On Tuesday, the Little Rock Board of Directors unanimously approved a proposal from the Hillcrest District of Little Rock to create a temporary entertainment district that covers Hillcrest’s First Thursday shop-and-sip events on Feb. 4 and March 4 from 4-9 p.m. The district extends along Kavanaugh Boulevard between Monroe and Walnut streets, as well as parts of Palm and Beechwood south of Kavanaugh. During those times, restaurants and bars in the district will be able to sell drinks in approved cups that customers can take with them as they shop and walk within the district.
“We are thrilled the city agreed to our proposal,” Hillcrest Merchant Association liaison Steve Shuler said in a press release. “The pandemic has devastated small businesses, and this entertainment district is a great way to bring revenue back to the neighborhood while encouraging customers to stay safe and maintain social distancing. We are glad that our city leaders are open to exploring creative ways of keeping our small businesses going.”
State legislation passed in 2019 allows for the establishment of entertainment districts in which patrons may move about between restaurants, bars and venues with libations in hand. Districts didn’t start taking advantage of the legislation, though, until businesses started struggling due to challenges brought on the COVID-19 pandemic. Last summer, entertainment districts were established in North Little Rock’s Argenta Arts District, Little Rock’s SoMa neighborhood and in the River Market.
“We’ve done first Thursday for several years and in the past it’s always been [that] our shops are open, our restaurants and bars are open, people stay open a little bit later and the shops stay open so you can come and enjoy what they have to offer,” Shuler said in a video posted to Facebook. “Basically, we’re going to have 15 bars and restaurants open selling some of their best drinks. Whether you love the mojitos at La Terrazza, the bottled negronis over at Pantry Crest, get a beer from Hill Station, or get a cocktail or whiskey from Proof Bar & Lounge or even a Sake from Kemuri — that’s all going to be available during first Thursday. You’ll be able to walk along the sidewalks, go in and out of businesses with your drink. It’s really a neat little development.”
The Hillcrest Merchants Association is also working on the next phase of the Historic Hillcrest Entertainment District. The association is crafting its second proposal for city review, which will include evenings with street dining and live music in addition to its First Thursday events. Those plans are still preliminary, but the Hillcrest Merchants Association hopes to begin street dining events in April.