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Resolve to Travel in 2017 with These Easy Tips!

January 11th, 2017 by Sharon Welch-Blair

According to recent statistics, at least 15% of people nationwide resolved to travel more in 2017. Spontaneous travel can be difficult for many reasons, but most obstacles are easily overcome. Below are the top three excuses people don’t travel and ways to combat these issues so you can succeed in your travel resolution long after January.

Too Expensive

Arkansas roadways show off their fall color in Packages from The Empress of Little Rock

On the road in Arkansas

Any time you travel there will be expenses involved to get from point A to B, but getting creative and thinking outside the box can help you save. You might not stay at a 4-star hotel each night or dine in a Michelin Star restaurant, but you may discover that a budget friendly trip allows you to really immerse yourself in the “local” experience.

*Stay in a hostel instead of a hotel. You may give up some privacy, but you will be too busy experiencing your destination with all of the money you saved to notice.

*Do your homework! The internet has a vast array of data that can be gathered and compared in a matter of minutes. It can be a daunting task, but if you shop around for the best prices, you can really save. Many hotels give significant discounts for students or other groups. It also helps to sign up for their loyalty programs which costs nothing but a moment of your time. The same advice goes for airfare and attractions.

*Save on airfare by not checking baggage. Baggage fees can be outrageous. Do your back and your wallet a favor and pack lightly.

*Cook your own food. Restaurant tabs add up quickly. Hostels typically have shared common space with a kitchen, or you could find a small space with a kitchenette. Every town has a local grocery!

 

No Time to Travel

Another excuse people commonly use to break their travel resolution is the myth that they don’t have enough time. We are busy people with kids and pets and jobs and projects. However, most of us get at least a weekend off. Try not to think of travel as being a week long excursion. It doesn’t have to be long or far away.

*Be a weekend warrior! Travel close to home can happen quickly and cheaply. Almost everyone has things to do in their town that they have never had the opportunity to experience- whether that is an art museum or a restaurant you’ve really been meaning to try. Take a look at your area calendar which always features the best local events. Many of these are even FREE!

*Make a check list of places you want to go this year. Be conscious of the time you spend doing things other than traveling. Sure, the newest Netflix series looks enticing, but you have a travel resolution to keep!

 

I Have Kids so I Don’t Travel

Traveling with children was once unheard of. You needed a pack-n-play, a mini van and a never ending supply of chicken nuggets for your picky eaters. No longer! The travel industry has modified it’s age old policies made exclusively for those over the legal drinking age. Now most front desks supply in room cribs or a roll away at a very nominal fee- if there is one at all. Menus have kid friendly options and even Amtrak offers “family bedrooms” available on their Superliners. Whatever your reasons for not traveling with kids, options are available.

*Visit all inclusive resorts. Children eat. A lot. Plenty of family friendly resorts offer all inclusive packages that spring for your meals. If that option is too expensive see the first list in this post.

*Do more “living” rather than “vacationing”. There are plenty of family travel blogs to follow for great advice. This one is a phenomenal blog from a family with six kids that has been to 13 countries! What is your excuse now?

Your Travel Resolutionhd-area

Do it today. Do it now. Repeat after me:

I commit to making travel (with my family or without) a priority this year. I will do my homework to make travel more affordable and be more conscious of where my “travel time” is being spent. I will be a weekend warrior and stay at my local bed and breakfast or hostel and visit that Presidential library that I have been meaning to explore. I will never use my children as an excuse not to see the world. I will check SOMEPLACE off the list in 2017!

 

 

 

How to Host a New Year’s Eve Dinner Party

December 29th, 2016 by Sharon Welch-Blair

Vista Red vintage dinner plates New Year's Eve dinner party

Vintage dinner plates

Preparing for a formal dinner party, like those of ‘Downton Abbey’, can be a massive undertaking, especially if it is a holiday or event that requires extra preparations to make the evening special. At The Empress of Little Rock, we begin preparing for our New Year’s Eve dinner party months ahead!

Holiday dining room decor at The Empress

The Empress table decked out in her holiday best!

Attention to detail is key when setting a formal dining table. Selecting the perfect china and making sure each utensil is in the proper position can be a chore, but is easily tackled by remembering just a simple rule. Place utensils in the order of use from the outside to the inside. You can also add personal touches to your table such as Christmas crackers or noise makers for a New Year’s Eve dinner party.

