Improve their game

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The elegant dress and impeccable manners immediately made me understand that Saddiq Mir is a hotelier in the purest European tradition. Trained in Germany and France, Mir came to Hot Springs almost three years ago to serve as vice president of hospitality at Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort.

Oaklawn’s hotel, spa, conference center and fine dining restaurant were just a dream back then. They are now a fabulous reality, setting a higher standard for Arkansas beach resorts. Mir has had to contend with a pandemic, soaring construction costs, a lack of skilled workers, and even hotel furniture lost at sea. Seeing the result makes the headaches feel like they’re worth it. worth it.

“It was a fun ride,” he says.

After moving to this country, Mir worked for some of the best hotels in the country, including the Fairmont San Francisco, the flagship of the Fairmont chain which was built in 1907. Just before coming to Hot Springs, he helped Gaylord Hotels to open his highly acclaimed Rockies. Resort & Convention Center in Aurora, Colorado. This resort has 1,501 hotel rooms, 485,000 square feet of convention space, indoor and outdoor pools and eight restaurants.

Mir previously worked for Gaylord as Vice President of Food and Beverage at the Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center in Grapevine. He even spent time in Las Vegas at the famous Golden Nugget as the vice president of food and beverage. Mir helped oversee a $ 100 million renovation after Landry’s Inc. bought the Golden Nugget in 2005.

Oaklawn added 198 hotel rooms, an upscale restaurant named The Bugler, a bar known as the First Turn that offers a view of the first turn of the track, a fitness center, a events that will host 1,450 for a concert and 1,000 for a sit-down dinner and four luxurious meeting rooms named after the region’s lakes – DeGray, Ouachita, Catherine and Hamilton.

Astral Spa, which opened on June 10, is taking things to a new level in a city long known as Spa City. Its menu of services offers everything from hydrafacial and skin care to massage and nail work. There are saunas, needle showers, and even cooling rooms. Oaklawn’s outdoor pool, which will have a Las Vegas-style bar and cabanas for rent, is still under construction.

Work is not limited to the hotel and the conference center. Mir takes me on a long walking tour. At the casino there is now a high-limit area with its own bar. Meanwhile, Pop’s Lounge is expanding and will offer additional live entertainment once it reopens.

The former Lagniappe restaurant is being transformed into a gastronomic place that will be an establishment even more upscale than The Bugler. The adjoining Bistro 2705 will become the bar of the restaurant, which is scheduled to open in November.

We’re heading to the racetrack, where live racing will resume in December, and see even more work going on. A stand serving Mexican food will be added. The oyster bar, long a favorite with Oaklawn customers, is in the process of being updated. The adjacent Post Parade restaurant is expanding. Upstairs, the Arkansas Sports Tavern is also being expanded.

There is construction everywhere you turn. What Oaklawn has done is force others in Hot Springs to improve their game.

After my Saturday morning visit with Mir, I drive into town and stand in front of the Medical Arts Building, waiting for owner Parth Patel. Construction on the Medical Arts Building began in 1929. The 16-story structure was needed to house physicians at a time when Hot Springs was one of the nation’s leading resorts.

Medical Arts was Arkansas’ tallest building for three decades. It’s been nearly empty for years, but now Patel’s VIPA Hospitality plans to turn it into a 100-room Aloft hotel.

While I wait on Patel, I watch the crowds walk along Central Avenue. Growing up about 35 miles away, I have been coming to downtown Hot Springs all my life. I’ve never seen it so crowded. Across the street, every table on the Arlington Hotel’s veranda is packed with people. Amphibious vehicles known as Ducks are also crowded.

The accumulated energy and extra money available to people coming out of the pandemic will likely lead to a record summer for tourism in Hot Springs. Reading the marker that was placed at the entrance when Medical Arts was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, I can’t help but think that the Aloft will be a hit.

Patel apologizes for being late, saying he struggled to find a parking space. Remembering the years when the city center was in decline is a good problem to have. It means downtown business owners are making money.

“There is a market for people who want to combine historic places like Hot Springs with outdoor activities,” says Patel, who has lived in Hot Springs since 2005. “We started looking at this building in 2015, but we were unable to negotiate a deal. We got serious again in 2018, although the fact that different bands had different floors made the transaction complicated. “

The next day, my wife and two sons take me to Father’s Day brunch at the Hale Hotel, the former bathhouse that Mayor Pate McCabe and his wife Ellen have turned into a boutique hotel and restaurant. Sunlight from the skylights enters the room and our server, a native of New Orleans who moved to Arkansas in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, makes me feel like I’m having breakfast at Brennan’s in the neighborhood. French.

My wife proclaims it one of the best brunches she has had. It’s clear Hot Springs business owners are improving their game.

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Editor-in-chief Rex Nelson’s column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He is also the author of the Southern Fried blog at rexnelsonsouthernfried.com.


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