On the plane here from Oshkosh, Chattanooga, Carson City, or some other godforsaken locale where theyíve never even heard of Matthew Barney, little hipster hearts are beating with glee at the prospect of coming to a city where leg warmers dance in the winter streets, and the pasty knees above said warmers are welcomed with admiration instead of shunned by trips to the tanning salon. Welcome to the indie mecca of Providence, where kids who got beat up in high school for being skinny and hating Toby Keith can finally shed the chains of their Middle American-jock oppression.
Providence has a storied history of hipness dating all the way back to Roger Williams, the original Rhode Island bad ass. Williams offered a big rebuke to the colonial "man" by starting the Providence Plantation as a place of free religious expression in the 17th-century. Hipsters love organized dissent more than anything. After an extended period of distinctive Yankee Republican uncoolness ó when uptight Puritans ran the government and put a damper on Williamsís "Lively Experiment" ó the 20th-century ushered in a new age of hipness. We had the leadership of the New England mob. Jimi Hendrix was rumored to have played on the steps of Brownís dining hall in the í60s, and RISD student David Byrne and his buddies formed a little band called Talking Heads in the í70s.
By the late í80s, Providence was experiencing what people were starting to call a renaissance, and the rest of the world finally caught on to how rad the place really is. Articles in Vanity Fair and similarly au courant publications jumped on the bandwagon, sparking the inevitable backlash. Yet despite the fried dough-tinged nightmare that is WaterFire, Providence still remains a realm of coolness, often lingering just beneath the surface of the recently face-lifted downtown and surrounding environs.
These are the restaurants, bars, clubs, and activities where hipsters can find their brethren. This comes with a caveat, however. As good little cool kids know, once something is declared trendy, it becomes immediately passé ó like when Ashton Kutcher wore a mesh truckerís cap on MTV. You could smell the chemical burn from a thousand John Deere hats igniting in the hands of disappointed indie rockers. Similarly, with increased publicity, the egregiously un-hip, decked out with pocket protectors, SUVs, or worse, designer faux vintage T-shirts, may overrun these places, and their hipster stock will plummet.
Not that hipsters really eat ó they just suck down nicotine and spew out cynicism. But if they are going to eat, hereís where they go.
The Red Fez
49 Peck St., Providence, (401) 272-1212
Just the name of this restaurant gives it immediate hipster credibility. Fezzes have all the kitschy coolness of plastic snowmen in the summer, unless theyíre placed jauntily on the head of a Shriner. Itís so dark inside the Fez itís almost hard to read your menu, but this adds to the subterranean ambiance. Add a skinny, pretty waitstaff, eclectic Asian and Latin-inspired cuisine at cool prices, and a separate bar upstairs, and youíve got a pretty bitchiní evening.
318 Broadway, Providence, (401) 861-1770
The best place to eat brunch on weekends after a hip one-night stand. You can discuss Camus and Thundercats irony over wonderful blueberry pancakes with someone you barely know. The best thing about Julianís is the cartoons plastered across the walls near the bathroom ó which you may have to use several times during brunch because of digestive pyrotechnics resulting from the previous nightís drinking.
The Garden Grill
727 East Ave., Pawtucket, (401) 726-2826
For your animal-loviní hipster, because eating meat is for Ted Nugent or your Dad. There are a number of decent tasting soy-based products to choose from, as well as a heavily pierced waitstaff. There were many things on the menu that this non-vegetarian felt enthusiastic about, especially the fat quesadillas.
716 Public St., Providence, (401) 785-1490
Apsara serves the best pan-Asian cuisine in town. Itís BYOB, which is key for starving artists. Apsara will provide you with Lilliputian wine glasses. So drink about nine glassfuls and eat something spicy (Iím partial to the basil chicken) while making eyes at the shaggy-haired kid at the table next to you.
Best Drunk/Post-Party Food:
Spikeís Junkyard Dogs (five locations)
273 Thayer St., Providence, (401) 454-1459
85 Richmond St., Providence, (401)421-0830
485 Branch Ave., Providence, (401)861-6888
640 Reservoir Ave., Cranston, (401)781-7556
1623 Warwick Ave., Warwick, (401)732-5858
Via Via IV (Pizza)
205 Meeting St., Providence
Miss Fannieís Soul Food
242 Broad St., Providence
Though eating isnít necessarily hip, sousing is. These are the best places to have a Pabst Blue Ribbon or a local microbrew with your strategically mussed compatriots.
