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Whorehouse to pour house

Our readers’ choice for best bar outside of Central Arkansas does it right.

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COZY SPOT: Spa City's Maxine's.
  • COZY SPOT: Spa City's Maxine's.

One might assume that by this point in human history, operating a true drinking establishment would be an almost foolproof endeavor. But damned if there aren't a lot of people trying hard to screw it up these days. Some gaffes are minor, such as table service or calling bartenders “mixologists,” while others — say, a shark-tank dance floor — are straight up repugnant. But blunders like these only serve to make an already great bar like Maxine's seem even better by comparison.

Not that it needs much help. Over the last several years, Maxine's has become a favorite in the Central Arkansas bar scene, and it's easy to see why. Besides the great location and regular live music, it combines the unpretentious attributes of a well-worn dive bar with the comfort and amenities of a classy pub. The inside is just dark enough. A small loft at the front of the building makes for a cozy spot to drink away an afternoon. The bartender is friendly and fast. You can drink on the cheap with a can of PBR or go upmarket with a pint of Spaten.

As far as liquor goes, Maxine's keeps it refreshingly simple. Want a single malt? You're getting Glenlivet. Fancy bourbon? Maker's Mark. Pleasantly absent is that mid-aughts barroom ubiquity — the row of 37 different-yet-identical brands of frosted-bottle vodka.

The decor and seating at Maxine's are also spot-on. The TVs are easy to see but never feel intrusive. A long wooden bench runs along the wall opposite the bar. Flags line the wall above the bar, representing some of the world's great drinking cultures. Below is a row of perhaps 150 beer cans, including many long-forgotten brews.

The crowd on a recent Monday night was lively and diverse. Older men in sports jackets drank and smoked alongside young couples and the odd guy clad in all camo. The jukebox, like the crowd itself, spanned the years, kicking out Dusty Springfield, Tom Petty, Dylan, the Stones and Nirvana.

The bar takes its name from Maxine Temple Jones, a Hot Springs madam who operated a brothel in the building mid-20th century. After her reign ended in the 1960s, the building housed a shoe store, and in 1991 was converted again, this time into a coffee house. In 2006, Jeremy Nelson altered the format to a bar with live music.

When Nelson moved out of town in May, he sold the business to Kevin Rogers, a Hot Springs native, and his wife, Agnes Galecka-Rogers. The two had lived in Los Angeles for many years, and were planning to relocate to Warsaw after a six-month layover in Hot Springs. But that turned into a longer stay when they fell in love with the city. And when they got the chance to buy what was already their favorite bar, they took it. They've made a few changes, including hosting theater troupes and displaying new artwork every month. But they say the overall feel of the place will stay the same. Smart move.

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