The Heart of Providence

20 things we love about our city (especially in winter!)

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It’s no secret: We love Providence. We’re crazy about Providence. This isn’t some crush. We want to call Providence in the middle of the night and see what it’s up to. We want to wake up with Providence and hang out all day. We want to run through a field of sunflowers in Providence, take a gondola ride through Providence, share a coffee milk with Providence, arrange a staycation in Providence – and eventually grow old together, just glad we got to spend a lifetime with Providence.

There’s so much to love about our city – and because it’s February, the go-to month to gush your affections, we’d like to offer a little Valentine to the Creative Capital. Our town has come a long way in the past 384 years, but it’s never looked more vibrant. How do we love Providence? Let us count the ways.

 

1: Rooftop Bars

On a warm summer evening, ProvidenceG is packed with partiers, who gather around fire pits, sip cocktails, and gaze at the Downcity skyline from the rooftop deck. Even in winter, ProvidenceG draws steady crowds every night of the week, thanks to a temporary enclosure and energetic DJs. Over on the East Side, Mare Rooftop offers similar panoramas of Wayland Square, thanks to enormous windows that surround the dining room. You can also reserve an “igloo,” a heated geodesic dome on the rooftop deck that overlooks the snow-covered streets.

 

2: RISD Museum

As the biggest fine art collection in the state, the RISD Museum is basically our Louvre. Visitors are treated to a survey of world artforms, from Egyptian artifacts to a Jackson Pollock canvas, along with the creations of RISD alumni. This year, the museum is hosting A Changing Reflection, a shining showcase of silver and metalworks. Also, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of an Andy Warhol display, the museum is presenting a multidisciplinary series, Raid the Icebox Now, with showings and lectures by established artists.

 

3: Music Scene

The walls of the Columbus Theatre are plastered in posters, and its online calendar is equally packed with forthcoming events. Music is in our blood, and bands are everywhere: The What Cheer? Brigade marching around with brass instruments, Downtown Boys redefining punk, and Sage Francis continuing to spin new rhymes, plus hundreds more. Our bigger venues attract national acts, like this month’s Wallows show at Fete Music Hall and YK Osiris at The Strand. You can catch local outfits at more intimate venues, such as Dusk, The Parlour, the Scurvy Dog, Pop and more.

 

4: Global Eats

Providence’s full panoply of styles and flavors defies imagination. Our city has long been famous for its traditional Italian and Portuguese places, but you can also find Korean at Mokban; Indian at Kabob & Curry and India; Thai at Pàkarang; Moroccan at Tea in Sahara; Peruvian eats at Los Andes; Syrian at Aleppo Sweets, and – well, more international flavors than we could possibly list here. You can yearn for curry, mole, ceviche, glass noodles, or sashimi, and you’ll find multiple options for each.

 

5: Indie Bookstores

Not long ago, booklovers feared that the neighborhood book stall would vanish, thanks to corporate box stores and all-consuming Amazon. But in Providence, bibliophiles have their pick of literary little shops. The most traditional is Symposium, that stately storefront on Westminster. The biggest is Cellar Stories, which holds an astonishing 70,000 used and rare volumes. Paper Nautilus displays a variety of second-hand books and ephemera. Books on the Square is a go-to for new volumes and gifts. Twenty Stories stocks titles based entirely on the owners’ personal recommendations. And Riff Raff has its own bar. Really, they’re all page-turners.

 

6: Athenaeum

Think of the Providence Athenaeum as the Rolls Royce of libraries. The Athenaeum welcomes visitors with elegant carpentry, carved statues, and dense rows of books, just as it has since 1836. Anyone is welcome to spend time, but a valid library card will access thousands of popular titles, as well as several special collections. The art collection alone, with its busts of famous authors and copy of Gilbert Stuart’s George Washington portrait, is worth a few hours’ visit.

 

7: Nightlife

The Salon is a legend of Providence nightlife, not only as a dance club with rotating DJs, but as a cocktail lounge, gaming parlor, theme-party nexus, and speed-dating venue. Its central location, just behind City Hall, means packed houses every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. And the Salon is just one of a dozen dance clubs in the city, where the music throbs until last call. “Nightlife” means different things to different people, though, and you could also catch a spoken-word show at AS220 or shoot for high scores at Free Play Bar Arcade. Or try them all – in winter, there’s a lot of night to live.

 

8: Speakeasy Spots

Prohibition ended 87 years ago – but the mystique of the speakeasy is as alluring as ever, and Providence is full of homages. Step into the low-lit Avery and relish the creative cocktails and art nouveau decor. The Courtland Club combines an authentic vintage atmosphere with inventive pizzas and a long list of spirits. The most recent addition is The Dean Bar, an atmospheric cocktail lounge nestled deep within The Dean Hotel. For a healthy dose of gum-flapping and giggle juice, you can’t beat it.

 

9: Gourmet Donuts

We Rhode Islanders love our donuts. We may owe some of this to the ubiquitous Dunkin’, but those plush, sugary rings also go great with our other fave, coffee. We have a particular love for gourmet donuts, which is why morning customers to PVDonuts and KNEAD often form lines through the door. Whether you prefer the traditional dough or fermented brioche, it’s astonishing just how exquisite a donut can be.

