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Explore the artsy side of Providence

Lauren Daley for the boston globe

PROVIDENCE — If your only experience with Providence is shopping at the mall or watching a Friars game at “the Dunk” (that’s the Dunkin’ Donuts Center), you’re missing out on some unique spots for arts and food in Rhode Island’s capital.

Head to the city’s East Side, where, with a Greenwich Village-meets-Portland, Ore., vibe, the city’s flourishing independent business and cultural scene provides you a daytrip packed with art, books, and artisanal pizza.


Start out at The Coffee Exchange, where you’re greeted with bins of organic and fair trade coffee beans from all over the word and a smell so fresh your knees go weak. (207 Wickenden St., 401-273-1198, )

Olga’s Cup & Saucer is an iconic Rhode Island artisan bakery and cafe, offering seasonal breakfast and lunch fare in a cozy cottage. Go for brunch and order the French toast — thick slices of brioche, soaked in egg batter, then grilled, and drizzled with Vermont maple syrup — or the stone-ground corn grits and fresh biscuits with herb butter, eggs, and a cheese crisp. Or . . . well, we’ll stop there. Buy a fresh-from-the-oven baguette and a box of cinnamon croissants to take home. (103 Point St., 7 a.m.-4 p.m. 401-831-6666. )

Breakfast-lovers will also enjoy Café Zog, a tiny place with an overwhelming breakfast and lunch menu. From chocolate chip pancakes to omelets stuffed with spinach, bacon, and provolone, to home-style eggs, bacon, ham, toast, hash browns, scones, crumb cakes, and dozens of fresh smoothies and juices. If you have a sweet tooth, go for the Zog Pancake special: four fluffy pancakes served with warm maple syrup, walnuts, fresh banana slices, and powdered sugar. (239 Wickenden St., 401-421-2213,



Admission is free every Sunday for adults and kids at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum. Its permanent collection includes Picassos, Monets, and Matisses, plus rooms full of ancient art, including a collection of Greek coins and vases, stone sculptures, paintings, and mosaics, as well as Roman jewelry and glass. The Egyptian collection includes a Ptolemaic-period coffin and mummy, and the Asian collection includes a 12th-century wooden Buddha, which, at 9 feet tall, is considered the largest seated Japanese figural sculpture in the United States. Exhibitions are always changing. (224 Benefit St., 401-454-6500, )


Take in the latest flick or an old classic at the independent theater Avon Cinema on Thayer.Lauren Daley for The Boston Globe/Lauren Daley


Thayer Street is an afternoon in and of itself, from the street vendor popping fresh popcorn outside the bookstore, to thrift stores, shops, and people-watching. On any given weekend, you’re apt to see RISD students toting art supplies, rumpled professors walking dogs, pierced skaters, skinny jean-clad Ivy Leaguers, student athletes jogging in packs, or graphic designers with MacBooks on sidewalk benches.

Bookworms could spend hours browsing Brown Bookstore, which is less of a campus bookstore and more of a wonderfully curated Barnes & Noble, including hard-to-find magazines and journals, plus a cafe. (244 Thayer St., 401-863-3168, )

For the latest festival winner or an old classic, film buffs can count on the Avon Cinema, which has been entertaining Providence since 1938. The independent theater house still lifts a curtain to unveil the screen, and only shows one or two films at a time on a rotating basis. (260 Thayer St., 401-421-0020, )

Thayer also offers a variety of great independent shops. Berk’s Shoes & Clothing is an underground gem, chock-full of men’s and women’s shoe brands such as Frye, Sorel, Ugg, New Balance, and Birkenstock (272 Thayer St., 401-831-0174,

For all things Indian and bohemian — including kurta tops, wrap skirts, silk scarves, soy candles, Bindi bazaar jewelry and belly-dancing outfits — check out Spectrum India. (252 Thayer St., 401-421-1010,


If you’re looking for a deal on a Chanel dress or last season’s Jimmy Choos, there’s Second Time Around, a high-end consignment shop. Yes, there are locations in Boston, but no two shops are ever the same. (294 Thayer St., 401-455-2050,


Don’t shop till you drop — grab a nice slice at Nice Slice, where the walls are covered with art by famed street artist and RISD alum Shepard Fairey and the mission is “to serve you pizza and preserve Thayer Street’s status as a haven for intellects and counter-cultural weirdos.” Among the dozens of creative slices are Cranberry Picnic, Joy Ride, and Figgy Stardust. Pizzas are available in whole wheat, vegan, or gluten-free. (267 Thayer St. 401-453-6423. )

For Greek, head to Andreas, where, from Bifteki to burgers, the food is as Greek or as American as you want it to be. (268 Thayer St., 401-331-7978, For south of the border flavor, visit Baja’s Tex Mex Grill (273 Thayer St. 401-383-7079, And if you can’t decide between Mexican or pizza, head to Antonio’s Pizza by the Slice, where, among other toppings, you can get a slice of black bean avocado, black bean taco, avocado quesadilla, or beef taco. (258 Thayer St., 401-455-3600, )


Keep the unique PVD vibe going all night with a beer at Trinity Brewhouse. Their award-winning brews are always rotating, and might include RI IPA, Providence Pilsner, or Smooth Operator. Head to the basement for billiards and notice the art on the walls (186 Fountain St., 401-453-2337, ). For a unique cocktail, head to The Eddy (95 Eddy St., ). And for a cozy hole-in-the-wall where you can sit by the woodstove with a craft beer, head to the Wickenden Pub (320 Wickenden St. 401-861-2555).


Lauren Daley can be reached at