This city on the northern border of Rhode Island has transformed itself from a Blackstone River blue-collar industrial center to an eclectic destination for dining, music, and local culture. But everywhere are traces of the past: new businesses and attractions stand next to others that have served the community for generations. You can even hear it. Owing to a large influx of French-Canadians seeking textile mill jobs in the early 20th century, the city proudly retains traces of that French-accented heritage, as visitors will catch snatches of the language still being spoken in stores and on the street.
An old-school motel in the thick of the city is the Woonsocket Motor Inn (333 Clinton St., 401-762-1224, www.woonsocketmotorinn.com, rates from $68), a family-owned, 39-room motel with free Internet and cable TV, featuring clean and comfortable rooms at reasonable rates. For couples, a more romantic option would be the Pillsbury House (341 Prospect St., 800-205-4112, www.pillsburyhouse.com, rooms $88 each through March 31, then from $95) in the city’s historic north end, a four-room Victorian with guest kitchenette on the second floor. Each morning guests are treated to a full hot breakfast, featuring fresh fruit and homemade baked goods. Gluten-free and vegetarian options are available. Business travelers and the business-weary will find much to like at the Holiday Inn Express (194 Fortin Drive, 401-769-5000, www.holidayinnexpresswoonsocket.com, rates from $121) with a business center, fitness room, free breakfast buffet, and a free newspaper delivered to your room.
Grab a stool at New York Lunch (8½ Main St., 401-762-9619, www.facebook.com/pages/New-York-Lunch-Inc/115695161816049, breakfast from $2.25), a local dining institution for more than a century that specializes in
Rhode Island-made hot dogs at $1.25 apiece, fully loaded by counter whiz Edna Caron, who serves up good-natured barbs on the side. Up for Mexican? Try The Burrito Co. (104 Cass Ave., 401-597-6400, www.theburritoco.com, lunch from $5.95), where diners can savor dishes that owners Anthony and Denise Sierra call “California-style Mexican”: well-seasoned but not too hot. Try a 2½-pound burrito, washed down with homemade sangria or fruit-infused margaritas, particularly the popular blueberry-lemon. Hearty sandwiches of all stripes can be had at Kay’s Restaurant (1013 Cass Ave., 401-762-9675, www.kaysrestaurant.com, sandwiches from $6.95), a local favorite since 1968. Here, the daily menu is hand-printed on napkins, and many regulars will point you to the whopping steak sandwich topped with cheese, sauteed mushrooms, and onions on a fresh buttered roll. Grab some grub any time of the day or night at the 24-hour, shiny-silver beauty, Patriots Diner (65 Founders Drive, 401-765-6900, www.patriotsdiner.com, dinners from $8.95), with a full range of meals of chicken, steak, fish, and pasta.
Music lovers should check out family owned Al Drew Music Center (526 Front St., 401-769-3552, www.aldrewmusic.com), serving the music needs of amateurs and pros alike since 1964, including supplying instruments for Cheap Trick, Alabama, and Emmy Lou Harris. The store itself is a star: It was used for location filming for the 2009 Richard Gere movie “Hachi: A Dog’s Tale.” Taking up residence in an old mill by the river is The Village at Le Moulin (68 South Main St., 401-474-7704), home to artsy shops like Beaudoin Rose (401-497-0344, www.beaudoinrose.com), selling antiques, artwork, and vintage goods; Cindy’s Custom Creations (617-775-5908, www.facebook.com/Cindyscustomcreations), maker of blankets for professional sports teams, handmade soaps, and artwork; and Crafting With the Frolicking Goddess (www.thefrolickinggoddess.webs.com, 508-498-5782), where they teach the art of making crafts. Bring back youthful memories at Juvenile Automobiles Pedal Car Co. (291 High St., 401-766-9661, www.juvenileautomobiles.com) open by appointment only but worth it for antique-toy lovers. Here you’ll find more than 300 pedal cars, toy trucks, Art Deco tricycles, wagons, comics, and more, in a seemingly chaotic jumble that owner Matthew Vaznaian knows like the back of his hand. In the dead of winter, a great family take on the day is a spin around the outdoor rink at River Island Park (off Bernon Street, 401-762-6400, www.woonsocket.org/skating.html ), free for all comers. After a few turns, join the crowd around the massive wood-burning stove and warm up a bit.
Music figures big in the Woonsocket night scene, and a great place to check it out is Vintage (2 South Main St., 401-765-1234, www.vintageri.com), with Thursday night jazz — which has featured the likes of the Duke Robillard Jazz Trio —
theatre.com), built in 1926, with 1,110 seats and tons of productions, including the Peking Acrobats on Feb. 2, Eagles tribute band Feb. 15, and “A Chorus Line” starting a three-day run Feb. 22. Shake it up at night, physically and emotionally, at Stage Right, Studio for Arts and Wellness (68 South Main St., 401-356-0255, www.stagerightstudio.org , all classes $5), a place where visitors can express themselves in all forms of art, including performing before small audiences, and where they have classes in dance, yoga, drawing, and Zumba.
Paul E. Kandarian can be reached at email@example.com.