March 9, 2012 | Arts and Culture
A&C’s Top 5s
for alcohol, art, amusement, and everything in between
article by clayton aldern
Wild Colonial (250 South Water St.)
The esteemed snobbery at Esquire named Wild Colonial one of the fifty best bars in America. It’s easy to see why: Wild Colonial is everything you want in a tavern. First-come, first-served darts and billiards. A great selection of frequently local, reasonably priced drinks. Cutthroat trivia. Perhaps the best part, though, is that Wild Colonial never seems too full. As busy as the bar may be, there’s always room for you. Even the corners are warm and homey. Looking for a snack? The nachos are in a perpetual state of absurd tastiness. Beyond its signature trivia night, the establishment plays host to the annual Grog and Dog Jog, a traditional team relay race with an added beer and hot dog component. It’s hard to go wrong with an event like that.
English Cellar Alehouse (165 Angell St.)
So it turns out the Alehouse on Angell is fantastic. While at peak hours English Cellar has the feeling of a raucous dive, the overarching vibe is generally welcoming and—dare we say—English. Check out the Alehouse’s vast library (read: six-page menu) of imports: If you can’t find a beer on the list that you like, beer is simply not for you. During the day, the booths provide wormhole-like transportation away from the daily grind of College Hill. And it’s definitely on College Hill. There’s literally no excuse to not go. Trump card: Young’s Double Chocolate Stout … on tap.
Grad Center Bar (90 Thayer St.)
If we’re mentioning College Hill favorites, GCB reigns over all. The fact that this is a building on campus (one many of us have actually lived in) boggles the mind. GCB is the be-all and end-all in on-campus lazy debauchery. Billiards on the right, darts on the left, tables and a swanky couch in the middle: the layout always seems reminiscent of the sitcom that is your life. $2.00 Hoegaarden specials? We’ll take eight. Plus, you get a membership card. There’s nothing like strolling into an establishment and guesting in a friend. In this case, however, the exclusivity is a sham (providing you’re actually of age—the bar is hugely stringent on IDs) and the good times are eternally rolling.
The Salon (57 Eddy St.)
The Salon is one of those Providence locales that no one seems to discover until sometime during junior year. However, the bar/nightclub—located just across the river and ever so conveniently one block away from Lupo’s—is actually kind of every Brown kid’s dream. Brown and RISD student nights numerous times a month? Check. A basement “cutting room” that plays host to everything from “SPEED GAY.TING” to indie dance parties? Check. A sizable bar, complete with dozens of hanging light bulbs, cheerful graphic prints, and picnic tables that look like they just sprang into the third-dimension out of an Ikea catalogue? Check. Seriously—grab an ID and jump on this.
The Duck and Bunny (Bar Area) (312 Wickenden St.)
Alright, hear us out here: yes, the Duck and Bunny is generally thought of as “that adorable place on Wickenden with the 16th-century French vibe and delicious food.” However, it DOES have a bar inside it. And underneath the glass portion of the counter are cupcakes. That’s right—cupcakes. Including classics such as Red Velvet and Carrot, as well as more creative (and decadent) offerings, such as Banana Nutella and Strawberry Rose. They also come in $1.25 “Mini” sizes, which take more effort to eat in two bites than one. A low-key place where you can booze up AND indulge your sweet tooth? Yes, please.
Honorable Mentions: The Scurvy Dog (1718 Westminster St.), McBride’s (161 Wayland Ave.),
Hercules Mulligan’s (272 Thayer St.), Wickenden Pub (320 Wickenden St.)
Roz Raskin and the Rice Cakes
The Rice Cakes always seem to find themselves atop lists subjectively ranking Providence bands. It’s because they’ve been pigeonholed into a very specific niche of funky, jazzy, punky alt-rock, and they’re the only ones that do it like the Rice Cakes. The three-piece is also hugely accessible. Fun-loving frontwoman Roz sat down with Post- in late 2011 to discuss their recent release, Monster Man. When bands want to talk to us, we like them. Bias? Absolutely not. In all seriousness, the Cakes’ engagement with local publications is indicative of their devotion to the Providence scene. They never stray too far from home, and when they embark on national tours, we know that they’re always coming back. And, you know, their music is a whole lot of fun. Nothing quite compares to a barefooted Roz pouncing on her keyboard.
Since 2006’s Tautology, this acoustic folk duo has been releasing material at a blistering pace. And we’re not remotely tired of it. The whirlwind of string percussion, beard, and vocal harmony most often manifests itself as David Lamb on guitar and MorganEve Swain on stand-up bass—with both of them weaving in and out of a sung melody line. Hungry for the live experience? (You should be.) Check them out in Jamestown on March 2.
What Cheer? Brigade
There’s nothing quite like the 19-piece What Cheer? Brigade. The brassy street band prides itself on its ability to fill a space—both in terms of size and decibel level. Never amplified, What Cheer? is an instant headliner at any given show (regardless of whether or not they’re the actual headliner). But formal concerts are not the only venue for the group: The band is equally at home at community benefits as they are at playgrounds or cemeteries. Self-described as an “aggressive mix of Bollywood, The Balkans, New Orleans, Samba and Hip-Hop, played with the intensity of metal,” What Cheer? is a brigade you never want to miss.
