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 Travel Article Travel Article Archive  
February 2010 Email this to a friend

Providence
An uninhibited party town

By Michael LaBelle

Mediterraneo Caffe, Providence
At Mediterraneo Caffe

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NOTE: This is an archive article. For an updated and expanded article click DailyXtraTravel

Providence shines as one of the most uninhibited party towns in the US and visitors are welcome to join in the fun.

Sure, Providence is not a huge metropolis, but size isn't everything. By virtue of variety and energy, Rhode Island's capital is closer to the sexy and laissez-faire atmosphere of a European city.

From stripper-bars to first-rate drag shows, raucous bathhouses to pounding disco clubs, an array of flamboyant fetish clubs and friendly gay-neighborhood taverns, Providence has more than most. There's even a sex mall tucked away near the riverfront with a vast parking lot to accommodate shoppers busy looking for those hard-to-find gifts.

Most nightspots are situated within safe walking distance of one another in a downtown club district. Others are close-by, among post-industrial hulks and monumental power plants.

Providence has thumbed its nose at Puritan sensibilities since the 17th century. Roger Williams walked out of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1636, one step ahead of the stocks and perhaps the gallows. With today's neo-Puritan coalitions of religious fundies and PC tyrants, Providence remains a contrarian enclave, bucking the mean-spirited tide.

The city has long nursed a reputation as New England's recreational sex-getaway, with pleasures otherwise unavailable back home. Since neither Boston nor anywhere else in parts north has a single bathhouse, this still rings true!

These differences in attitude, plus a relative lag in real-estate values combined with an appreciation for the vitality that downtown businesses brought to a city that until recent years flirted with dereliction. The entertainment zones resemble Boston prior to the "urban renewal" of the '60s and '70s, which wiped so much of that city's urban life off the map. In Providence, by contrast, streets full of people and cash flowing every night was music to the ears of local officials.

And, boy, do they like to party! Even on cool, drizzly nights one may see throngs of revelers on Richmond Street, the heart of the club zone. There's milling and queuing for a variety of clubs straight, gay, and um, pan-sexual. The atmosphere can seem to be that of New Year's Eve or Fat Tuesday, with a charge in the air. Few American cities have that feel anymore. It may be in part that Providence is a college town, with Brown University, Providence College, Rhode Island School of Design and Johnson & Wales all clustered nearby. For a city of only 160,000 people, this student population contributes a sizable youthful demographic and surge of hormones.

Beyond the nightlife glitter, Providence is a great walking town. Many architectural gems have been carefully restored. Dramatic offerings from the Trinity Repertory Theater are always a good choice. Summer-season Waterfire spectaculars along the Providence River are another treat. Buried waterways have been uncovered in recent years thanks to the near-legendary rogue (and former-mayor) Buddy Cianci prosecuted (some say persecuted) on charges of small-time corruption by the Feds. Cianci turned hidden streams into scenic canals only recently appreciated as an important urban asset. Also the historic districts of Benefit Street and Federal Hill remain unperturbed. The Hill, especially, offers many options for fine dining.

For those traveling the Northeast Corridor on Amtrak, a stop-off in Providence is easy as the station is within walking distance of the center of gay nightlife. You may find yourself tempted to stay longer than planned.

Clubs, bars and restaurants

There's about a six-block area with more than a half-dozen bars, clubs and bathhouses, making a hop around this lively city fun and easy.

Alley Cat (17 Snow St) is a classic gay bar with an 'at-home' feeling, where patrons feel as much at home with staff as with one another. A diverse crowd in age and ethnicity charges and packs the the place Fridays through Sundays. A cozier vibe prevails on weekdays in their comfortable overstuffed leather chairs. Their pours are generous, and invention is the byword behind the bar. Ask mix-master Michael for "Sex with Michael" a supercharged Brandy Alexander.

Nearby Club Energy (69 Union St) is a small lively club with a mainly young gay crowd (ages 18 up) that welcomes many types, genders and orientations for a happy mix. They're open seven nights a week, but busiest on weekends. A ten minute stroll down Richmond Street from the downtown club cluster, Club Gallery (150 Point St) brings out distinct constituencies on different nights for karaoke, drag and music. Smokers can socialize in their outdoor patio. There's dancing here too, and on Saturdays Girl Spot packs 'em in for a weekly women's night of dancing and live music. Sundays here feature drag cabaret for those 18-plus with no cover.

At Dark Lady (124 Snow St) the tempo is raucous and the elegance is kitch. Maybe it's the drag shows from Miss Kitty Litter and her retinue. Her show segues to a passel of go-go boys making all the right moves. A youngish crowd mills around the small stage while the girls lip-synch torch songs and Kitty pipes in with caustic stand-up narration. There's dancing and karaoke, and guests can kick back on comfy furniture with fishbowl-sized cocktails beneath the restored tin ceilings and baby chandeliers.

