McClard’s Bar-B-Q is a family-owned and -operated restaurant located at 505 Albert Pike in Hot Springs (Garland County). It has achieved national recognition not only for its food but also for the prominent political figures who visit the restaurant and extol its virtues, including former president Bill Clinton.
Alex and Gladys McClard owned the Westside Tourist Court in Hot Springs in the 1920s, which was located west of the current restaurant’s location on Albert Pike. According to the official history of the restaurant, a destitute traveler could not pay the $10 he owed for his two-month stay at the tourist court. The traveler asked the McClards to accept a recipe for what he called “the world’s greatest bar-b-que sauce” in lieu of payment for the room. The McClards accepted, as opposed to receiving nothing at all, and were delighted with the taste of the sauce.
By 1928, they were finding success cooking goat meat with the barbecue sauce from the recipe. This proved so popular that they withdrew from the tourist court business and changed the name of their establishment to Westside Bar-B-Que. They moved to a whitewashed stucco building at the current location in 1942, where the restaurant became known as McClard’s.
McClard’s offered carhop service through the 1940s and 1950s for customers who blinked their car lights or sounded their horn. Drivers could dial their radios to a frequency that would play tunes from the jukebox inside the restaurant, while the carhops placed trays of food on the car door. Drive-up service is no longer available, nor does the restaurant generally accept reservations. Goat is no longer on the menu, having been replaced by beef and pork.
The second, third, and fourth generations of the McClard family have worked in the restaurant, and it is in its ninth decade of continuous service by the McClard family. The restaurant also sells bottles of the famous barbecue sauce. Everything on the menu is said to be made from scratch, with side dishes such as beans and coleslaw prepared from family recipes and tamales made by hand.
One menu change came about after the coronary bypass surgery of Bill Clinton, McClard’s most famous customer, who enjoyed eating at the restaurant while growing up in Hot Springs. Current co-owner Scott McClard has been quoted as saying that the restaurant put forward a new menu item of sliced pork or beef, beans, and coleslaw—without bread or added sugar—in order to lower carbohydrates and thus be allowed on Clinton’s diet. He added that the former president is the only person whose reservation they will accept and the only one for whom they would change their menu.
McClard’s has catered major events at the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock (Pulaski County), including President Clinton’s sixtieth birthday on August 19, 2006. Its barbecue recipes are also included in The Clinton Presidential Center Cookbook: A Collection of Recipes for Family and Friends, sold through the Clinton Foundation.
McClard’s was named “the country’s best” by TV weatherman Willard Scott in his book, Willard Scott’s All-American Cookbook. Southern Living magazine’s Hot New List for 2006 included McClard’s in “40 Things Every Southerner Ought to Do.” It was named one of Travelocity’s “Local Secrets, Big Finds,” named one of the Travel Channel’s “Top Ten Barbeque Restaurants,” included in the book The French Fry Companion for its fries, cited in Gourmet magazine, and endorsed by Runner’s World magazine as a great place to eat after running a ten-kilometer race.
In early 2014, McClard’s began accepting credit cards at the restaurant for the first time in its history. In 2018, McClard’s was inducted into the second class of the Arkansas Food Hall of Fame.
For additional information:
McClard’s Bar-B-Q. http://www.mcclards.com (accessed March 8, 2018).
Scott, Prue. Willard Scott’s All-American Cookbook. New York: Scribner, 1986.
Westley, Janet. "McClard's." The Looking Glass 15 (May 1989): 14-15.
Arkansas State University