Juggernauts on the noise-rock scene (to which Providence is a disproportionately large contributor), Lightning Bolt consists of two fellows both named Brian, one of whom is responsible for the noise solo project Black Pus. Lightning Bolt is frantic and raw. For those unfamiliar with the band or genre, a good introduction may be the group’s February 24 release, I Found a Ring in My Ear, a twenty-minute noise jam of soaring proportions. Note: Noise-rock giants Black Dice might have taken this coveted Post- Top 5 spot were it not for their re-branding as a “Brooklyn” group. We all know you met at RISD …
Last Good Tooth
One of RISD/Brown’s more recent births, Last Good Tooth sculpts a brand of folk that is so genuine, it hurts. Here at the Post- music department, last year’s The Meeting Was a Success remains one of the most consistently played albums. On it, the musicians strum, fiddle, and otherwise Americana their way through such diverse themes as the 9/11 attacks, The Princess Bride, and pill abuse. The well-honed balance of musicality and lyricism is only potentiated live. If you’ve ever seen Last Good Tooth, you know the power of the hushed crowd sing-along near the end of “Take ‘Em.” If not, make it a priority.
Honorable Mentions: Black Dice, Noose, Deer Tick, Bangs, The Low Anthem, Throwing Muses, The Silks, We Should Worry
Tea in Sahara (69 Governor St.)
When it comes to this mini Moroccan cafe, it really is quality and not quantity that counts. What Tea in Sahara may lack in menu options (it offers about seven types of drinks and a few paninis), it certainly makes up for in taste, coziness, and undeniable charm. Hunker down in its warm red and orange interior, smoke a little hookah, and sip on a Moroccan mint tea so good, it just might change your life. Oh, also, it has been known to have couscous parties. Just sayin’.
Malachi’s (134 Ives St.)
First stepping into Malachi’s can be a bit disorienting. Not only is the floor checkered black and white, but its friendly and down-to-earth staff may often be found sitting at one of the tables rather than standing behind the counter, leaving you wondering why the dude reading the paper is asking, “How can I help you?” Yet, confusion aside, this little café on Ives is one of the East Side’s best kept secrets. Super tasty, super cheap, and super comfy—with a couch and nice, tall stools—it’s just far and unknown enough that you can almost always find a free place to squat and study. And if none of that makes you to want to go, the buy-four, get-one-free drink cards (meant to accommodate those who get coffee every day of the work week) may just convince you to check it out. You won’t regret it.
Café Choklad (2 Thomas St.)
Those who talk about Café Choklad tend to be ardent worshippers—but not necessarily the ones going to the First Baptist Church in America across the street every Sunday. Featuring specialties like Wicked Hot Chocolate and Danish Harvati & cucumber sandwiches with mango chutney on cranberry pecan bread, this corner institution offers drinking and dining experiences that are nothing short of sinful. Also, thanks to Swedish ownership, you can get lingonberries on anything. (OK, actually, there are two menu items featuring lingonberries. But we bet you could ask for them on anything.)
The Edge (199 Wayland Ave.) (RIP)
We won’t say too much for fear of bitter nostalgia, but this Wayland Square coffee spot was spitting out damn fine mochas until just a few months ago. Stay tuned for developments.
Blue State Coffee (300 Thayer St.)
Though it may be an obvious choice, that doesn’t mean this College Hill favorite is an undeserving one. Blue State is all you could ever want in a coffee shop: it’s cozy without being cramped, hip without being pretentious, and subtly lit without forcing you to squint. It also serves up some kickass coffee. And tea. And pastries. And sandwiches. Not to mention, all the coffee is environmentally sustainable and fairly traded, and 2 percent of every sale goes to a non-profit organization. This means even if you go and spend the money you were supposed to be saving and/or neglect to learn the material you were supposed to be studying, you can still walk out feeling good about yourself. We’re getting the warm and fuzzies just thinking about it.
Honorable Mentions: Pastiche (92 Spruce St.), Tealuxe (231 Thayer St.)
AS220 (115 Empire St.)
AS220 sprawls across several buildings in downtown Providence and includes, among other features, artist residences, work studios and labs, a gallery, a live performance venue, a bar/restaurant, and a print shop. Yep, it’s one of those things. In any given week, you can mosey on down to one of its spaces to thrash to some black metal music, participate in a life drawing workshop, watch a poetry slam, discuss the arts in Providence, meet people wearing ill-fitting jeans and flannel, etc. Not to say that these activities aren’t awesome and fun—they are—but bear in mind, you may also find yourself inadvertently feigning familiarity with every cultural reference you hear and feeling an uncanny need to buy more oxfords afterward. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Coffee Exchange (207 Wickenden St.)
