The past half-decade has seen even more hotels, both new and rebranded, fill out Providence Rhode Island’s compact 20-square-mile-or-so footprint.
The last time I visited Providence (PVD for short) was to witness a gala ball thrown by the region’s costumed, queer Imperial Court (www.facebook.com/ImperialCourtRI), taking place at the 294-room Graduate Providence (11 Dorrance St. Tel: (401) 421-0700. graduatehotels.com/providence). Formerly The Biltmore, the hotel is regarded as PVD’s most luxurious, iconic property, with a century of history behind it. The Biltmore’s rooftop sign still remains today as a north star for PVD’s skyline, and the interior is now even more sumptuous and upscale, with contemporary flair thanks to an extensive renovation completed in 2019, plus the addition of a full service, 10 treatment room The Norwich Spa.
In the lobby, surrounded by Great Gatsby era architecture meets 21st Century decor, I’m transfixed by artist Ashley Longshore’s colorful portrait of the late Black, queer fashion trailblazer and longtime VOGUE Magazine fixture, André Leon Talley, who passed on in January 2022. Talley earned a Master’s Degree at this progressive college town’s Ivy League Brown University, and personally laid his proud, discerning (very discerning, and wonderfully opinionated) eyes upon this portrait in 2019, when The Graduate hosted him for a screening of filmmaker Kate Novack’s documentary on his life, The Gospel According to André.
The past half-decade has seen even more hotels, both new and rebranded, fill out PVD’s compact 20-square-mile-or-so footprint, plus significant upgrades and redevelopment to its network of riverfront arteries. The city’s signature, WaterFire (waterfire.org) has been creating amazing world-class experiences for over 25 years. Make sure to check out their website for upcoming events and celebrations.
Every weekend, gay folks throughout the region, converge in PVD for drinking, dancing, and drag queens, and maybe a little naughtiness at PVD’s two operating gay bathhouses, the Providence Health Club/ Eagle’s Nest (257 Weybosset St. Tel: 401-443-1449. www.facebook.com/Providencehealthclub) and The Mega-Plex (257 Allen’s Ave. Tel: 401-780-8769. thegaymegaplex.com). Some of PVD’s gay bars and LGBTQ-owned businesses were featured in the campy, locally produced 2020 horror flick, Death Drop Gorgeous, including The Providence Eagle (124 Snow St. Tel: 401-272-9900. providenceeagle.com) and dance club The Dark Lady (12 Snow St. Tel: 401-272-6369. twitter.com/thedarkladypvd), the latter a Mecca for drag entertainment and go-go boys on weekends.
I’m staying about a ten minute walk south of the Graduate at the brand new, 175-room Aloft Providence Downtown (191 Dorrance St. Tel: 401-252-0710. marriott.com), which opened in early December 2021 near the Providence River Pedestrian and Bicycle Bridge, a three-year-old, fabulously utilitarian addition to the city’s redesign that affords easy access to a vegan-centric urban food hall just across the water, Plant City (334 South Water St. Tel: 401-429-2029. plantcitypvd.com). Its entirely plant-based food vendors include burger bistro New Burger, Mexican inspired Besina, pizza bar Double Zero, pastry and sweet specialists The Bakery, and self-explanatory The Coffee Bar.
Omnivores, meanwhile, can opt for restaurant Bayberry Garden (225 Dyer St. Tel: 401-642-5103. bayberrygarden.com), a splendid 2021 opening focused on contemporary locavore New England cuisine, sustainable raw bar offerings, refreshing cocktails, and a delectable brunch menu with vegetarian and carnivore benedict iterations (eggplant and short rib, respectively).
While exploring Aloft’s sleek lobby, bar, and outdoor patio, I discovered the ground level gym (which, enclosed in glass and facing the street, is a fitness exhibitionist’s dream). I discovered that the NYU swim team was also staying at the hotel and they kept crowding the elevators with me—how awful! Look for their special Pride packages for 2022.
Speaking of pride, Providence’s Rhode Island PrideFest (prideri.org) is unique in that its parade takes place at night rather than in the morning. The next edition is scheduled for Saturday, June 18th 2022. Also, LGBTQ+ art fairs have become a monthly mainstay between Spring and Fall in PVD’s Dexter Park, compliments of the Haus of Codec (hausofcodec.org), which also established the city’s first LGBTQ+ youth shelter in 2021. Check their website for dates and times.
Meanwhile, other new Providence properties include downtown’s The Beatrice (90 Westminster St. Tel: 401-443-2960. thebeatrice.com), which opened in September 2021, and the 52-room The Dean (122 Fountain St. Tel: 401-455-3326. thedeanhotel.com), a monastery turned strip club turned boutique hotel which opened its doors in 2014 and, in 2017, became home to outstanding Asian fusion restaurant North (foodbynorth.com).
For more great options in PVD, the West End is certainly worth exploring thanks to its bars, restaurants, and cafes, including Nick’s On Broadway (500 Broadway. Tel: 401-421-0286. nicksonbroadway.com) from James Beard Award Nominee chef James Wagner. During my visit, Hocus Pocus 2 was shooting nearby and I begged the heavens for a Bette Midler sighting but, alas, she was probably rigged up to fly within the cavernous Cranston Street Armory, which was surrounded by production vehicles. However, I did get a gander at the new queer mural, done up in trans flag colors, on the side of PVD’s LGBTQ+ health center, Open Door Health (odhpvd.org), which opened in 2020.
