A lady friend and I had decided to drive to Little Rock to see the young blues sensation Akeem Kemp, and we needed to eat dinner before the show. So I turned to my Yelp app on my phone, and it showed a place called Agasi 7 Bar & Kitchen, which had opened only a few weeks before, on the rooftop of the Hilton Garden Inn in downtown Little Rock. Reviews were good, and rooftop options are never a bad idea for a romantic night out, weather permitting, so we headed there when we arrived in Little Rock and were not disappointed.
It does need to be stated that Agasi 7 occupies a fairly small space on the roof of the hotel, and thus capacity is closely watched. If the venue is considered full, the staff on the ground floor of the hotel will not allow you to ride the elevator up to the bar. On this particular Saturday night, the venue was very crowded, but we managed to be allowed to go up immediately, and were shown to a table.
In warm weather (which this definitely was not), there is a large outdoor area of chairs and fire pits for patrons to enjoy, but a small indoor area and bar means that Agasi can accomodate patrons year-round, rain or shine. As for the menu, it is somewhat limited, which really makes sense as the place is first and foremost a bar. But there are a number of small individually-sized pizzas, a burger, other sandwiches, steak, salmon and small plate options, which can all be enjoyed while overlooking the city of Little Rock, which is arguably one of America’s most attractive downtowns. The view from almost any side of the room is beautiful, and my hamburger, which came with bacon, cheese and mushrooms was amazing, with an unexpected smokey flavor that immediately caught my attention. Prices are not cheap, but then you really wouldn’t expect a rooftop bar to have cheap prices anyway, and the view, quality of food, and enthusiastic service make Agasi 7 worth the time and money.
Agasi 7 Rooftop Bar and Grill
Hilton Garden Inn
322 Rock St.
Little Rock, AR 72202
Open daily at 4 PM
It’s not at all unusual for Sean “Bad” Apple and R. L. Boyce to perform in Clarksdale, but on the last Saturday in February, they performed in a rather unusual place. The Bin is a former grain elevator used as a music venue on the grounds of the Shacksdale Motel ,a motel of cottages across the road from the Shack Up Inn at Hopson, just outside of Clarksdale. The motel and inn are popular with out-of-town visitors on blues pilgrimages, so live blues performances on the grounds make a lot of sense. Unfortunately, it was quite cold on this particular afternoon, and the venue was somewhat open to the outside. But a good crowd was present, including singer Libby Rae Watson, who was scheduled to perform after Apple and Boyce, who were aided by Stud Ford on drums and Sherena Boyce on tambourine. The afternoon consisted primarily of Boyce’s unique compositions, as well as some Hill Country standards like “Poor Black Mattie” and “Rollin’ and Tumblin’.” The fun continued until 5 PM, and then Boyce had to leave for another show elsewhere in the Delta.
Somehow I had never heard of the Ace Hotels chain, much less that one was being opened in New Orleans, so when my friend said that her dad R. L. Boyce was being booked to play at the Three Keys Lounge at the Ace Hotel New Orleans, I was somewhat confused, having never heard of either spot, and as one who prides myself on knowing New Orleans like a native, that had me concerned. As it turned out, I could be excused, for the hotel had only been open for a month, but as part of her dad’s performance, we had a room there, which was absolutely awesome, with an old-school vibe and modernistic art at every turn. But perhaps the crown jewel of the place (at least in my mind) was Alto, a sleek, modernistic rooftop bar with a swimming pool. Although on the day we arrived, the pool and bar were restricted to hotel guests, that apparently is not always the case, and non-guests can occasionally pay a fee for pool access. The pool was big, fairly shallow, very cold, and full of people, but none of that was worrisome in any way, since the day was so hot. All the same, it should be noted that people tend to lounge in the pool rather than swim in it. Outside the water, guests can enjoy drinks and a limited bar menu. It was by far the most luxurious spot I’ve found in New Orleans, and a whole lot of fun.
Alto (atop the Ace Hotel New Orleans)
New Orleans, LA 70130 Nola@AceHotel.Com
Open Daily 10 AM-9 PM
It was an absolutely gorgeous, warm afternoon, and a lady friend and I decided to head down to Oxford, Mississippi for dinner, a browse in my favorite bookstore and perhaps dessert. It’s not uncommon for us to go to Oxford, but on this evening, we discovered something new, a boutique hotel called the Graduate, which has opened on the site of the old Oxford Inn on North Lamar, a block or so from the square. As a hotel, the Graduate, with about 9 stories or so, looks like something straight out of Miami’s South Beach, but what attracted us was a rooftop bar and grill called The Coop. The Coop is an elegant space, with indoor and outdoor seating, but in warm weather, the outdoor deck is the better choice, with its panoramic view of Oxford. As my friend and I entered, a recording of Junior Kimbrough was playing overhead, a good omen indeed. We were seated on the outdoor deck at a table, while the sun slowly set in the west over the town, an experience that really isn’t even available in Memphis. My friend enjoyed an appetizer and a glass of wine. The big thing at The Coop is sliders, which come 2 to an order. There are 9 types of sliders, including the standard hamburger type. They’re not particularly expensive, either, and delicious. The Coop also has truffle fries, and they come in a cup with parmesan cheese. Also quite delicious. Service proved to be prompt and cheerful, and the food good, despite the somewhat limited menu. And it’s worth it for the unprecedented vistas. From up there, Oxford seems like some romantic resort town. And perhaps that’s the point.