In a charming old building, Down City (151 Weybossett St) is a lively downtown restaurant and bar attracting a mixed stylish, animated crowd for delicious food in large portions. Jacqueline DeMira and friends host the popular Drag Brunch Sundays, with shows at 11am and 1pm. On Mondays Sabrina Blaze hosts karaoke, and live jazz with no cover is the Friday night attraction. Catch their sexiest music videos Thursdays and Saturdays.

They come from all over New England for Gay Latin Sundays at Lot 401 (44 Hospital St) with dancing on two floors, go go boys, Merengue to Salsa and more, until 2am every Sunday.

Mediterraneo Caffe (134 Atwells Ave), a Federal Hill Italian restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating, is special not only for their excellent Italian food, but for a fun and decidedly sympatico staff. Their upstairs terrace becomes a busy though not especially gay Euro-style weekend nightclub.

The Mirabar (35 Richmond St), one of America's longest-running gay clubs, attracts an upbeat college crowd of guys. Dancers catch their reflections from the reflecting-glass floor while friends and admirers look on from the balcony above. Strip Poker cash prize contests keep Kitty Litter busy with running commentary every Thursday night. Tuesdays dances are 18-plus, as are special events such as a recent LipSync contest RI Pride benefit.

The Providence Eagle (198 Union St), in the thick of the gay club cluster, is where leather and denim-clad bears, their cubs and friends come to party. Don't miss Friday Jockstrap cruise night, or Hook up in the Dark Saturdays, with dancing both nights. For their Sunday Tea Dance, noon to 8pm, you can leave your clothes at the door.

3 Steeple Street (125 Canal St) bistro and bar attracts a gay and lesbian crowd for interesting and eclectic cuisine at very reasonable prices, especially at lunchtime. Seafood, vegetarian dishes, and meat treats such as their Moroccan lamb stew are among the offerings.

Out in the industrial zone near the Providence River, at the erotic mall, Touch (257 Allens Ave) showcases the male form with appealing intimacy catering to tastes that run from young Adonis to Apollonian jock. These are totally nude male strip shows on two up-close stages, with private dances in more secluded surroundings should you desire. Performing man-to-man and under-the-shower, their regular crew of guys is joined sometimes by top-rank porn stars.

Union (200 Union St) connecting from Eagle, caters to transvestites and their fans. Jackie Collins, a local diva of distinction who can really sing, hosts a wild Friday night drag show that's uniquely Providence. Sundays draw a good crowd for karaoke.

Things keep rolling as they have for over 15 years at Wheels (125 Washington St), where eponymous motifs abound. This gay sports-bar hangout has Keno games, pool tournaments, and an atmosphere of general merriment among the mostly twenty-something-and-up crowd of guys. Open daily from noon until 1am; weekends until 2am.

About 20 minutes drive northeast of Providence into Massachusetts Bobby's Place (60-62 Weir St, Taunton MA) is a mix of all kinds dance club and video bar with pool tables, comedy and karaoke nights, live music acts and piano sing-alongs.

Providence has frequent lively circuit parties whose venues constantly change. For party news around town, keep an eye on the website of a veteran producer at Chris Harris Presents . More about the scene can be gleaned from local gay and alternative press. Useful online sites include RI Pride and Edge, Providence . Also check out Options , a local gay and lesbian publication.

Bathhouses

For those who enjoy the pleasures of a good old-fashioned bathhouse, Mega-plex (257 Allens Ave) is located in the same erotic mall as Touch. Among the saunas and showers are clubhouse amenities as well as private rooms available for overnight stays. Dry sauna, steam room, video rooms and 75 single rooms are some of the attractions. Events include blackout nights on Wednesdays and Fridays, and special nights for bears.

Club Body Center (257 Weybossett St), in a second floor walk-up at the center of everything was recently remodeled. There's an exercise room next to their big new playroom equipped with games and pool tables, and a new porn video lounge too. A well-appointed area is devoted to fetish shows. They have a steam room, tanning booth, and showers. Day passes are only $5, and CBC never closes.

Lodgings

For good accommodations the gay-friendly full-service boutique hotel in the Federal Hill Italian neighborhood can be found just beyond the interstate from downtown. Hotel Dolce Villa , (65 DePasquale Sq) is at the corner of the pedestrian square distinguished by a pineapple fountain. It's a perfect base from which to check out Providence's varied cultural, culinary and club scenes, and their restaurant has outdoor seating from which to scout the passers-by.

For those seeking bargains, fine rooms at the Radisson (220 India St) can be snagged for a song, except during graduation season and other big university events.

Hotel Providence (311 Westminster St) is elegant, almost swanky, and far pricier, but it has the advantage of being directly adjacent to the club district.

The Holiday Inn Providence (21 Atwells Ave) has a bit of a reputation as a gay hangout, too.

The Annie Brownell House (400 Angell Street) is a gay-friendly B&B on College Hill, convenient to Brown University and RISD, less than a mile from downtown. Full breakfast is served daily at this recently redecorated 1899 Colonial Revival home, and each room includes a private bath.

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