Hot Springs: Old School Bath Houses

Driving through Hot Springs is a little bizarre.  It holds an air of good times passed, but after spending some time there, you recognize that those heydays are gone.  Outside the center of town, buildings are dilapidated and deserted.  Even on the main street, you’d feel fine walking down one block and then suddenly you wouldn’t because you’d notice a few characters that looked a little less trustworthy.  The glory of this place has shrunk over the years.  Its claim to fame is that it was home to Bill Clinton in his boyhood years.  

Soaking in old school Bath Houses

Other than Bill Clinton, Hot Springs is known for its bathhouses.  We’d met a waitress while hiking in Utah that had told us about her visit to Hot Springs.  She’d forgotten the name of her favorite bathhouse, but she said that we couldn’t miss it because it’s the only one with blue and white awnings.  That’s how we found Buckstaff Bath House.  Despite its peculiar hours of operation (8-11:45 AM and 1:30-3 PM), the spa itself exceeded expectations. When you walk inside, you enter a different era.  The pipes are old. The elevator requires a manual crank. The locker rooms are filled with undersized, metal cubbies.  And an old-school thermometer gauges temperature when you’re in the tub.  We saw historic pictures of the bathhouse when we were there, and today’s exterior looks identical.

To start, you soaked in these deep, white bathtubs with claw feet.  Attendants leave you to yourself for a bit and then return to give you a quick back scrub.  They move you to a sitz bath (which was new for both Adam and Annie), where you basically let your butt sit in a bowl of hot water.   Next was the steam cabinet, which is a hot metal box that your body sits inside while your head pops out.  Last, but not least, you finish up with a couple minutes in a needle shower before being wrapped in towels that are way too hot.  The price for all of this was spectacular – a mere $33 for 1 hour and 15 minutes of spa experiences.   

The bathhouses were apparently popular hangouts for infamous mobsters in the 1930s.  It wasn’t difficult to imagine Al Capone drowning one of his enemies in these tubs.

Coloring Book

Annie is the queen of productivity.  Even when you think that she might be taking a break, she is likely doing something of value.  In fact, she has so much energy that it’s sometimes difficult to keep up with her.  One day in Hot Springs though, she decided to take an actual break.  We went for breakfast and when we got back to our cabin, Annie said that she’d been eyeing the coloring book and colored pencils that our Airbnb host had left in our apartment.  Different guests would color on a page and sign their name.  Annie wanted to participate.  So she sat at the table, drank tea, listened to Season 1 of Serial for 10 straight hours, and colored non-stop.  She spent the whole day doing something that she wanted to do.  This may be stating the obvious, but her page in the coloring book was a masterpiece in the end.

Tom Tom, the Neighborhood Cat

Our Airbnb host had warned us, “There is a very friendly orange tabby named Tom Tom, who is the neighborhood cat, and he thinks that everyone is his best friend. He hangs out here a lot, but he is NOT allowed in the cottage even though he acts like he is.”  But Tom Tom was our best friend.  In fact, he was one of our favorite things about the place – he was always there to greet us when we arrived home and loved following us around.  He kept trying to come inside, but we followed orders and didn’t let him in.  Like other cats, Tom Tom was an acrobat and loved climbing on top of the house.  We’ve thought about animal adoption for a while and the tide may be shifting from dogs to cats now.