Providence, Rhode Island | Recap
What we did in Providence, Rhode Island
After a rough couple summer months — where it was about 153 degrees and 320% humidity — we needed to get out of New York for a weekend. We wanted to go somewhere nearby that neither of us had ever been before; so this excluded Boston, Philly and DC.
To aid in our search, we thought about what we wanted out of this trip. After partying like degenerates since we moved to NYC, we definitely wanted somewhere more low-key. However, there should still be some nightlife options available. Next, we wanted our destination to have amazing food, but not be over-priced. Finally, we needed to get away from the sauna-like conditions of the city. After a detailed online search, the answer was clear — Providence, Rhode Island.
We had both only heard of Providence in passing and didn't know much about the city. After looking into it more, it turned out to be the perfect option for us. To get there is only a 4 hour train ride, or 2.5 via express train (more on that later). The city is very affordable compared to NYC (what city isn't). And, it's frequently ranked as one of the nicest cities in the US. So, thrilled by the prospect of bearable temperatures, delicious cuisine and not having people shouting around us all the time... we locked in Providence.
To start the weekend, we booked a 2pm train out of Penn Station. However, I got out of work late and we missed the train by 1 minute, much to Ewa's chagrin (furious anger). It's not my fault that Penn Station is insanely confusing. Anyway, we had to pay the upcharge to re-book on the next express train. This is the only way that we'd make our 6:30pm dinner reservation.
Once we finally got on, the journey was very easy. The seats were comfortable and you got a good amount of space. The ride was super smooth, which is a relief for someone with motion sickness such as me. There was even a cafe car with drinks and snacks. The view's not bad either, especially when you're right next to the water.
We arrived in Providence at 6pm and grabbed a ride to our hotel. We stayed at the Hilton Providence in downtown. One thing that we noticed about Providence is that it is a very walk-able city. You can get to almost anywhere in under 20 minutes. This takes the stress out of transportation logistics.
After checking in and changing really quickly, we made our way over to Cafe Nuovo for dinner. The restaurant is located on the ground floor of a big business building. When we got there, the dinner crowd was still light. We were able to get a table on the outdoor patio behind back. If you go, make sure to request patio seating for your reservation. You get seated right next to the river, which makes for great ambiance and a you get the cool breeze. You can also watch the gondolas as they cruise by on the water. Most of the gondoliers are singers too, so you get dinner and a show.
The menu was mainly modern American cuisine, with a heavy seafood focus. We knew that seafood is the star in the Northeast region, so we ordered accordingly. We had a half dozen oysters (3 raw, and 3 with a citrus sauce topped with roe), Short Rib Tagliatelle, Jumbo Lump Crab Rissoto and Duck Breast and Confit Leg. Everything was delicious, but the risotto was definitely the star of the show. They were very generous with the crab meat portions. If that shit was any fresher, he'd be my boss down at the Krusty Krab. The meal was the right amount of flavorful and not too heavy. We felt great as they cleared our plates away.
Through the course of dinner, all the tables around us filled out, and there was a lively vibe after sunset. We stayed a bit later, sipping wine and taking it all in. As luck would have it, the La Gondola port was right next to the restaurant. We paid our check and headed over for a ride. After about a 10 minute wait, we were able to hop on with our gondolier, Marcello. The ride was extremely relaxing as we rode along the Providence river, which runs through downtown. Marcello was happy to tell us all about the city, the history of the gondola company as well as provide recommendations for things to do. He knew his shit. At one point, we were going under the bridge, when we passed another gondola. Both boats stopped, and Marcello and the other Gondolier bust out a duet! They were both really good. I imagine the interviews for the gondolier job are 1 part conversation, 1 part American Idol audition. After that, he took us around and we finished the ride up.
Sufficiently loaded with knowledge of the city, we headed to our next stop — The Rooftop Bar at the Providence G. When we got there, the bouncer asked us to check our bag at the front desk. Then, he actually apologized to us, for enforcing the rules. They definitely got my vote for Nicest City in the US! We hopped on the elevator and rode our way to the top. As we got off, the bar was about half full. It was still early so we decided to grab a drink and watch the crowd. The venue has a nice view of downtown and felt pretty upscale. Around 11pm, the rooftop started to get full. This would definitely be a dope spot to go with a big group. Unfortunately, we were solo dolo and feeling square, so we headed out.
Our next stop was The Eddy, a small restaurant and bar a few blocks down the way. This place had maybe 30 seats total, so it made for a very intimate, laid back vibe. We kept the seafood train rolling with half a dozen raw oysters, sardines in olive oil and tuscan pork salami with fennel. Ewa didn't want to get the sardines, but I know my shit. When the dishes came out, guess which dish was Ewa's favorite? Don't eva doubt the clout! After this enjoyable snack (and moral victory for me), we got a call from our friend Peter. Him and his girlfriend Molly happened to be in town that weekend too (they saw our IG stories). Molly was with her friend for the night, but Peter invited us out to kick it at The Hot Club with his squad.
