Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Bar, the Notebook, and Me

From the late 1800s to the mid-1900s, Hot Springs AR hosted such forms of organized crime as gambling, prostitution, and bootlegging. Now it's a tourist town where one can stroll down Central Avenue, visit the Gangster Museum, explore Bath House Row, and imagine how things used to be when the likes of Al Capone wasn't an unfamiliar face in the city.

The Ohio Club (est. 1905) is the oldest and last of the saloon/bar/casinos which operated in the Spa City. I don't go downtown very often, so I suppose it's not too surprising that I missed this fascinating spot until recently. As soon as I poked my nose through the door for a quick peek, I knew I'd be back. The opportunity arrived last week, and I spent a delightful hour sitting at a table upstairs overlooking the bar. A perfect spot to observe the interior of the building, quiet in the mid-afternoon hours, I startled more than once when I glanced up to see the almost life-sized cut-out of Al Capone against the brick wall. Grinning, gun drawn, cigar clamped in his teeth, he added a certain flair to the atmosphere.

In the ever-present notebook, I jotted down information from the menu which the waiter kindly left behind for me after I'd ordered a Coke and a plate of chips and salsa. (I understand their burgers are delicious, but I'd already had lunch. However, now there's a good reason to return.) Above me, old-fashioned ceiling fans hanging from a silver pressed-tin ceiling droned above the massive hand-carved mahogany bar on the first floor. The story is that the bar was built in Ohio between 1870-1880 and came down the Mississippi River to Arkansas where it had to be partially disassembled and brought to Hot Springs in horse-drawn wagons.

In the 'gangster era' of the 20s and 30s, Al Capone, Bugs Moran, Frank Costello, Lucky Luciano, and other less-than-stellar characters frequented the city and its hotspots of drinking and gambling. The second floor of the Ohio Club hosted a casino.

I came away with a new idea for The Dreamland Series. In Book One, Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland (the first draft of which I posted here at The Word Place, I have the main character, Trixie Collier Blake, a thirty-ish widow, returning to her hometown of Dreamland to investigate the building left to her by her late grandfather. Then she discovers that he was actually her great-grandfather and a contemporary of Al Capone! Quimby Lloyd left Trixie more than just an empty building, and the secret is cleverly hidden somewhere within its walls.

I've been debating exactly what that secret is. Now I know, and I'll tell all in Book Two, Under the Sil'vry Moon.

Will the lappy and I become a familiar presence at the Ohio Club? What better place to write this tale!

And I'll try one of their famous burgers while I'm being creative.


Jennifer Wilck said...

I love visiting old buildings and getting inspired by them. Great post!

Judy Nickles/Gwyneth Greer said...

Thanks, Jennifer! This building was full of ideas!

K9friend said...

Oh you definitely need to write in that setting. Perfect inspiration!

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