In the last decade, as regular weekend visitors to Providence, we have seen the waterfront capitol undergo a major cultural and artistic revival. But with the latest wave of new restaurants and hotels, the city has gone from unique to downright cool. That’s because Providence is a few cities rolled into one.
You’ll weave in and out of pockets that boast a hip West Coast vibe — art students on bikes, guitarists on street corners, tattooed baristas, skateboarders zipping past the riverfront, afternoon gondola riders.
Then there’s downcity (what Providence calls downtown) where Providence Performing Arts Center and Trinity Repertory Company patrons walk streets as noticeably clean as downtown Chicago’s.
Meanwhile, Thayer Street is more like Greenwich Village, where you never know what you’ll see. And on WaterFire nights — the next is June 10 — there’s a European street festival vibe, as the Providence River is lit with torches. Music plays, artists tents pop up along the banks and side streets, and gondoliers throw flowers.
The city is so full of life, this article could go on for pages, but here are highlights of some newer places. Eateries are a catalyst here; follow your tastebuds to explore the city.
COFFEE (MOVE OVER, SEATTLE)
The latest addition to the city’s robust coffeehouse scene is Nitro Bar, a cafe that shares a space with Dash Bicycle. All pale wood, white walls and plants, with bicycles lining walls and floors, the whole aura is Oregon-vogue, and the cold brew as sweet as a nut. Bites include empanadas de Hawaiana: ham, cheese, and pineapple in a fried dough pocket, and milojas: layers of puff pastry filled with Bavarian cream and caramel. 228 Broadway, 401-453-3274. www.thenitrocart.com/the-nitro-bar
Speaking of cafes inside cool places, Bolt Coffee is inside two of the most creative places in town: The RISD Museum and The Dean Hotel. The RISD museum is a treasure. Go for the lattes and avocado toast; stay for the van Goghs and Rodins. 224 Benefit St., 401-400-0459. www.boltcoffeecompany.com; risdmuseum.org
At Dave’s Coffee you’ll find college students on laptops, a laid-back vibe, and some of the best espresso drinks in the city. Grab a cortado and chocolate doughnut to go, and swan-watch by the river. 341 South Main St., 401-521-1973. www.davescoffee.com
The Coffee Exchange has been around for years, but still this small-batch roaster is still a personal favorite. The knee-buckling scent of roasting beans hits you in the parking lot. 207 Wickenden St., 401-273-1198. www.thecoffeeexchange.com
DOUGHNUTS (MOVE OVER PORTLAND)
Remember when the big craze was cereal on doughnuts? This town has done the Cap’n Crunch thing and moved on. Knead Doughnuts offers dozens of handmade artisanal doughnuts, from chocolate peanut butter to vegan jelly-filled, fried cinnamon roll, lemon lavender, or mint mojito-lime. Go early. 32 Custom House St.; 135 Elmgrove Ave., 401-865-6622. www.kneaddoughnuts.com.
PVDonuts has landed everywhere from BuzzFeed to Cosmopolitan for its insanely decadent handmade, locally-sourced treats. Think hazelnut crullers dipped in Nutella glaze, topped with hazelnuts; or brioche doughnuts dipped in peanut butter glaze and re-dipped in ganache, finished with toasted peanuts and shaved chocolate. 79 Ives St. www.pvdonuts.com
THE MAIN COURSE
Providence is a foodie haven. A (very) quick roundup:
Eat lunch at Tallulah’s Taqueria, where you create your own taco, burrito, torta, bowl, or quesadilla. Sit in the sun with cold beer, and give in to your primal urge to Instagram. 146 Ives St., 401-272-8226. www.tallulahstaqueria.com
Kleos, a beautiful newer addition to the downcity scene, offers contemporary Greek fare. Think seared wild salmon over rice pilaf topped with creamy avocado tzatziki sauce and fresh tomato oregano relish; shrimp and white wine squid-ink ravioli with prawns sautéed in a roasted garlic white wine butter sauce. 250 Westminster St. 401-443-4083. www.facebook.com/kleospvd
Next door, Oberlin restaurant and wine bar boasts an extensive wine list — plus sake, beer, cider, cocktails — and creative dishes including grilled scup, with heirloom beans and sweet potato; crispy sunchokes with spicy tofu dip; sweet potato ravioli, with mascarpone, walnuts and thyme. 186 Union St., 401-588-8755. oberlinrestaurant.com
Dine with friends at North inside The Dean Hotel. You don’t have to stay there to dine, but you can. The menu changes often, but par for the course: raw oysters and nori ginger mignonette, pan-roasted parsnips with spiced hazelnuts, mezcal-marinated mussels with watermelon radish, dan dan noodles with mutton and squid. 122 Fountain St., 401-455-3326. www.foodbynorth.com
Long-time favorite Nice Slice offers thoughtful outside-the-box pies with names like Space Junk, Figgy Stardust, Joy Ride, and Cranberry Picnic (767 Westminster St., 401-453-6423. niceslice.com). Fellini Pizzeria is an equally creative BYOB pizza joint (166 Wickenden St., 401-751-6737. www.fellinipizzeria.com). At Pizza J, “30 Rock” fans will appreciate there’s a salad named Gavin Volure. Andy Kaufman fans will appreciate there’s a slice called Tony Clifton. 967 Westminster St. 401-632-0555. www.pizzajprovidence.com
End your night in the ’90s at the new Free Play Bar & Arcade. No quarters needed — they offer some 130 classic video games plus pinball, skee ball, and air hockey all for free, plus grilled pizza, craft beer, and cocktails. 182 Pine St., 401-316-4299. freeplayri.com/games
Providence has many unique artisan shops — way too many to mention here — but a few highlights: Thayer Street is jammed; stroll and stop. Don’t miss the wonderfully curated Brown Bookstore. 244 Thayer St., 401-863-3168.
Check Olympic Records for all your vinyl needs (580 Wickenden St. 401- 301-9266) and pop in to antique/vintage store Rocket to Mars for an eye-popping display of retro tickets, clothings, books, postcards and more, mostly from the ’20s through ’80s. 144 Broadway, 401-274-0905.
And before you go, be sure to check out Symposium Books, brimming with new and used books and vinyl (240 Westminster St., 401-273-7900. symposiumbooks.com), and nearby Craftland, filled with locally-made artisan jewelry, cards, bags, clothing, toys, and the like. Eye candy. 212 Westminster St., 401-272-4285. craftlandshow.comLauren Daley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.