18 Luongo Square, Providence, (401) 351-5492
One-dollar pints of Narragansett Brew on Tuesdays and a great jukebox make this a hipster hotspot. The Decatur is cheap, unpretentious, friendly, and it maintains its authenticity with the perfect combination of scenester and townie appeal. Itís also dog-friendly, with Polaroids of canine customers bedecking the walls. And who doesnít like a tipsy dog? Thatís right, nobody!
Captain Seaweedís Pub
162 Ives St., Providence, no telephone
With its nautically themed decor, Captain Seaweedís is a campy good time. My favorite decoration is the photographs of natural rock formations that look like genitalia. The captainís has a patio in the back and cheap mixed drinks that will give you more vodka than tonic and a heightened sense of self. Listen to "Raspberry Beret" on the jukebox and watch Seaweedís turn into the occasional flailing dance party.
For further debauchery, also try:
75 South St., Providence, (401) 861-7290
Custom House Tavern
36 Weybosset St., Providence, (401) 751-3630
Jakeís Bar and Grill
373 Richmond St., Providence, (401) 453-5253
Hipsters are a pretty sedentary bunch. Theyíre usually too cool to make the effort to go to places or do things. Effort and enthusiasm are patently unhip. But when they do emerge from their clouds of smoke and BO, hipsters might go to these places.
The Foxy Lady
318 Chalkstone Ave., Providence, (800) 536-FOXY
Youíre not a truly cool denizen of Providence until youíve attended "Legs and Eggs" at the Foxy. Every Friday morning from 6-to-11 a.m., patrons start their day with breakfast and boobs. This strip club ó voted the top club in the Northeast by Exotic Dancer magazine ó can fulfill all your surrealistic morning desires. Thereís nothing more jarring than being barely awake and eating scrambled eggs with a side dish of poon.
The Columbus Theatre
270 Broadway, Providence, (401) 621-9660
Because anything associated with porn is hip if viewed with detached irony, the Columbus gets extra points for being an adult theater in a previous incarnation. Currently, the Columbus Theater shows independent movies (as with the popular and ongoing Picture Start Film Series) and film festival fodder. Modeled after an Italian opera house, the sheer beauty of the Columbus is well worth the price of a movie ticket. Some of Providenceís indie rock sweethearts, including Arab on Radar, have also graced the stage, giving it an even higher hip quotient.
115 Empire St., Providence, (401) 831-9327
While some of the hippest venues are underground ó they pop up like wild mushrooms in Olneyville loft spaces and are plucked from their moorings just as quickly ó AS220 is pretty cool for being a known and legal entity. Itís a nonprofit local forum for the arts, offering exhibits, music performances, speakers, residential space, how-to classes ó basically, anything your creative heart desires. It has welcomed the late Wesley Willis with his Casio into its open arms, and for that, AS220 will always have a place in my cold hipster heart.
224 Benefit St., Providence, (401) 454-6500
A good, angst-ridden destination for seething hipsters. This place has an aesthetically pleasing space and a great standing collection, especially considering the museumís relatively diminutive size. It has an outdoor courtyard that is perfect for an artistically inclined romantic rendezvous. In terms of art museums, the RISD Museum is pretty much the only game in town, save the many galleries. Admission is free on the last Saturday of each month, but I like the RISD museum best on a typically gray Providence weekday. It sheds some light and beauty into what can be a very dour city in the winter.
Other Hip Activity Suggestions
View other peopleís profiles (www.friendster.com) for hours, and deny doing this when asked.
Eyes of the World Yoga
One Park Row, Providence, (401) 277-2400
Providence Kickball League
Performance art masquerading as sporting activity. Details about the momentous second season, which ended in early August, can be found at: www.whitewhale.net/kickball/home.php
A big part of the hipster mystique is the proper threads ó specifically, the proper already used and somewhat ridiculous threads. Hereís where you can find enough old school í80s party dresses, plastic jewelry, and polyester pants to fill that Salvation Army dresser to the brim.
