Chandeliers crafted from liquor bottles flank an 1800s bar reclaimed from Pennsylvania. Photos—Susan Atteberry Smith

Once a speakeasy, The Garrison is a feast of flavor, art, and history.

Photographs show our family and friends gathered in front of mirrors under strands of mini-lights. Or, even better, sometimes we’re standing with our backs to Howard Garrison’s paintings and the swirling branches, vines, and flowers the Ozark artist once brushed onto his largest canvas ever: the walls and ceilings of the Riverside Inn he founded in 1923.

It’s 2001, and we’re celebrating the eightieth birthday of my mother, Lois Atteberry. Nearly a half-century after Prohibition ended, the fabled painter’s original speakeasy and gambling joint had long since left its checkered past behind. By the time Mom turned 80, it had been transformed from a rustic lodge to a large, elegant restaurant and popular venue for celebrations ranging from birthdays, anniversaries, and wedding receptions to club and community parties and dances.

In fact, by then the women’s group from my church had held at least one Christmas party among the bright murals and low-lit nooks and crannies of Riverside. At the old Ozark Christian Church we attended, Garrison felt like an invisible member of the congregation: His large oils of The Last Supper and The Crucifixion were as much a part of the sanctuary as the Bible case that a friend’s brother built—back in the 1970s—in his high school woodworking class.

Still, even beyond Garrison’s death in 1974, the proprietor-rebel with a cause remained legend—along with Riverside’s fried chicken. Drenched one too many times by spring flooding, Riverside closed in 2009 and was demolished the next year. When The Garrison opens Friday, July 1, less than two miles downstream at The Ozark Mill, though, the new fine-dining restaurant will bring to life Riverside’s earliest years.

On the lower level of the repositioned and refurbished 1833 mill, also home to the family-friendly Ozark Mill Restaurant, The Garrison is part of a property that includes a coffee shop, crafters workshop, urban farm, wedding chapel, and even Ozark’s historic Riverside Bridge.

“In The Garrison, we really hope that folks get swept away to another time and place, through artwork and the atmosphere and the food and the drink, and really experience a lot of the Ozarks traditions and tales and folklore along the way,” says Dayle Duggins, marketing manager for Finley Farms, owned by conservationist and Bass Pro Shops CEO Johnny Morris.

During a June media preview of The Garrison, I felt like I was stepping back in time as soon as I started walking into the restaurant through an old molasses tanker salvaged from the mill’s basement. The tanker leads to the check-in counter and the Garrison painting “A View From My Prison Cell in Ava,” which portrays the pastoral Douglas County surroundings the artist enjoyed as he did time for serving liquor to a congressman at Riverside.

“He painted it while he was in prison,” Dayle says, “and some people even say he maybe learned how to paint when he was in prison.”

More Garrison art hangs in the bar: self-portraits, depictions of the infamous 19th-century Ozarks vigilante group The Bald Knobbers, and his concept sketch of the original Riverside. Garrison’s family, the Christian County Historical Society, and the Christian County Library helped Finley Farms obtain the paintings, Dayle says.

The bar area also boasts historic Riverside fixtures like a fireplace surround and the ornate mirror above it, reflecting light from chandeliers made of bottles that look like they might have held moonshine almost a century ago. If they don’t take a seat under those chandeliers at the nearby bar, guests can settle into loveseats around the fire.

That’s tempting, but dinner, a sampling of The Garrison’s menu, will soon be served in the main dining room. The lights are low here, too, so some of us use our cell phone lights to see what’s for supper: delectable sweet potatoes cooked with black walnut, fried sage and smoked hickory syrup, then topped with crème fraiche, sea scallops in crispy pancetta, with truffled creamed corn and melted leeks, and, no surprise, Riverside fried chicken, brined in herbs and served with a dill pickle.

An old molasses tanker salvaged from the original mill leads to the check-in desk and Howard Garrison's painting "A View From My Prison Cell in Ava."
An old molasses tanker salvaged from the original mill leads to the check-in desk and Howard Garrison’s painting “A View From My Prison Cell in Ava.”

Executive Chef Kevin Korman and Finley Farms and Ozark Mill co-founder Megan Stack, Johnny Morris’s daughter, worked with former Riverside owner Eric Engel to perfect the fried chicken, Dayle says.

Dessert is a slice of pound cake, but we’re not talking Sara Lee. Baked on a griddle in brown butter and topped with lemon chamomile ice cream and a few sprigs of rosemary, that recipe was perfect from the start, says Kevin Longley, general manager of food and beverage. By contrast, most of the French-forward items listed in the lighted leather-bound menu future guests will receive have taken a year or two to develop.

Speaking—easily, of course—of menu items, beverages at The Garrison include eight craft cocktails, all inspired by the mill’s history. Kevin Longley says his favorite is the one named after the artist and the restaurant, a combination of an old-fashioned and a Manhattan. It’s finished with woodsmoke “as a nod to Howard Garrison, who smoked cigars all the time,” he says

I order The Damsel, a gin cocktail named for the girls who worked at the mill in its early days. Dayle explains that their job was to make sure the millstones didn’t grind against each other and spark a fire and explosion.

Commemorating Ozark history at The Garrison as well as the rest of Finley Farms is important to Megan, who grew up there and cherishes memories of dining at Riverside.

“It’s been just an incredible experience to get to hear people’s memories of Howard Garrison and The Riverside Inn,” Megan says. “The place wouldn’t be what it is today if it weren’t for the community members taking ownership of this project and sharing what’s so special about these places to them.”

Soon, The Garrison guests will be able to learn more about the mill and Riverside in a history tour focusing on the mill’s longtime owners, the Hawkins family, and employees like Bud Young, who worked there for more than fifty years, Dayle says. They’ll also learn about the late Ozark musician Byron Kelly, whose aunt, Riverside cook Mary Ellen Marley, created the restaurant’s famous fried chicken recipe.

For now, though, the party’s over. Guests leave via a “secret” exit at the back of The Garrison …

And I’m back in the twenty-first century soon enough to watch the sun set.

The Garrison began taking reservations two weeks ahead of its July 1 opening. To see a full menu and make online reservations, go to Hours are Wednesday through Saturday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.