spot is Ristorante Capeo (425 Main). A beautiful and tasty Italian place with prices to match at $20 plus an entree, Capeo is considered one of the best restaurants in Central Arkansas. Those who expect a nice dinner to involve steak should head to Riverfront Steakhouse in the Wyndham Riverfront hotel; Benihana, right beside the steakhouse, is pretty good, too. Afterward, eschewing the more music-focused options, I'd check out Crush Wine Bar (318 Main) or Core Public House (411 Main), both a nice way to end the day after some nice dining. All of the above are good places to put your feet up on the third Friday of every month, after the Argenta Art Walk after-hours open galleries event.
A successful day in Argenta done, I recommend doing what I always do: remembering you don't need Little Rock and kissing it good riddance. You've crossed the river to a better life.
Postscript: The aforementioned plaza project is being called the "front porch" of the city, with $4 million in outside funding. Once its built, this document will read like an embargo-era Lonely Planet book for Cuba. It'll be like a mall but, I don't know, nicer or something.