Our menu is narrowed from hundreds of gourmet recipes in our repertoire. It is important to choose dishes that offer a variety of flavors and textures. They should be appealing to each of the senses. This year we have chosen four courses and a sorbet that will act as a palate cleanser between the soup and salad. We will begin with Victoria and Albert’s Leek and Brie Cream Soup followed by a rosewater sorbet. The soup recipe can be found below.

The main dish will be Quail in Pear Halves with a Brandy Cream Sauce. Roasted baby carrots and a unique parsnip puree will round
out the entree.

The wines have been selected by the house Sommelier to complement each dish. Guests will explore regions of Spain, France and Italy with our 2016 selections.

A New Year’s Eve dinner party is not complete without dessert! Our Tangerine Tart topped with slivered almonds, fresh cream, and candied peel will be sure to delight!

Victoria and Albert’s Leek and Brie Cream Soup
 2 cups chopped leeks (white & tender green portions)place-setting-template
1/4 cup chopped celery
1 tablespoon chopped shallots
1/4 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon clarified butter
1/2 cup vermouth
2 cups peeled, cubed new potatoes
1 teaspoon dried thyme
White pepper to taste
6 cups chicken stock
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup cubed Brie (rind removed)
1/2 cup lightly packed, stemmed spinach
Sour cream and milk for garnish
Cinnamon basil for garnish
1) In large saucepan, saute leeks, celery, shallots, and garlic in clarified butter until soft.
2) Add vermouth. Boil gently until reduced by half.
3) Add new potatoes, thyme, white pepper to taste, chicken stock, and heavy cream. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Add Brie, 1 cube at a time, whisking until blended after each addition.
4) Boil gently for 15 minutes until potatoes are tender.
5) Pour 1/3 of the soup into blender container. Add 1/3 of the spinach . Puree until smooth. Repeat with remaining soup and spinach in 2 batches.
6) Ladle into serving bowls. Garnish with swirls of sour cream thinned to a drizzling consistency with a little milk.
7) Trim plates with sprigs of cinnamon basil.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings

 

 

Holiday Decor Delights Little Rock Guests

December 9th, 2016 by Sharon Welch-Blair

The elves at Thxmastreenotraine Empress of Little Rock have been working so hard to get each and every ornament and wreath in place for the Christmas season. We have trimmed every tree (all 10!) and tied each bow to bring our guests the most exquisite display of holiday decor in Little Rock.

Each Piece Uniquezachjessxmasoval-christmas

Much care has been taken to preserve the historic integrity of The Empress at Christmas. Each of our unique pieces tell a story of long forgotten traditions. It is a place of live boughs of greens and handmade ornaments and where tiny candles still light the tree. A white wire tree filled with Victorian mementos sits atop our square Steinway in the Ladies’ Parlor. During our ‘Downton Abbey’ New Year’s Eve Wine and Dinner Dance this room is filled with the sounds of live musicians, the clank of wine glasses and the rushing of ball gowns as they waltz away the evening!whirewiretreexmas

In addition to our trees, we have a beautiful Nativity Dining room,The Empress of Little Rockscene, two handmade kissing balls, our authentic 1800’s wooden sleigh, and countless other wonders for the eye. Each mantle is decked in greenery and hung with stockings. It is the “most wonderful time of the year”!

Tours Available Now!

Explore the Empress in her holiday splendor! There are surprises around every corner. Learn the complete history of the Hornibrook mansion- from its completion in 1888 to its present day restoration. Holiday tours are $12.50 per person and are daily at 11:30 AM and 3:00 PM. Reservations are not necessary for groups fewer than ten.frontdoor-wreaths

Our holiday decor is not the only reason to visit The Empress. We have plenty of seasonal packages available year round!kershxmas

 

Holiday Events at The Empress on KATV this Saturday

November 22nd, 2016 by Sharon Welch-Blair

The Empress of Little Rock in Christmas Snow

The Empress looks beautiful draped in Christmas snow and boughs of holly!

