Exotica: Bentonville, Arkansas, U.S.A.

May 29th, 2013

Green Penguin, by Cracking Art Group, inside 21c Museum Hotel

After several hours of touring Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art with my boys on Saturday, the saturation point of our brains met the emptiness of our stomachs, and suggested it was time for lunch.

“I heard there’s a crêperie on the town square,” I told them. “Remember when we ate crêpes in Quebec?”

Their memories of the little restaurant in the resort village of Mont Tremblant five years ago were vague, but they were on board the second I said “pancakes and whipped cream.” We followed a paved woodland path through a sculpture garden and emerged on the town square, where we soon found what we were looking for.

Crêpes Paulette on the town square

Remember that line from Shirley Valentine, where Shirley tells her neighbor she’s going to Greece for the sex? “Sex for breakfast! Sex for dinner! Sex for tea! And sex for supper!”

Substitute “crêpes” for “sex,” and the Bentonville Convention and Visitors Bureau would have a winning tourism slogan. We had crepes for dinner and tea. Or tea, and supper. Or entree and dessert.

What I’m saying is, we ate a lot of crêpes.

(No extra charge for rad photo bomb)

As we were finishing round deux, I pointed across the street to a modern looking low-rise. “I think that’s the new museum hotel,” I said. “Let’s go see what’s inside.”

This was inside.

Surrogate, Patricia Piccinini

And this was outside.

Orange Tree, by Alexandre Arrechea

And more cool, strange stuff all over the place.

“This place is AWESOME,” said the Littlest Who.

“It’s a museum in a hotel,” I explained. “Maybe we could come back and stay overnight some time?”

This proposal was met with a unanimous opinion of COOL, especially upon realizing that we could then have crepes for breakfast. And second breakfast.

As we headed back to Crystal Bridges, I could see the gears turning in my 14-year-old’s mind. He’s seen enough of small town Arkansas to know that there was some big variable at work in Bentonville.

“I just figured out why there’s all this cool stuff here,” he said. “It must be because the University of Arkansas is so close!”

As much as it warmed my heart to see his faith in the cultural gravitational field of UA, I had to clue him in that there was a far greater force at work here than higher education, or even SEC football.

“Two words for you,” I said. “Wal. Mart.”

I explained that the world’s biggest retailer was founded and headquartered in Bentonville, and that all the corporations Wal-Mart does business with, also have a presence there. I knew all this already. But being there really brought the implications home to me.

On our way out of town, we pulled into a Starbucks, where I grabbed an Americano to go. I was stunned. Not to find a Starbucks in a tiny, out-of-the-way town like Bentonville, Arkansas, but to find a super-sized Starbucks in tiny, out-of-the-way Bentonville, Arkansas.

“This is like three times the size of any Starbucks I’ve ever been in, anywhere,” I said to the barista, in wonder.

“Yeah,” he said, flatly. “We get a lot of people coming in for meetings.”

No kidding.

It was a three and a half hour drive home to Little Rock, and I didn’t want to be on the road too late, so we left town without visiting the original Walton’s store, now a museum, or uncovering any other attractions and curiosities of which I’m sure there are plenty. We’ll have to go back. I feel like I’ve uncovered a covert cultural center in the most unlikely of settings. Like Marfa, Texas. Or like Area 51, but with green penguins instead of little green men.

Sometimes the truth is way out there.

9 Responses to “Exotica: Bentonville, Arkansas, U.S.A.”

  1. marilee pittman says:

    I want to go. My next trip we will overnight.

  2. What’s weird is that I read Karen Walrond’s post about Marfa, Texas directly before reading this post.

    • I saw it shortly after! I learned about Marfa from an artist friend who loves it there. My wanderlust for it has been heightened by Laura Mayes. Can’t wait to see Karen’s photos.

  3. Meghan says:

    Come back any time! In warmer weather, there’s a splash pad across from Crepes Paulette. Skip Starbucks and check out Kennedy Coffee. It’s next to a sushi place and a yarn shop.

  4. Kath Hale says:

    Hi, Kyran. Butch and I spent a night at 21c Museum Hotel in April. Loved it. Dinner at The Hive was superb, Green apple cotton candy was delivered with the bill. Learned that the fan sculpture by the elevators is noise-driven, and there I was, tiptoeing around it so as not to disturb all the kinetic motion. (A man coming off the elevator clapped loudly and set it all churning, to my astonishment.) Crystal Bridges (Norman Rockwell) was a knock-out. I recommend Tusk & Trotter for brunch (carrot cake waffles!) or anytime. Meridienne, a pastry shop, recently relocated to Bentonville, but I had a champagne jelly at the Rogers store and was smitten. This corner of Arkansas is a jewel. (FYI: Aloft in Rogers is also a great hotel, just a few miles south of Bentonville.)

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