Listed on the national registry of historic places, the Providence Performing Arts Center (Tel: 401-421-2787. ppacri.org) looks a lot fresher these days thanks to a 2020-21 upgrade of its Weybosset St. facade, while the annual Providence Fringe Festival, Fringe PVD (fringepvd.org), always includes LGBTQ performers and performances (2021’s edition featured “adult variety show” 50 Shades of Gay), and makes use of multiple venues including two year old distillery and tasting room/bar The Industrious Spirit Company (1 Sims Ave #103. Tel: 401-414-7901. iscospirits.com). PVD’s first craft distillery to open since prohibition, their Ostreida vodka is distilled with oysters, making it a quintessential and unusual New England spirit.
Located just ten minutes outside PVD, in adjacent Pawtucket, is another craft spirit and cocktail haven, the lesbian owned Rhode Island Spirits (59 Blackstone Ave. Tel: 401-856–4111.rhodeis-landspirits.com). Opened in March 2019 by Kara Larson and Cathy Plourde, the former a home brewer who learned some tricks from UK craft distillers while working overseas, the latter an avid forager prone to experimenting with new plants. Their spacious, comfy tasting room serves cocktails based around their impressive, diverse, and award winning line of flavor-rich Rhodium spirits, which are gluten-free (corn-based), incorporate local botanicals, fruit, and other ingredients. Bottles are also available for purchase. Keep an eye out for special collaboration spirits, and their plum gin infused with foraged beach plums and RI-grown Italian plums, red vodka with tart cherries and cranberries, and the 14-botanical forager’s gin. Some are available for online purchase as well.
Craft cocktail culture is alive and well in downtown PVD, too. Upscale Mediterranean-inspired speakeasy Marcelino’s Boutique Bar (1 W. Exchange St. Tel: 401-666-0088. marcelinosboutiquebar.com) opened in Fall 2020, with several cinematic, distinct areas within to savor cocktails and mezze (e.g. black truffled hummus, Armenian flatbread, Middle Eastern salmon carpaccio). Marcelino’s libations are PVD’s most sophisticated, exotic and complex – concoctions incorporating ingredients like galangal, orange blossom, and a house made cucumber vermouth, with the added bonus of being prepared by dashing gay mixologists. Meanwhile, PVD’s 9-year-old craft cocktail trailblazer, and gay pre- and post-dinner drink favorite, The Eddy (95 Eddy St. Tel: 401-831-3339. eddybar.com), continues to be jam packed nightly.
The past couple of years saw a couple of new gay-owned restaurant openings, including downtown’s two-level Res American Bistro (123 Empire St. Tel:401-272-3965. respvd.com), its name represents the first letters of co-owners/longtime foodie pals Ryan, Evan, and Stephen. Here you’ll find creative cross-cultural spins put on New England and international fare (e.g. pan-fried halloumi cheese with spicy basil pomodoro, pork chop with chorizo cornbread stuffing, and, of course, the Rhode Island staple calamari) within brick and wood, French bistro style surroundings.
Also a gay-owned multi-level establishment, The George (121 Washington St. Tel: 401-642-6840. thegeorgerestaurantri.com) opened in late 2020. Occupying a former hotel, with design and art paying tribute to frequent PVD visitor George Washington (hence the name). Hearty international comfort fare dominates the menu (yes, there’s calamari, plus pizzas, burgers, and a decadent braised short rib mac and cheese). There’s also a piano lounge, and downstairs speakeasy, Hyde. Craving a simple stop and go nibble? The gay owned Friskie Fries (100 Washington St. Tel: 401-228-2660. friskiefries.com) will satisfy starch and grease cravings until 2 A.M. on weekends
Conveniently, The George is adjacent to The Stable (125 Washington St. Tel: 401-272-6950. facebook.com/TheStableProvidence), PVD’s popular gay video bar. A favorite venue to kick off bar crawls/clubbing, it also boasts a fruity wine-spiked take on a weekend beer bust, Sangria Sundays, and pop-up performances by drag queens including some you’ve seen on The Boulet Brothers’ Dragula.
Although they’ve been around for a while, a few other musts in the nightlife department include PVD’s biggest gay dance club, EGO (73 Richmond St. Tel:401-383-1208. egopvd.com), which is 18+; gay Mondays at arcade bar Free Play (182 Pine St. Tel: 401-316-4299. freeplaybar. com/providence), which attracts an LGBTQ+ crowd all week long; and Rl’s oldest gay bar, Mirabar (15 Elbow St. Tel: 401-331-6761. facebook.com/MirabarRI), which first opened in 1947 in Woonsocket to the north and played map hopscotch a few times before settling into its current location.
For a little more about PVD’s gay history, check the city’s official tourism website, Go Providence (goprovidence.com/blog/post/providence-lgbtq-history). History buffs should also be sure to check out the new LGBTQ+ Community Archive at PVD’s Public Library (150 Empire St. Tel: 401-455-8000. provlib.org/subject-guides/ri-lgbtq-history), which is rich with queer oral histories, arts, and copies of local queer publications, including the still active, superb, and provocative Headmaster Magazine (headmastermagazine.com).
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