Bill Clinton could be seen hanging out during his Arkansas Attorney General days. The ashes of a former regular are here, in an old Busch Light can. There’s a taxidermied beaver, and an oil painting of a naked, accordion-wielding matador. And recording artists like Levon Helm, Billy Bragg, and Leon Bridges have all played in front of the Arkansas flag adorning the grungy little stage at Little Rock’s White Water Tavern.
The bar itself is an old shuffleboard table, cut up and repurposed after the building’s third fire in four decades. Above it is a collection of memorabilia from White Water’s wild history, including the canoe that inspired the name (the original owners were way into kayaking), and that naked accordionist bullfighter, a token of apology from a touring musician who had smashed a different matador painting over the head of one of the owners.
Drawing a wide variety of acts from all over the world, the legendary watering hole has remained at the center of the Arkansas music scene for decades. It focuses on the ever-widening scope of Americana, with frequent visits from Ben Nichols of Lucero, Cedric Burnside, and Jimbo Mathis, but hip hop acts like Goon de Garçon feel equally at home in the cramped quarters, and attract just as big an audience.
The tavern has been host to more than music, including book sales, chicken-and-waffle brunches, a traveling opera, and more than one wedding. Locals still remember the zombie wedding, featuring a corpse bride slowly shuffling from the patio to join her rotting groom onstage.
Know Before You Go
The White Water Tavern is in downtown Little Rock, and open every day but Sunday. Bands, beer and booze until 2:00 a.m.