We grab a quick Lyft and make our way over. It's about 1am and the club was very packed and lively. We link up with Peter and crew and kick it for a bit. However, after one beer, we were pretty wiped out (late 20's, right). We peace out from the group and make our way back to the hotel, where we passed out watching Inception. Wild end to the night.
The next day, we woke up feeling refreshed (very rare for a Saturday morning). We got dressed and hopped into the car with Christina (From the Providence Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau).
She drove us through the various areas of town including Federal Hill, College Hill, the West End, Downtown and Fox Point.
When we were going through Federal Hill, Christina told us about the area’s mafia history. In fact, the popular Crimetown Podcast even chose Providence as the star of their first episode. It was fascinating to hear about the individual businesses and local spots with notorious pasts. While the area is more diverse today, Little Italy is still thriving. The strip is full of restaurants, bars and cafes to pop in.
After the tour, we were dropped off at The Duck and Bunny. This place doesn’t take reservations, so best know it’s exclusive! If you want to eat here, you should arrive early to queue up for brunch. The restaurant itself is a converted town home. Each room is a self-contained dining area. There’s even a full coffee bar in the foyer. Full disclosure — I don’t know what a foyer is, but this sounds right. We sat down at a corner table right by the coffee. The atmosphere is very lively and quaint at the same time. You feel like you’re in the mix of things, but not like you need to pound endless mimosas to get through the afternoon.
We started off with a couple drinks, some coffee and 3 dishes. For food, we had the Norwegian Smoked Salmon Eggs Bun-a-Duck, truffled home fries and the New York System Hot Wiener Omelette. The omelette ended up being our favorite dish. Guess who ordered that? 2-for-2 baby! The dish was huge and only cost $10. Ya boy could get used to these prices though. The home fries were also a generous serving (they didn’t skimp on the truffle oil).
After this meal, we slammed an espresso to get through the food coma, then made our way out. Around the corner from D’n’B is a curiosity called the 10,000 suns. It’s a hot cauldron where you jump in and melt to death. Just kidding. It’s more like a field full of sunflowers. Maybe not 10,000, but definitely the most I’ve seen in one place in my life. Ewa got her model on for about 15 minutes before finding the photo she liked.
Next up, RISD! The Rhode Island School of Design is only about a 10-minute walk away from the suns. This takes you through a very pleasant part of town called College Hill; so named because it houses both RISD and Brown University. Walking down the picturesque blocks, you’ll swear you recognize this setting from a coming-of-age flick or two (Dead Poet’s Society anyone?)
We got to the RISD Museum and went in to browse the exhibits. I was surprised by the size of the museum and the varied range of exhibits. For a full list of what’s on display, check out their website. We spent over an hour here, hitting up the 6 floors of incredible art. Our favorite was the giant Buddha statue in the Asian art section.
Having received a sufficient art fix, we headed back to the hotel for a quick rest.
With the mafia history still on our mind, we headed over to Little Italy before dinner. The weather was so nice, so we decided on Constantino’s. This spot sits on a complex consisting of a giant open air patio in the center, surrounded by 4 different restaurants and markets on the outside. We were really surprised to find something like this in Providence. I have to say, this did accurately reflect the vibe of a bustling plaza in Italy.
We grabbed some drinks and a calamari and people watched on the patio for about an hour.
After creeping out the fellow patrons with our stares, we made our way into the night. Next stop — The Oberlin. This New American restaurant is situated right in the heart of downtown. We chose to sit outside to catch a nice breeze, and so that we could be as weird as we are without distracting other patrons. Our waiter provided us with a detailed explanation of the menu and his best recommendations. We ended up with the Raw Fluke, Grilled Shishito Peppers, Potato Gnocchi, Tajarin with Littleneck Clams and the daily whole fish. We also got a few drinks, including a bomb ass sake to go with our meal.
Every dish was fantastic, but the standouts were the fluke and the whole fish. The fluke was perfectly marinated with olive oil and citrus. You got the smooth taste of the meat without a hint of fishiness. For the whole fish, we got a black sea bass. The fish was mostly de-boned, sauted, finished in the oven and topped in a sauce of chopped tomatoes, scallions and citrus. Slightly less salt and a bit more herbs would have taken it to the next level; but it was still amazing.
Riding a nice high from this meal, we slid out over to The Dorrance. Our thought was to just get drinks, since we had just polished off a 5 course dinner. However, after peering at the menu, we decided to get a half dozen oysters and charred corn on the cob to snack on. I think the staff was worried that we’d be starving so they also sent out a dish of cuttlefish ink pasta for us. They even cooked it with no cream, after hearing that we are both lactose intolerant. That’s 2 checks for nicest city in the US!
As the food arrived, we were worried it’d go to waste. We devoured everything, it was so good. The oysters were especially noteworthy. In our experience, Providence has some of the best seafood in the country.
We ended up hanging out and sippin’ our drinks for about an hour. The Dorrance is situated in an old bank building, so everything is very regal. You feel like you’re dining in a banquet room in the Palace of Versailles. After loitering a bit, we noticed that we were about an hour out from our next event, so we signed our check and made our way out.
