The Lively Experiment: Providence, Rhode Island

by Jeff Heilman

Great things are available day and night in this walkable, safe, and accessible city. Providence’s diverse neighborhoods invite, and reward, exploration at every turn.

Providence Resources

PrideFest. Tel: (401) 467-2130. In 1976, some 75 marchers held Providence’s first Pride parade. Today, Rhode Island Pride’s month-long celebration attracts nearly 90,000 people. In 2018, National Geographic crowned it one of the world’s top seven Prides. Highlights of the “biggest party in the smallest state” include the magical Illuminated Night Parade.

BIG NAZO. Tel: (401) 831-9652. Don’t be alarmed—these space invaders are friendly. From PrideFest to backyard barbecues to LGBTQ weddings, BIG NAZO’s celebrated troupe of intergalactic mutant puppet creatures can show up anytime, anywhere in Providence. Tending to do headstands wherever she can, “heckler-turned-superfan” Anita Crackinstuff is a
notable regular. From window displays to greeting tourists, Artistic Director Erminio Pinque’s new BIG NAZO “Space Transformation Studio” inside the Kennedy Plaza bus station aims to help transform the gritty hub.

WaterFire. Tel: (401 )273-1155. For this year’s 25th anniversary of his enchanting festival of fire, water and
music, founder Barnaby Evans is paying artistic tribute to the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission that put
man on the moon. “WaterFire’s goal is to inspire people and unite the community,” he said. “I want to recapture
the astonishing vision and leadership of that time.”

The Avenue Concept (TAC). 304 Lockwood Street. Tel: (401) 490-0929. Since 2012, founder and artistic director
Yarrow Thorne and his team have tirelessly championed public art as a sustainable ecosystem for transformation
and engagement. TAC murals and outdoor sculptures around the city continue to energize and elevate

RISD Museum. 20 North Main Street. Tel: (401) 454-6500. From Egyptian sarcophagi and historic costumes and textiles to provocative shows like “Bona Drag: An Incomplete History of Drag and Cross-Gender Performance in Film and Video Art,” the Rhode Island School of Design’s genre-spanning museum is an art showcase for the ages.

Trinity Repertory Company. 201 Washington Street. Tel: (401) 351-4242. Founded in 1963, this Tony-winning
professional resident theater company wears its “Creative Capital’ mural well. Star alumni include Viola Davis
and Richard Jenkins, Oscar-nominated for his supporting role in 2018 Best Picture The Shape of Water.

AS220. 95 Mathewson Street, Unit 204. Tel: (401) 831-9327. Helping to catalyze the revival of downtown Providence
in 1985, this “unjuried, uncensored” space today is internationally acclaimed venue for art displays, artists talks, live performances and special events.

Providence Performing Arts Center. 220 Weybosset Street. Tel: (401) 421-2787. Locally “PPAC,” this neon-lit
1982 update of the 1928 Loews State Movie Place is a true cultural beacon. Following Miss Saigon last fall and
Cats this January, this summer’s The Band’s Visit is the 18th national tour launched by the “Jewel of Weybosset
Street” since 2008.

Lovecraft’s College Hill Walking Tour. Renown came posthumously for Providence-born horror master H.P.
Lovecraft. Speculation swirls that he was secretly gay. Certain, though, is his enduring appeal, LGBTQ locals
among the faithful. Doubling as visitor center and bookstore, Lovecraft Arts and Sciences, inside downtown’s historic Arcade Providence, is one of 34 stops on this self-guided tour. Others include the 1838 Providence Athenaeum library, once frequented by Edgar Allen Poe, and Instagram-favorite Fleur-de-Lys Art Studio.

The Dean Hotel. 122 Fountain Street. Tel: (401) 455-3326. As Providence-born developer and designer Ari Heckman told Curbed in 2014 of his first hotel project, “a set designer could not have designed a better crack house.” Chasing away the
ghosts of vaudevillians, strippers, johns and flops that long haunted this original 1912 clergy house, he created a hip 52-room European-style boutique. Amenities include the excellent North restaurant; speakeasy-style bar; Boombox karaoke lounge; and first retail outlet of Providence’s Bolt Coffee Company.

Graduate Providence. 11 Dorrance Street. Tel: 401-421-0700. Designed by Grand Central Terminal’s architects, the Providence Biltmore held court since 1922. This year, the storied landmark relaunched under the Graduate Hotels flag. With clever design references to Providence and Rhode Island throughout, including Ashley Longshore’s fab portrait of Brown graduate André Leon Talley in the lobby, it’s a smart address for leisure stays.

Renaissance Providence Downtown Hotel. 5 Avenue of the Arts. Tel: (401) 919-5000. From washing
away decades of graffiti to shoring up walls, fashioning this classy 272-room AAA Four Diamond
gem in the shell of an unfinished 1926 Masonic temple was one of the largest restorations in state history.
Today, restorative elements include the award-winning Public Kitchen & Bar and majestic VIP suites
overlooking the Rhode Island State House.

Trinity Repertory Co.

Gracie’s. 194 Washington Street. Tel: (401) 272-7811. Owner Ellen Slattery’s thoughtfully planned seasonal menu, featuring her grandmother’s rigatoni campanaro, distinguishes this perennial AAA Four Diamond fine-dining favorite. The excellent service includes placing cookies in your car when you valet. Critically acclaimed Executive Pastry
Chef Melissa Denmark creates wonders here and at sibling Ellie’s Bakery.

Yoleni’s. 292 Westminster Street. Tel: (401) 500-1127. Updating an 1895 landmark building, this two-level café,
restaurant and artisanal food market is the U.S. flagship of a family-owned Greek gastronomic enterprise. Replicating
its Athens cousin, the cooked and to-go items are divine.

O’Boy. 333 Westminster Street. Tel: (401) 274-0276. Oh boy, did I love the flight of sake, mushroom fiesta, braised pork belly, charred octopus, and piping hot shoyu chicken ramen at this wonderful new modern Asian concept from JWU grad Jae Choi. On that freezing November night, this hot spot was heaven sent.

Il Massimo. 134 Atwells Avenue. Tel: (401) 273-0650. Mamma mia, what would the nonnas say! Actually, grandmothers join bikers, bankers and others for the risqué drag brunch at this top-ranked Federal Hill trattoria. Presented on the first Sunday of each month, it’s amazingly affordable entertainment at $25 per person for the three-course meal. Featuring
ingredients sourced locally and direct from Italy, the multi-regional menu, including my knockout spaghettoni alla carbonara, is also sensational. Just don’t be late or inattentive during the show—your hostesses will pounce.

Mirabar. 15 Elbow Street. Tel: (401) 331-6761. When not hosting the drag brunch at Il Massimo, Jacqueline Dimera hops over here to host hot body contests. It’s that kind of town—the party loves to travel. That includes this energetic three-level fun house, which originated in a Woonsocket, R.I. hotel lobby in 1947. As Rhode Island’s oldest gay bar, its legacies include 1960’s Rhode Island gay club pioneer Bob Thibeault.

The Dorrance. 60 Dorrance Street. Tel: (401) 521-6000. With marble floors, soaring ceilings and the heraldic
shields of past financial titans memorialized in the stained glass windows, the former lobby of this landmark
1902 bank building is a yesteryear appointment for hand-crafted cocktails and New England fare.

Troop. 60 Valley Street. Tel: (401) 473-2900. International street food, golden age hip-hop and cool
throwback décor make this artful space in the resurgent Olneyville warehouse district a street-savvy choice

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