The former oil boomtown is booming once again thanks to a $100 million entertainment makeover.
Last year, MAD, as the Murphy Arts District is called, transformed downtown El Dorado. Largely bankrolled by the El Dorado-based Murphy Oil and the Murphy family, phase one of the $100 million project included the MAD Amphitheater, home to music festivals featuring nationally known acts, outdoor film screenings and a seasonal farmers market; First Financial Music Hall at the Griffin, a music venue and multipurpose event center that can hold 3,000 people; the Griffin Restaurant, a farm-to-table gastropub and cabaret with seating for up to 300 guests; and the MAD Playscape, a 2-acre children’s playground that contains ADA accessible equipment. Phase two is slated to include the MAD Art Gallery, a 10,000-square-foot space that will showcase exhibitions from around the country, and a renovation of the Rialto, a 1920s Vaudeville-era theater that will have floor seating for 850, plus a full balcony. It will eventually host the South Arkansas Symphony and traveling films and Broadway shows.
Make sure you check out Oil Heritage Park downtown for a self-guided tour of sculpture, artifacts and plaques that tell Union County’s fascinating history. If you want more, a 15-minute drive will take you to the Arkansas Museum of Natural Resources (4087 Smackover Hwy., Smackover), where you’ll find more about South Arkansas’s oil boom and the culture that sprang up around it.
Get your fill of theater, art and education at the South Arkansas Arts Center (110 E. Fifth St.), El Dorado’s visual and performing arts center, which includes three gallery spaces, a ballet studio, a 207-seat theater, a costume shop, classrooms, a photography studio and more. The SAAC hosts regular arts classes for adults and children.
No trip to El Dorado is complete without a visit to the Spudnut Shoppe Co. (810 W. Faulkner St.) to pick up a dozen (or two) Spudnuts, the famed donut delicacy made with potato flour. And Hill’s Recreation Parlor (205 E. Cedar St.) is the oldest running pool hall in the state.
A new $14 million boutique hotel, The Haywood, is slated to open in 2020 with 70 rooms and a lobby bar that’s intended to serve as a hangout for travelers and locals alike and will feature art installations.
Backwoods Art Gallery (209 E. Main St.) offers professional framing services and doubles as an art gallery and gift shop, showcasing paintings, sculpture, jewelry and more.