But first, a stop at the hotel for a change of clothes and quick rest… Are we getting old?
Sufficiently energized, we headed towards downtown for WaterFire. This is the main event for our visit. WaterFire is an event that occurs several times during the summer in Providence. A series of fire pits are setup along the river; about 90 in total. Around sun-down, a team of volunteers sets out to light a wood fire in each pit. Throughout the night, this team keeps the fires burning until the end of the event. Now that’s dedication!
All along the river, local merchants and organizations set-up booths. You can find food, drinks, art for sale and various performances. We’re not sure how many people were in attendance, but the river walk was bustlin! Everyone was in a good mood and hanging out right near the water to watch the fires raging on.
We coordinated a boat ride (not a gondola this time) which started right at the middle of all the fire pits. We hopped into a motorized boat with about 12 other people and our captain pushed off into the river. It was a super unique experience riding alongside these fire pits, as people watched on from the riverbanks. There were several other boats in the water and the whole thing was reminiscent of an action movie scene. I felt like Aang, riding into the fire nation to face Lord Ozai. We eventually arrived at a huge circular area where we idled and took the entire scene in. This was a one-of-a-kind experience.
After a few minutes, our captain took us back to the dock and we made our way back to the food/booze tent. I don’t know if it was the booze, or the excitement of the boat ride, or the booze; but I was feeling a good level of faded. We had one more drink at the tent, then made our way to the next stop — a nightcap at the The Magdalenae Room. This low-key bar is tucked away in the back of the Dean hotel, on the outskirts of downtown. The dim light, intimate vibe immediately reminded us of some of our favorite spots in the city (but with Providence prices, dope).
Later in the evening, Peter and Molly join us for a few rounds. They end up leaving around 1:00am, because they have to make a 50-minute drive to their friend’s house, where they’re staying. I google mapped where they were going and, no lie, it was the other side of the state. Rhode Island is only 37 miles east to west! Incredible. Especially considering it takes me 50 minutes to go 5 miles in Manhattan.
We take this as our cue to head home. There’s only so much booze, sunflowers and fire we can take in a day before passing out.
On Sunday, we wake up considerably more tired than the previous morning. We packed our bags and checked them into the front of the hotel.
Our first stop this morning was the West Side Diner. This spot is a little bit outside of the central area, so we hopped a ride over. We both do enjoy a good diner breakfast, but, we held off on ordering the entire menu, since we had lunch scheduled a hour later. We got the corn beef hash and a bowl of fruit (healthy balance). The inside of the venue was decked out like an old-timey diner car, which we really enjoy. We took a bunch of photos before heading out.
We had heard that Providence is one of the top US coffee cities, a fact which Christina confirmed. So, we walk on over to Dave’s Coffee. We ordered a coffee milk and a horchatta latte (both with coconut milk). The coffee milk was waaay to sweet for us. Neither of us likes sweet, so this may be a preference thing. However, the drink was very full-bodied and had a unique taste. Worth trying if sweet drinks are your thing. The horchatta, while still pretty sweet, was more our speed.
With an adequate caffeine boost, we made our way to our final stop in Providence — Den Den Fried Chicken. This Korean restaurant is located right in the heart of College Hill. It sits in an area with a lot of other Asian restaurants. This seems like a hot spot for the college students when class is in session. When we actually get there, we discovered that we were at the wrong location. We were scheduled to eat at Den Den Café Asiana, about a half mile away.
Anyways, after arriving at the proper spot, we sat down and ordered. We got the Seafood Scallion Pancake, Agedashi Tofu, Ohitashi, Ddukbokki and the Soba with Shrimp Tempura. The Scallion pancake was our favorite dish of the meal. But, the ohitashi turned out to be a sleeper hit. It was a cube of cooked spinach, topped with bonito flakes and served on a savory sauce. It was a super unique mix of flavors that we never had before. Fuck, that’s delicious!
Fully satisfied with our meal, we headed back to the hotel to grab our bags. This time, we made it to the train in time….
Overall, we found Providence to be a dope spot for a weekend trip. It's quick and convenient to grab a roundtrip train ride there. Summer seems to be the optimal time to go. But, I could totally see it being the move for a romantic fall getaway as well. The city was very clean, smelled nice (huge benefit when escaping NYC for a few days) and everyone was extremely nice. Even though we spent the whole weekend there, we weren’t able to squeeze in everything from our itinerary. There’s a lot of options for thing to do when planning your trip.
By and far, the best surprise of the weekend was finding out that Providence is a dope food city. Every meal we ate was even better than the menu could hope to show. The dishes we had were not extremely adventurous, but they didn’t need to be. The focus was on fresh ingredients (especially the seafood) prepared in a simple, yet expert manner. Can’t emphasize enough.. if you visit in the summer, make it a point to eat the seafood! Oysters, raw fish, whole fish…. Anything you can get your hands on!
We would definitely visit again.
*This trip was in partnership with the Providence Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau. All opinions are our own.