It used to be said of the state of Arkansas that you could build a wall around it and the state would do just fine. This was not a Trumpian vision of keeping people out, but a bit of bragging about how Arkansas had everything people can't do without: the Delta for crops, the woods for timber, oil, diamonds.
That's kind of how folks who live in Hillcrest think about the neighborhood. You start the wall somewhere west of the state Capitol, run it along Interstate 630 and over to H Street. Allsopp Park takes care of the north edge. It's the second oldest neighborhood in Little Rock, its age reflected in the style of architecture, including some grand homes, many built by Little Rock's wealthy Jewish community just after the turn of the 20th century. The housing stock has not fallen victim to tear-downs as it has in the Heights (though some are on auto-tear-down, owners will confess); some say that's because it's too far a golf cart ride from the Country Club of Little Rock to Midland Street. Its politics are liberal, its children are above average, and every house has at least one dog. Some have dogs and cats. Some have dogs, cats and chickens.
Kavanaugh Boulevard, that paved and sinuous river of commerce that winds through Hillcrest and up into the Heights, is lined with fine dining, coffee shops, schools. A neighborhood bar. Antique stores. Pizza. Art galleries. Salons, salons and more salons — there is not one good reason for anyone in Hillcrest not to have good hair, and that includes the dogs. Two parks, one hospital, two Catholic schools, two public schools. The People's Republic of Hillcrest could build a wall, but folks there are the welcoming type, reassuring folks that old houses, though they may have squirrels in the attic, also have their charms.
A resident we interviewed described how she might spend a Saturday in the neighborhood:
The first thing I do in the morning, after I shoo the squirrels out of my attic and into my neighbors', is head to The Meteor (1001 Kavanaugh Blvd.) for coffee and to purchase a bike bell. It's that kind of place — a bakery/cafe that sells bicycles and gear out of an old paint and wallpaper store. Next, I zip over to Stifft Station Gifts (3009 W. Markham St.), right next door to the beloved institution The Oyster Bar, and buy a ceramic cactus, among other things. Then it's off to the Farmers Market in front of Pulaski Heights Baptist Church (2200 Kavanaugh). En route I pass the neighborhood children enjoying the Pulaski Heights Elementary School playground that hugs Colonial Court and the P.H. Middle School on Lee Avenue, the successor to a four-room school built at 1909 on the very spot, and then sneak up the alley between Cedar and Elm streets to peek at the painting studio that architect Max Mayer designed and artist Adrian Brewer built, a vine-covered part of the history of the Arkansas Arts League. It's that kind of neighborhood.
My farmers market browse over — I really go to pet the dogs — it's time to head to Rosalia's Family Bakery (2701 Kavanaugh) for gossip, advice and a pick-me-up Brazilian pastry. Then it's off to Box Turtle (2616 Kavanaugh), the general consensus being that if I want a small piece of jewelry by a local artisan that's where I should go. Oooh, a Morse Code necklace! Thus decorated, I spend a refreshing moment in Allsopp Park, listening for winter wrens, making friends with several more dogs and feeling sentimental about the Hillcrest Girls Softball League that's at bat every spring.
After a little hike, I feel the need for more cultivated nature and hightail it to Hocott's Garden Center (3612 Kavanaugh, est. 1939) for winter pansies for the pots and Velvet Elvis for the beds. I must have burned off at least 50 calories in the park and wandering around Hocott's courtyard, so I deserve a chocolate Kouign Amman! Only Mylo Coffee Co. (2715 Kavanaugh) has that. I love taking pen and paper into Mylo and writing letters there to mystify the millennials mesmerized by their laptops. Then I trot down to Rhea Drug (2801 Kavanaugh) to buy a funny birthday card from the student who works at the venerable Mount St. Mary Academy (3224 Kavanaugh), stop in at District Fare (2807 Kavanaugh) and consider whether I should get the duck breast for Christmas dinner, or should it be a whole rabbit? The idea of long ears on the carving board gives me pause; I go with the osso buco instead.
Back to the birthday chore: I could go to the Full Moon (3625 Kavanaugh) and snatch up a piece of McCartys pottery, because where else can you get the venerable ceramics from Merigold, Miss.? I could go to Gallery 26 (2601 Kavanaugh) for a work by Renee Williams, but if I go in there I'll buy earrings, too tempting by half.
Lunch — Leo's Greek Castle (2925 Kavanaugh) for hummus, Kemuri (2601 Kavanaugh) for tempura, Canon Grill (2811 Kavanaugh Blvd.) for fajitas? I feel like oysters on the half shell. Back to The Oyster Bar (3003 W. Markham).
Thus refreshed, I think a walk into Knoop Park (20 Ozark Point) to view the city skyline would be a nice break. I once saw two people who'd hauled in a table, chairs, white tablecloth and candles to have a romantic dinner there. It's that kind of neighborhood.
Now, to wrap up my errands, I might browse through the antiques at Kahler Payne Vintage Antiques Gifts (700 N. Van Buren) or maybe Hillcrest Interiors (2907 Kavanaugh), where I bought the cutest espresso cups one time. I will still need to pick up the "Yet, She Persisted" poster I had framed at Hillcrest Gallery (2807 Kavanaugh), grab the pizza menus from Damgoode Pies (2701 Kavanaugh) and U.S. Pizza (2710 Kavanaugh), buy flowers at Kroger at Kavanaugh and Beechwood and check out Dr. William Carbary's sign in front of his chiropractic office (615 Beechwood) for its pun of the day.
I count eight cats and I drive down Ridgeway to deliver all my goods and then it's time for dinner. I can't wait to head over to the Pantry Crest (722 N. Palm St.) for a hot date — and I mean that literally, a hot date wrapped in bacon. And the house-made ricotta on toast. (I'm afraid my Mylo's detour made it unwise for me to order the bratwurst and potatoes.)
I'm walking it all off, so I pass the Hillcrest Fountain (2809 Kavanaugh), looking forward to the day when its back deck is built and the ban on smoking is in place, and Ciao Baci (605 Beechwood), grateful the bungalow has a side deck where the old folks can slurp up some mulled wine and hide from the young singles who dominate the place.
All in all, I've accomplished so much, traveling no more than 1.9 miles from stem to stern.
It's that kind of neighborhood.