1925 Pawtucket Ave., East Providence, (401) 438-1955
Savers is just your ordinary thrift store, but itís well-stocked and has an incredibly quick turnover rate. As thrift store shoppers know, the experience can be pretty hit-and-miss. Savers gets new things all the time, so you might go back the day after a fruitless shopping experience and find that bright orange track suit youíve been looking for. I once found a Bop-It, which has provided hours of stoned entertainment.
180 Angell St., Providence, (401) 521-7140
Not only does Ragtime have a great selection of vintage sweatshirts that are small enough to be tight on girls/skinny indie boys, it also has really hot clerks. I sometimes go there just for some eye candy during an otherwise drab trip to Thayer Street.
653 North Main St., Providence, (401) 421-6646
You canít have a Providence mailing address and not make the trip to Miko. It would be positively sacrilegious. Besides the veritable wall of vibrators, Miko has enough outfits to last even the most frenetic exotic dancer a lifetime. The staff is also incredible ó really friendly and helpful without being overbearing. The first time I went to Miko, as a freshman in college, I could only avert my eyes and giggle. By the third or fourth time, I could actually look people in the eye and even make small purchases. Iím a senior now and just bought my first vibrator. A woman who works there said to me, "By the time you graduate youíll probably be teaching a G-spot class here!" I donít know about that, but Mikoís is definitely worth a gander.
The Coffee Exchange
207 Wickenden St., Providence, (401) 273-1198
The coffee exchange is perfect for the struggling writer. There are lots of tables and outlets, so you can pound furiously away at your laptop and write the next great American po-mo novel. Dream of Rick Moody and Jeffery Eugenides (both former Providence citizens) while drinking a latte and writing about your screwed-up family.
Other hip café spots:
Brooklyn Coffee and Tea House
209 Douglas Ave., Providence, (401) 575-2284
White Electric Coffee
711 Westminster St, Providence, (401) 453-3007
Hippest Summer Day Trip
Water Wizz Water Park
Atlantic Avenue, Westerly, (401) 322-0520 or (401) 364-2070
How can you dislike an attraction that fesses up to peeing in the pool? Itís even in the name of the place! Take a dip in this water park and enjoy the campy coolness of old-school amusement. Let your glaringly white skin see the light of day for at least one afternoon.
Hippest Thing to Do on an Unbearably Sweltering Providence Summer Night
Well, I canít tell you exactly where it is, but somewhere in Lincoln there is a quarry. You can jump off the cliffs into a clean, cool, seemingly bottomless pool of fresh water. Lounge in your bathing suit and feel like youíre in a John Mellencamp video, because itís that all-American. Just donít go during the day: the coppers will get ya and the water isnít as pristine in the sunlight as it is in darkness.
Hippest Winter Day Trip
Pawtucket Winter Wonderland
100 Tim Healey Way, Pawtucket, (401) 726-3185
Like I always say, you canít go wrong with a giant talking snowman. The Pawtucket Winter Wonderland is open for only a few weekends in December, so make sure you catch it while you can. Indulge in hayrides and talk to Santa while youíre young enough so itís not that creepy. Well, it is sort of creepy, but do it anyway.
Cruise on the Brandaris from Wickford Harbor during the Leonid Meteor Shower
(401) 272-3540, ext. 135
Every mid-November, the Leonid meteor shower is visible to most Rhode Islanders. The best way to watch it is aboard a meteor cruise around Wickford Harbor. Itís pretty damn romantic and they give you hot chocolate. Just dress incredibly warmly because November on the ocean in Rhode Island is cold, to put it mildly.
Hippest Place to Bleed Your Parents Dry
14 Imperial Pl., No. 101, Providence, (401) 751-9164
CAV is a fairly expensive restaurant, so itís a great place to force your parents to take you when they come to Providence to visit their prodigal child. Itís a combination restaurant/gallery, so thereís a wealth of fun statues, paintings, and other objects díart to amuse your eyes while waiting for the good food.
Devastatingly hip former Phoenix intern Jessica Grose has written for Salon and the Village Voice. She likes her coffee black, her men emaciated, and David Bowie in spandex.
Issue Date: September 5 - 11, 2003
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