We are decking the halls for the holidays at The Empress!  Next week, the owner of The Empress,  Sharon Welch-Blair will be visiting with the morning crew on KATV Channel 7.  The segment will air after Thanksgiving on the Saturday morning show. Sharon will talk about all of The Empress’ holiday plans including the 2nd annual Christmas Grand High Tea and our New Year’s Eve  bash. She’ll be making our delicious tea blend on air and showing off our new teapots! See our tea recipe below and be sure to watch!

white teapot with burgundy Empress logo

Empress teapots make great holiday gifts for the tea lover in your life. They retail for just $29.99.

wooden sleigh on porch of Empress

Our 1860’s wooden sleigh is the pride of the porch during the holiday season!

The Christmas Grand High Tea is the public’s first opportunity to see The Empress in her finest holiday garb. We use only quality Douglas and mixed fir wreaths and boughs. The Empress staff spends three days making sure each of our decorations are sure to delight. One item that continues to wow our guests is our fully restored wooden sleigh. Hand made and painted in the 1860’s, our sleigh has all it’s original parts. It also includes the red, hand-tufted velvet driver’s seat and cushions. The sleigh has been used in many local parades.

Book Now

Start the new year off in luxury! We still have a few rooms available for New Year’s Eve. We have been throwing the classiest New Year’s Eve bash in town for quite some time, and this year will be no exception! Come dressed in your furs and tuxedos and relax in our formal dining room while the house chef prepares a four course offering-each paired with a unique libation! After dinner, retire to the parlors where pianist Jeff Long will entertain guests with his large repertoire of musical selections. You’ll keep dancing until the champagne toast at midnight! Call us today!

Empress Special Tea

2 1/2 quarts water (4 cups =  1 quart)

7 raspberry zinger tea bags

2 cinnamon sticks

4-6 cloves

4 slices orange

Seeds from 1 pomegranate

Place all dry ingredients into water and bring to boil. Continue boiling for 30 minutes

Reduce heat and cover. Simmer ingredients for approximately 2 hours

Pour tea through strainer to remove dry ingredients

Serve and enjoy!

 

 

13 Places in Arkansas ‘Made of Dreams’

November 9th, 2016 by Sharon Welch-Blair

We’ve all been scrolling through our news feed on Facebook when suddenly we come across one of those lists. The lists that you just have to click through because they have a catchy headline that entices you. One such producer of those lists is BuzzFeed. Anyone can post a “list” on BuzzFeed. Their help section suggests posting “cool, funny, interesting stuff that you’ve found online or made yourself that you think has a strong chance of going viral and being shared by other people.” One such list posted recently by Arkansas State Tourism  features 13 places in Arkansas that are “made of dreams”. The Empress of Little Rock is #6!

The list claims that The Empress is both rustic and elegant and could be mistaken for a Yorkshire Estate! While our story doesn’t date back to ‘Merry Old England’, we do have quite a distinguished history!

We certainly appreciate the shout out-particularly with so much competition in our beautiful state!

So What’s on The List?

 yurt overlooking fall foliageNumber one on the list was the new Yurts available for rental at Petit Jean State Park. Yurts are for people who want the experience of being outdoors in a tent, but need more space and to feel like they have a solid roof above- think tepee. The yurts are round, high walled tents with electricity, screened windows, and doors with locks. The ones at Petit Jean can sleep up to six people but yurts vary in size. At only $55 per night, they are an unbeatable bargain!

Places in Arkansas: The Crescent Hotel in background with fall foliage and trolley in front

Another amazing location is Eureka Springs which is home to the 1886 Crescent Hotel and Spa. Like The Empress, this house has a haunted legacy. You can read more about The Crescent Hotel  and other places in Arkansas on their blog. If you haven’t visited Arkansas, Autumn is one of the best times! Check out the rest of the list to plan your stay.

The Empress offers plenty of seasonal packages that you can see here! We hope to see you in each of these Arkansas treasures soon!

Robinson Center Debuts Second Act

November 5th, 2016 by Sharon Welch-Blair

Amidst the Great Depression, the Public Works Administration sought and gained approval (and funds) for what would become one of Little Rock’s most beloved landmarks. Construction of the Joseph Taylor Robinson Memorial Auditorium began in December of 1937 and was completed in January of 1940. Known as the Robinson Center Music Hall since 1973, the auditorium is home to the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra and hosts countless acts each year. The doors officially closed on July 1, 2014 to begin a $70M renovation project. With the ribbon cutting ceremony scheduled just days away on November 10, Little Rock residents can’t wait to see what improvements have been made!

