The natural hot springs right in the middle of the resort town of Hot Springs, Arkansas reach water temperatures of 143oF. The earliest bathhouses were simple, tent-like structures of canvas and lumber built over the individual springs, but in 1884, the federal government channeled Hot Springs Creek and laid a road above it. And so Bathhouse Row was born, with landscaping and sidewalks suited to leisurely strolls.
The Arlington Hotel is poised at the head of this promenade. When the new hotel opened on December 31, 1924, it was the place to stay while visiting Bathhouse Row, which is still open to the tourists who flock to Hot Springs National Park to benefit from its thermal waters.
With its Crystal Ballroom, Venetian Room, Music Room, Card Room, Writing Room, and over 500 guest rooms, the Arlington was one of Al Capone’s favorite vacationing spots: He stayed in Room 443 but reserved the entire floor. Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio were was also fans.
The Arlington Hotel has a storied history of gangsters and baseball greats, and it was at the original hotel that the New York Giants’ manager John “Mugsy” McGraw was arrested for unlawful gambling when he was caught pitching silver dollars into a saloon basket (as a plaque in front of the hotel informs visitors).
The historic hotel has existed in several incarnations. When the original three-story wooden hotel opened in 1875 with 120 guest rooms, it was the largest hotel in the state, and in the late 1880s, another 100 rooms, a new dining room, and a parlor were added. In 1893, this building was razed to make way for a new 300-room Spanish Renaissance structure, which was destroyed by a fire in 1923.
Perhaps as a nod to the past, the hotel still issues keys to its guests, not key cards. It also has its own bathhouse, with a manually-operated elevator lined with beveled glass and brass that is still in use today. A spigot in the hotel lobby dispenses water from the springs, and guests line up to fill their paper cups.