PROVIDENCE — When you walk into a hotel lobby and see gymnastic pommel horses used as benches, a giant gray labradoodle, and a wooden laundry rack draped with newspapers, you know you’re walking into some place a bit off-beat, a bit more thoughtful.
You’re walking into The Dean.
The 52-room boutique hotel in the heart of the burgeoning Downcity arts district in Providence is Jack Kerouac meets Wes Anderson.
It’s cultivated an “On the Road,” fly-by-night vibe: no dressers or closets — if you need to hang a suit, you’re in the wrong place — rooms with sets of bunkbeds that Sal Paradise and Carlo Marx might have passed out on in rumpled clothes after night of debauchery. In my head, I actually began to refer to the hotel as The Dean Moriarty.
At the same time, The Dean is designed with such a keen attention to detail, you feel you’re walking into an Anderson film, from the old-fashioned bright red telephone on the hallway wall, to the cup of freshly sharpened black pencils at the check-in desk.
My boyfriend and I and a group of good friends, three sets of other couples, all 30-somethings from the southern New England area, met up recently at The Dean for a night of four unique experiences without leaving the hotel’s campus, which houses a stylish cafe, German-inspired restaurant, Parisian-vibed cocktail lounge, and Tokyo-style karaoke bar.
When you check in to The Dean, you’re also, essentially, stepping into Bolt, the in-house artisanal cafe, located behind the lobby’s glass bookshelf. Here, coffee is a science. The baristas nearer to chemists, could tell you why heating beans to a certain degree does X, Y, and Z, or why you need to tare for water in a proper cortado.
The curated menu includes batch-brewed Las Violetas — a sweet, floral, chocolatey Columbian bean — and Espresso tonic and The Woodsman: local maple syrup, local whole milk, and a double shot of espresso.
We took a seat by Bolt’s prominent pink neon “FINE” sign, where we leafed through thick art journals and niche digests heaped on the common center table while a labradoodle lounged nearby. I later saw a pug in the hallway and a lab mix on the stairwell. I loved it, but it might be something to consider if you’re super allergic.
It’s not often you can call an elevator ride memorable, but this one was: caged, rickety, old-fashioned. You almost expect to see Royal Tenenbaum inside.
Our room, “The Guardian Suite,” featured a king-size bed, wall-mounted TV, couch, a few wooden chairs, desk, and not much more. It was bare-boned, simple, and all we needed for one night.
Though sparse, the room was filled with thoughtful touches: locally-made linens, a mix of custom-made and vintage furniture, the art a mix of old-style European portraits and RISD photographers. And the gourmet snacks are much closer to supermarket than minibar prices, so dig in.
I loved the glass-encased shower, which had a rainfall shower head. The toiletries, made exclusively for The Dean, smell amazing.
Oh, speaking of amazing smells: the lobby. It was one of the first things our friends mentioned when we gathered at Faust, the on-site German restaurant, that evening for dinner. Hannah immediately remarked how amazing the lobby had smelled, and Anne later found the source: A Le Labo candle, in the scent Santal, which costs (unfortunately) $85.
The best wurst
You might think a German-inspired menu would be completely intimidating, and while Faust does offer a lot of unpronounceables, it was, by all six accounts, delicious.
Our table’s dishes included pierogis with potato-and-onion filling; fried pork schnitzel a la holstein, with fried egg, anchovies and capers; and Konigsberger Klopse, with beef and pork meatballs, fingerling potatoes, and caper cream sauce. As for beer, they’ve got everything from Köstritzer Schwarzbier to Reissdorf Kölsch.
Night in Paris
After a few glasses of Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbiers, it was time to hop across the hall to The Magdalenae Room, a dimly-lit lounge where the drawings of nude women decorating the walls could be lifted from a RISD sketch pad. Between the music, wine, candlelight. and dark velvet, it felt like an intimate artist’s studio party, or the type of Parisian night cafe van Gogh might paint.
Sake and song
Walk a few steps and enter a Tokyo-style karaoke party that’s already kicked off. At The Boombox — where the sake flows like wine — you can request a private room, but don’t. The fun is passing the mike around the main area, watching strangers jump in to help strangers with forgotten lines and missed lyrics, be it Jay-Z or Shania Twain, and cheering on the most uninhibited dancers. Plus, there’s some kind of magic that happens when a large group of people sings any Tom Petty song together. That’s just a fact.
The great part about spending the night in one place that has a lot to offer is that anyone in the group can do what they want at any time. Just before midnight, Ethan and Hannah went back to Faust for burgers; others stayed to sing; and at various points, friends went home or up to bed.
Talking about the stay afterward, it was the vibe that we kept mentioning, the magical feel of a hotel that values art and creativity over creature comforts. The TV isn’t the most prominent thing in your room. There is no pool. There is no fitness center. Your clothes might get rumpled. It’s more Sal Paradise than paradise. It’s a place Dean Moriarty might call home — for a night.
THE DEAN 122 Fountain St., Providence, 401-455-3326. Rooms from $99. www.thedeanhotel.com.