Looking Toward the Future

robinsonAccording to the Robinson Center Facebook page, much of the outside structure has remained the same, while the inside has a complete makeover. Many are excited to see the new lobby. The older facilities were not equipped to handle the number of guests that visit the center. The new addition will not just be large, but beautiful. It includes a glass lobby that overlooks the river as seen in the rendition below. 
computer generated rendition of new Robinson center with glass lobby overlooking the river.
A complete list of the upcoming season events, beginning with the ASO, can be found here on the Little Rock Convention and Visitor’s Bureau homepage.

Much excitement is in store for visitors to Robinson’s ‘Second Act’ including Elf: The Musical, the Moscow Ballet and Eagle’s artist Don Henley.

Other notable performers from the hall’s past include Elvis Presley, Bob Hope, Mae West and Louis Armstrong. With such a strong history and an anticipated bright future, Robinson Center should continue to foster a love of the arts in Little Rock and build a legacy of pride for the downtown area.

Halloween at The Empress of Little Rock!

October 31st, 2016 by Sharon Welch-Blair

Halloween is the best time of year to visit one of Little Rock’s real haunted houses! The Hornibrook Mansion (now known as The Empress of Little Rock) has always been the subject of much speculation. When it comes to whether or not it is haunted, visitors draw their own conclusions.

Mr. James H. Hornibrook, who was the original owner of the house, died of an apoplectic stroke outside the front gate at the age of 49. The house has also been the site of a boarding house for women during WWII, a nursing home, and a private residence for Colonel Asbury Fowler. You can read the complete history of the mansion and it’s hauntings here!

Each year, staff at The Empress hand out candy to neighborhood children trick-or-treating at the mansion. They also play host to Haunted Tours of Little Rock which brings a group through each Friday night in October.

Halloween isn’t the only time we celebrate at The Empress! Christmas and New Years Eve are always a favorite as well. Mark your calendars now to attend Christmas in the Quarter. Our annual Christmas Grand High Tea takes place Sunday, December 4 at 3 PM. The ‘Downton Abbey’ New Year’s Eve gala is a formal affair. Dine on a scrumptious four course meal paired with wines chosen by our exclusive Sommelier. Dance your way into 2017 while sipping champagne as live musicians play into the evening. Call 501-374-7966 for more details!

 

Top Places for Sunday Brunch in Little Rock?

October 7th, 2016 by Sharon Welch-Blair

Here at The Empress, we’d like to think we are a bit of an authority on both beds AND breakfasts! So, it should come as no surprise that we have the scoop on the best restaurants for Sunday brunch in Little Rock. Of course, we’d love for you to stay with us, but when you leave, please check out these local faves and let us know what you think!

Biggest Brunch Menu in Little Rock

Chef Abernathy and the crew at Loca Luna have had a longstanding Sunday Brunch that has been  voted “Best Brunch” by the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, Arkansas Times, AY Magazine, At Home in Arkansas, and Sync Weekly. The “Champagne Brunch” boasts plenty of breakfast specialty items as well as their salads, sandwiches and brick oven pizzas!

Best New Brunch in Little Rock

Raduno is the new kid on the block of SOMA, but they’ve been doing brunch for a while now and not just pizzas! You can also get lemon ricotta pancakes, French Toast and Lox among other selections. The menu is limited, but perfect for this new Main Street staple. They’ve also just added a great patio for enjoying the fall weather!Sunday Brunch sandwich board outside on sidewalk of Raduno

 

Best Brunch in Little Rock You Didn’t Know About

B-Side cafe is the “alter ego” of Lilly’s Dim Sum. Only open Saturday and Sunday from 8-2PM, It is difficult to get a seat in this “secret” restaurant. Come inside the Lilly’s Dim Sum location in Market Street Shopping Center off Rodney Parham and you will find an eclectic mix of folks from after church diners, to just got out of bed teenagers. The Menu is just large enough with selections like Farmer’s Hash (add the two poached eggs!), Biscuit Mountain (get the bacon bridge), and Bacon Wrapped French Toast Kebabs.