The fact that we decided to include Coffee Exchange on this list instead of the coffee/tea one should tell you something … Yeah, it’s that f*cking hipster. The sustainability-conscious “small batch coffee roaster” is a perennial favorite of SoPo (thanks, BlogDH) seniors and graduate students as well as a hodgepodge of Providence locals. Its dark wooden interior and faux marble tabletops endow it with a sense of sophistication, while walls of bulletin boards and flyers—advertising everything from hot yoga to writing circles—manage to simultaneously keep it grounded in good ole’ PVD. On warmer days, you can sit outside on the sizable deck, watching bikers head toward the Point Street Bridge or cursing the Internet for not working before you eventually give up and read a philosophy book instead. And you thought the Bookstore Café was cool.
Olneyville Obscure Entertainment District (25&39 Manton Ave.) (RIP)
Often spoken of in hushed tones of mystery, this collection of warehouses and underground project spaces west of Providence proper played host to many of the most recent noise-rock, punk, and art events. Unfortunately, the mill complex that housed such provocatively named spaces as Witch Club, Building 16, and Castlevania was recently shut down. Look for new project venues in the coming months.
RISD Fleet Library (15 Westminster St.)
Of course, we all know that Brown carries a certain, uh, reputation, but let’s face it—our neighbor school and its artistic geniuses can make even the most avante-garde of Brunonians seem downright square in comparison. Exhibit A? Its library. Encompassing the first two floors of the former Rhode Island Hospital Trust Bank, the Fleet Library is a gorgeous juxtaposition of mod furniture with marble columns and an enormous vaulted ceiling. Throw in virtually unlimited access to art books, films, and image slides, as well as periodic exhibitions, and you basically have the hipster equivalent to heaven. And, guess what? Your Brown ID gets you in. Ba-bam!
The Secret Restaurant (We can’t tell you)
If you’re in the loop, you understand. If not, locate said loop. Eggplant-pesto pizza, watermelon-mint salad, house-made absinthe. Vegan and gluten-free options at every meal. Fridays at 7pm by reservation.
Honorable Mentions: Whole Foods (601 N Main St./201 Waterman St.), You’ve Probably Never Heard of It (You’ve probably never been there)
RISD Museum (224 Benefit St.)
Providence’s best-known art museum was founded just before the turn of the century to give the citizens of the city a little culture, and it’s been doing just that ever since. Now part of the Rhode Island School of Design, the space houses a potpourri of styles—exhibitions run the gamut from new installations by Spencer Finch to European paintings from the Middle Ages to examples of Chinese Taoist robes. Whether you walk out of the RISD art museum stimulated, inspired, or just confused, you’ll have helped make the Creative Capital of the Universe that much artsier.
Providence Children’s Museum (100 South St.)
Not every museum has to be about pretty pictures or old artifacts. For the kid in you (or the one tugging at your sleeve for a juice box), there’s the Providence Children’s Museum, the first and only museum of its kind in the Ocean State. Far from the toys-behind-glass horror that Woody was almost doomed to in Toy Story 2, the museum takes a strongly hands-on approach, letting little Rhodies explore water, anatomy, and the history of the state. Before you hurry there, though, be warned—when they say the Littlewoods treehouse is only for ages four and under, they mean it.
Annmary Brown Memorial (21 Brown St.)
It turns out that that huge, bronze-doored cube a block or two away from the Main Green is more than just a somber reminder of our own mortality—it’s also a renowned art gallery and the location of a number of important historical mementos! Founded by General Rush Hawkins at the turn of the last century, the Brown Memorial has housed centuries-old paintings and Hawkins’ considerable collection of books. And if you want to get your morbidity on, there’s room for that too—the back of the building houses Mr. and Mrs. Hawkins’ tombs.
John Brown House (52 Power St.)
The Rhode Island merchant and statesman John Brown has lent his name to more than just our humble abode. It also graces some pretty killer digs. The John Brown House was the first mansion ever built in Providence, and its earliest fans are older than the country the building stands on: George Washington once popped in for tea, and John Quincy Adams called it “the most magnificent and elegant private mansion that I have ever seen on this continent.” Now belonging to the Rhode Island Historical Society, the Brown House has been reunited with its original décor, including furniture owned by the Brown family.
Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology (21 Prospect St.)
This innocuous building on the corner of the Main Green houses a renowned collection of artifacts from pre-colonial Providence to Papua New Guinea. Starting with the collection of the impressively named Rudolf Haffenreffer at the beginning of the last century, the museum has expanded well beyond its original intentions. The museum now serves as a base for student and professional research and houses a K-12 program devoted to molding young minds to have an interest in anthropology. Its diverse and niche offerings make the Haffenreffer one of the hidden gems in Providence’s museum scene.
Honorable mentions: Museum of Natural History and Planetarium (25 Dorrance St.), Nelson W. Aldrich Museum (110 Benevolent St.), Culinary Archives (315 Harborside Blvd.), Roger Williams National Memorial (282 North Main St.), Providence Jewelry Museum (4 Edward St.)