 

10: Plant-Based

When The Grange opened in 2013, it proved that diners could enjoy a dynamic, upscale meal without harming a single animal. Last year, the arrival of Plant City proved that lunch, coffee, dinner, and after-work drinks could all take place in a single complex, and every sip and bite could be sourced from gardens. Providence is more vegan-friendly than ever, and now, with the recent opening of a Gotham Greens greenhouse and the Farm Fresh RI Food Hub aiming for a Fall 2020 completion, our city is contributing to a national network of sustainable cultivation techniques. Progress never tasted so great.

 

11: Murals

With its army of 150 artists, The Avenue Concept has transformed blank walls into spectacular paintings. We see these murals everywhere: Still Here, depicting a Native American woman holding an old photograph, is a fixture of our skyline. The “selfie wall” in Upper South Providence has drawn innumerable visitors who photograph themselves with colorful wings. Meanwhile, Shepard Fairey returned to his alma mater in October, leaving behind a dramatic new mural on the wall of AS220. In a city that displays art so publicly, “Creative Capital” is more than just a nickname.

 

12: Breweries

Microbreweries have popped up across the state, and you can’t drive 10 miles in Rhode Island without passing a tasting room. But the craft brew tradition started in Downcity, with the founding of Trinity Brewhouse. This funky gastropub still guarantees a good time, and the rotating selection of beer is just as frothy and delicious as ever. While most nearby breweries are actually in Pawtucket, Long Live Beerworks made a splash when it moved from West Fountain Street to Sprague Street, and Beer on Earth recently came up from North Kingstown to fill the old LLB spot. And if you just want to try the beers themselves, myriad Providence pubs have local craft on tap, from Bayberry Beer Hall to The Malted Barley.

 

13: Federal Hill

Federal Hill is one of the most famous neighborhoods in the country – and its mythic history of organized crime is steadily being eclipsed by its reputation for food and drink. (To be fair, there have always been great eats in Federal Hill.) The streets are a collage of pubs, pizzerias, and seafood joints, as well as renowned white-tablecloth bistros. The lynchpin of our Little Italy is DePasquale Square, that romantic cobbled plaza that looks like it was transplanted directly from Florence. Recurring culinary tours and concerts punctuate an already thriving epicurean scene.

 

14: Scenic Streets

“It’s so walkable!” That’s what tourists are always saying about Providence, and it’s a luxury we often take for granted. There are so many superlative strolls: the path down Blackstone Boulevard, collegiate walks on Thayer Street, window-shopping down Hope, Wickenden, Wayland, Westminster, and Broadway, and people-watching on Atwells. The inner-city is best known for its promenades, but there are other pockets to amble as well. The most impressive addition to our walkways is, of course, the Pedestrian Bridge, which spans the river and offers the most photogenic view of our skyscrapers at sunset.

 

15: Providence Bruins

They’ve won the five division titles, three regular season titles, and the Calder Cup. Each year, the best players from the Providence Bruins graduate to the Boston Bruins. A darling of the American Hockey League, our single professional sports team is a blast to watch on the ice, and you can catch them at The Dunk for a fraction of the price of an NHL ticket. At press time, the Bruins were still heading the Atlantic Division, so plan to grow out that beard.

 

16: Independent Cinema

Nothing beats the big screen. You can stream movies until you’re blue in the face, but the Avon Cinema’s marquee over Thayer Street will lure true film buffs into its art deco heart. Here you’ll find a titillating range of classic, foreign, and independent films, as well as special events, such as satellite screenings of live theatrical performances. Down on South Main Street, Acoustic Java provides both coffee and flicks all day, as well as a cozy place to chill. This month, you can also check out the Providence Children’s Film Festival, which will screen in venues across the city.

 

17: Great Theater

Theater is alive and well in Providence – and professional, to boot. Everyone knows Trinity Rep, and if you didn’t catch its mega-hit The Prince of Providence last fall, you’ll have a second chance in 2021. Just as Trinity produces a wide range of stage classics and new scripts fresh from Broadway, this theater spotlights both local and national talents. Meanwhile, the Wilbury Theatre is known for producing more provocative scripts – and original works by local playwrights – in its more intimate space. Then of course, there’s the Providence Performing Arts Center, which draws big-name touring companies from New York and beyond.

 

18: Small Shopping

People have been browsing in The Arcade since 1828, making it the “oldest indoor shopping mall in America.” The neoclassical architecture still draws tourists through its doors, whether they know about the Rogue Island Local Kitchen & Bar or not. The walkway is flanked with shops, such as the Carmen & Ginger vintage store and Lovecraft Arts & Sciences Council bookshop. Providence is full of such quirky bazaars; one of the most prominent is the Providence Flea, an all-year marketplace for used and handmade items. We also have half a dozen farmers markets, and more novelty shops than you can shake a pewter pendant at.

 

19: Roger Williams Park Zoo

We love our zoo, of course – but many Rhode Islanders are unaware just how well regarded it is. Roger Williams Park Zoo dates back to the 19th century, making it one of the oldest zoos in the country. Its diverse species and Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular have made us a major destination, and the Faces of the Rainforest exhibit has impressed zookeepers around the world with its sophisticated environmental controls and rare Amazonian otters. It really is a jungle in there.

 

20: You

Yes, you. Because if there’s one thing Providence excels at, it’s community. There are plenty of medium-sized college towns with cool cafes, but our city knows how to bring people together – whether it’s early-morning workouts with the November Project, clicking flashlights on the Hot Club’s deck at Hasbro Children’s Hospital, or getting a few thousand people together to gaze at burning braziers during WaterFire. Providence is diverse, innovative, and weird, and just by living here, you help make it that way. Keep up the good work.