Downstairs, the lobby of the hotel is also decorative and beautiful. The desk simulates bookshelves, with hundreds of bookspines, complete with authors and titles worked into the design. The lamps around the desk are globes of the world, complete with country details. Faulknerian art work hangs on the walls. But off the lobby is another restaurant choice, Cabin 82, which is primarily a coffee bar, despite offering a limited menu of breakfast and chicken biscuits. Their breve lattes are absolutely delicious, and although Oxford does have other coffee bars, it is conveniently located for those who have had dinner at The Coop.
The Saturday of A3C was a little different this year, and somewhat more difficult, in that Georgia Tech was having a football game at their stadium, which was just across I-75/85 from the conference hotel, so parking was extremely expensive if you could even find any. I finally found parking at Emory Hospital (and they hadn’t raised the rates for the game, I suppose out of concern for visitors and families), so I was able to make my way to the hotel for the day’s activities. But no sooner was I up in the 25th floor lounge than it started raining, and not just a little bit, but heavy downpours. We could see people leaving the stadium in droves from across the way, and I feared that the outdoor showcases would be cancelled as well, but after an hour or so, the rain ended, and I caught the shuttle out to the A3C Main Stage on Edgewood Avenue.
When I got to the Intercontinental Hotel, the Cutting Edged NOLA Keynote Speech was going on, followed by a legal panel about sports and entertainment law. At the end of that, I headed out to the lakefront and ate dinner at Landry’s Seafood House. Even though Landry’s is a chain, it is the restaurant nearest to Lake Pontchartrain and has the best view of the lake, and the food was very good, at least on this particular day.
In Islamorada on Windley Key is Holiday Isle, one of the Keys’ largest and most enduring comprehensive resorts. The beautifully-landscaped resort houses several restaurants and bars, a long stretch of ocean-front beach, plenty of hotel rooms at the Postcard Inn, and a marina. The main town of Islamorada is just across the bridge to the south.
The Miami Hilton Hotel Downtown is located in the city’s Performing Arts District just north of the American Airlines Arena, Bayside Center and downtown Miami. The world-famous beaches of Miami Beach are only ten minutes away. Among the amenities of the Hilton Downtown Miami are its wonderful vistas of the downtown skyline, from the pool deck, outdoor lounge, and many of the rooms as well.
Incredibly, just over a year ago in Memphis, local media was talking about demolition of the historic Chisca Hotel on South Main Street. After all, the Chisca had never been one of Memphis’ more elegant hotels. Less expensive and more prosaic, it was the choice of business travelers on a budget, and its fortunes began to wane in the 1950’s, despite its lobby being the location of WHBQ’s studios. The owners built a garish and awful “motor hotel addition” in the early 1960’s in an attempt to halt the slide, but it didn’t seem to work. Any chance of saving the Chisca as a going concern ended with the 1968 Sanitation Strike, as the South Main neighborhood was engulfed by rioting. The hotel ended up in the hands of the Memphis-based Church of God In Christ (COGIC) who used it as housing for delegates to their annual Holy Convocation in Memphis. But presumably, delegates preferred to stay elsewhere, and the denomination quit maintaining the property. Eventually, even the Convocation moved to St. Louis, and the Chisca sat on South Main, rotting away as an eyesore, detracting from the new South Main Arts District. Built in 1913, during an era of small hotel rooms, redevelopment as a hotel would have been costly and unlikely, and so the Chisca’s future seemed dim at best.
But the emergence of a new owner for the building, Chisca Redevelopment Partners also led to a new vision, that of turning the hotel into a downtown condominium. On Friday, April 26th, work began on the project, and a kickoff party was held in the Chisca garage under the motor hotel addition. While there weren’t any bands, Bryan Fenkart the lead in the touring Broadway musical Memphis which has been playing nearby at the Orpheum came by to sing the very-appropriate song “Memphis Is In My Heart”, and Grizz, the mascot from the Memphis Grizzlies was on hand to lend his support. Despite the rain that poured down during the brief announcement, there was a feeling of optimism in the air. The plans really do look pretty, and if there’s one thing Memphis needs more of, it’s optimism.