 

 Local Favorite

Just down the street from The Empress is The Root Cafe. For local foodies, it doesn’t get much better than this. Sustainable practices, local food and community serving are all things that describe this tiny Main Street start up. Since 2009 The Root has continued to make good on the promise of sourcing from local farmers and list what ingredients they buy right on their website. With grants they have received from HLN TV and Chase bank, they may be opening soon for dinner. Right now it’s breakfast that is the standout. The Biscuits and Gravy are much talked about and it’s the only place in town to get a Tofu Scramble.

 

‘Sunday Best’ Brunch

Looking to do brunch in more posh setting? Cache restaurant in the Rivermarket has you covered. Chic and modern decor and open air kitchen are both featured in this busy downtown eatery. Cache has been serving brunch for over a year now, but it is still considered one of the areas best kept secrets. There is no menu posted on their website, however, a quick glance at their facebook page shows rave reviews for their Sunday brunch. Classic items like omelettes and Eggs Benedict are served alongside French-press coffee. Cache oozes atmosphere which makes it a MUST on our list.

 

 

 

2016 Arkansas State Fair Coming Soon to Little Rock

September 29th, 2016 by Sharon Welch-Blair

State fair ride as seen at night
One of the biggest crowd producing events of the year is only 15 days away! The Arkansas State Fair begins October 14 with competitive events, live entertainment, livestock and everyone’s favorite- the food!

The current Arkansas State Fair has been a tradition since 1938. Several incarnations, both before and after, were held on both sides of the river and in many different locations. In 1945 The Arkansas Livestock Show Association accepted an offer of several acres from the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce. This land on Roosevelt Road would be the permanent home. Today the State Fairgrounds Complex consists of 135 acres North, East and South of Roosevelt. Read more about the history here.1948 black and white Arkansas State Fair advertisement

This year boasts a stellar entertainment line-up including 80’s pop sensation Rick Springfield and Country music legend Clint Black. The much anticipated bull riding competition on Saturday, culminates with the crowning of the Arkansas State Fair Rodeo Queen.

Want to know what crazy food will be featured this year? Usually, Arkansas State Fair fare consists of anything and everything deep fried and on a stick. The official food guide hasn’t been revealed yet, but take a peak at last year’s roundup courtesy of our friend Kat Robinson of Tie Dye Travels.

Stay with us!

There is still time to reserve a room at The Empress of Little Rock, where you can relax in luxury in between those funnel cakes and foot-longs.  Book a third night in one of our spa suites for just $99 so you can play all weekend long! We are only five minutes away from the fairgrounds and the rest that Little Rock has to offer.

The Empress Takes Part in Arkansas Halloween Events

September 22nd, 2016 by Sharon Welch-Blair

Arkansas Halloween festivities will be taking place all over town throughout the month of October. Grab your ghouls and goblins and check out some of these spooktacular events!

school children play in front of the military-museum

MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History

Coming to Little Rock on October 8th is the 6th annual Arkansas Paranormal Expo. Vendors and speakers on all subjects of the supernatural including UFOs and “Bigfoot”, will be showcased at The MacArthur Museum of Military History on East Ninth Street in Little Rock. The mission of the organizers is to help preserve this building as it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is the birthplace of General Douglas MacArthur. This has grown to be a popular community event and is just $10 for a weekend pass.

Little Rock history comes alive October 11 for Tales of the Crypt at Mount Holly Cemetery. Each year Parkview High School students dress in period clothing and recite monologues from the gravesides of famous Arkansans buried in the “Westminster Abbey of Little Rock”. If you aren’t familiar with the cemetery and its historical relevance, you can visit the grounds any day and see the burial sites of  15 state Supreme Court justices, four Confederate generals, seven United States senators and 22 Little Rock mayors. There are two Pulitzer Prize recipients, as well as military heroes, including David O. Dodd, a 17-year-old boy executed for being a “Confederate spy,” and often referred to as the “Boy Martyr of the Confederacy.” Read more about events at Mount Holly here! Watch a sneak peak of Tales of The Crypt on vimeo.

The Empress Bed and Breakfast at dusk

The Empress

More Haunting History

An Arkansas Halloween wouldn’t be complete without a haunted house! Each year, local author and tour guide Linda Howell gives guests the opportunity to get up close and personal with a few of Arkansas’ most famous haunts. The Empress of Little Rock  luxury hotel and B&B will be featured on the tour. Visit the website to reserve your spot! The first tour of the season takes place Friday, October 14th.