Go ahead, pinch yourself.
It’s been more than two years since that ominous day when the COVID-19 virus arrived, and Rhode Islanders boarded themselves up with Netflix, booze, and toilet paper (and hair dye).
(We won’t talk about the hair dye.)
But diminishing coronavirus numbers, loosening mask mandates, and reopening restaurants have people emerging from their pandemic bunkers and pouring into the streets.
On Rhode Island Report, we chat with Angie and Jeff DiMeo, who are the couple behind Providence Date Night, an Instagram account about the city’s food scene.
The husband-and-wife duo also run The DiMeo Group, a sales and marketing company for the specialty food industry. Both of them work from home and, while Jeff is “a wonderful chef,” they needed an outlet during COVID-19 — they were getting tired of spending nights watching Netflix and drinking wine.
They quit drinking and ventured outside. But navigating the bar and restaurant scene sober can be a sobering experience.
”We made the decision to kind of break free from the nightly ritual of opening a bottle of wine,” Jeff says. “And, you know, I always drank vodka sodas and I would never say that we had a problem with it, but it kind of felt pointless after a while, like, why are we just sitting here, you know, watching Netflix and just drinking wine and cocktails when that doesn’t feel like the healthiest thing to do for oneself?”
The self-described “foodies” like to go out to eat, and their fun date nights and Jeff’s cooking inspired Providence Date Night. It’s grown into a “journey and discovery,” Angie says.
“We can make some mocktails that will blow your mind and you will be shocked at how much they taste boozy,” Jeff says. “It’s almost more fun. You can still be social and you can clink glasses, but you can also hold a conversation and not make a fool of yourself.”
According to an article in the Harvard Gazette, investigators at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital estimate that alcohol consumption in 2020 will result in 8,000 additional deaths from alcohol-related liver disease, 18,700 cases of liver failure, and 1,000 cases of liver cancer by 2040. In the short-term, alcohol consumption changes because of COVID-19 will lead to 100 additional deaths and 2,800 cases of liver failure by 2023.
The DiMeos have offset the sometimes-awkward feeling of a night out without expensive cocktails by ordering generously and becoming “obscene” tippers, Jeff says.
“I know that the person that’s providing the service and taking care of us relies on a tip based on our ticket,” he said. “We almost overcompensate to the point where we might as well just be ordering the bottles of wine and throwing them on the floor.”
They estimate the cost of liquor and tip based on that. Everybody wins, Jeff says.
Angie said she recently went with a friend to The Waterdog Kitchen + Bar in Warren, R.I., where the bartenders could make any drink on the menu zero-proof. She ordered a great jalapeno pineapple margarita.
“I actually encourage restaurants to start jumping on this trend in a bigger way because there’s a lot of us out here who are sober curious or just don’t want to have a drink at night but still want to participate and be a part of a celebration or fun,” she said. “And it’s a great way as a restaurant to increase your ticket without having to serve alcohol or just water or soda.”
Restauranteurs featuring mocktails wouldn’t need a liquor license.
“If you go to New York and you and you sit down, there is an entire section” of non-alcoholic choices, Angie says. “I really want to see that happen in Providence.”
”If you have a problem with alcohol or if you are someone who wants to enter that, the hardest part is just the beginning,” she said. “When you’re handed that wine list, when you’re asked what you want to drink — get through that, and then it feels like nothing.”
Hear more by downloading the latest episode of Rhode Island Report, available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music, iHeartRadio, Google Podcasts, and other podcasting platforms, or listen in the player above.
Curious about some of the best places to go for mocktails or date night? Here are 11 spots the DiMeos recommend:
- The Eddy, 95 Eddy St., Providence, @theeddybar
- The Dean Bar, 122 Fountain St., Providence, @thedeanbar
- Bottles Fine Wine, 141 Pitman St., Providence, @bottlesfinewine
- Eno Fine Wines, 225 Westminster St., Providence, @enofinewines
- Little Sister, 737a Hope St., Providence, @littlesisterpvd
- Al Forno, 577 South Water St., Providence, @alfornorestaurantprovidence
- Xaco Taco, 370 Richmond St., Providence, @xacotacori
- Avon Cinema, 260 Thayer St., Providence, @avon_cinema
- Sweet Marie’s, 25 West Main St., North Kingstown, @sweetmariestea
- Ceremony Cafe and Market, 406 Brook St., Providence, @ceremonypvd
- Feed the Cheeks, 182 Wayland St., Providence, @feedthecheeks