CITY GUIDE: Providence

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Providence is a unique, thriving community of artists, entrepreneurs and craftsmen. With both RISD and Brown University calling Providence home, it’s hard not to have an eclectic mix of people, places and events. You can walk the city easily and that’s one of the best ways to discover some great places.

The RISD Museum has been a staple of the Providence art scene. Boasting a huge collection that ranges from pre-historic artifacts to Picasso’s to modern day pieces, the museum is definitely worth a visit. I love nothing more than going in on a Sunday afternoon and wandering around, just taking it all in. I find the collection to be so impressive that I constantly find new pieces that I had never noticed upon previous visits. Also, the Chace Center, which is the newest addition to the museum, always has an interesting exhibition, be it an exhibition of glass works by Dale Chihuly or an exhibition of work by the RISD faculty.

If getting down and dirty and making something is more your cup of tea, head over to AS220’s Printshop, Labs and Media Arts. AS220 has really made the artist’s community available to everyone. You can learn how to operate the Vandercook Proofing Press or Takach Etching Press to make prints, create unique 3D objects by using the laser cutter or transform some old photograph negatives into Cyanotype prints. Workshops are offered every month that can introduce you to a whole new process or take your knowledge to the next level.

With all of the artwork seeing and creating, you can definitely work up an appetite. Providence is known for its amazing food and there is no lack of variety here. Stop by Viva Mexico (conveniently located next to the AS220 Printshop) for an authentic mexican meal, grab a falafel wrap or gyro at East Side Pockets on Thayer Street or head to Federal Hill for some of the best Italian meals (seriously, any place on the Hill is fantastic).

My favorite Providence eatery and bar to stop by is Tini. As it’s name suggests, the restaurant is, well, teeny. Seating only about 20 people around the marble and stainless steel bar, it’s an intimate dining experience. Cocktails and entrees are constantly changed, depending on the season and what the local farmer’s are able to provide. There are some regular dishes and drinks you can always count on, such as the Tini Weenie (the best gourmet hot dog I’ve ever come across) and George’s Pink Margarita. Occasionally, Tini will offer drink making courses where you learn how to create different cocktails and get to munch on some yummy snacks (gruyere and portabello mushroom crepes, anyone?).

Providence also offers many unique boutiques, if you’re on the hunt for an outfit that no one else has or just want to surprise someone with a handmade gift. Westminster Street is home to some of my favorite Providence shops (along with even more fabulous places to grab a bite to eat). My favorite shop to find funny, creative gifts is Craftland. Every item in the shop is handmade, with most products created by local artists. They have a wide variety of items from fun letterpress cards to beautiful ceramic cups and bowls to huge, lighted marquee letters (check out that exclamation point!). The shop also has a gallery space which showcases talented, local artists.

Queen of Hearts and Modern Love is a boutique that’s across the street from Craftland. QOH is the clothes side of the shop whereas Modern Love is my go to place for shoes. Both shops have a kitschy-vintage soul to them, with shoes being propped upon old record players and accessories being displayed on old type drawers. I’ve been known to stop in to “window shop” and leave with whole new outfits. Karen Beebe, fashion designer and owner of QOH and Modern Love, has done a fantastic job curating both shops with items you can’t find elsewhere. Plus, everything is reasonably priced so you can be fashionable without breaking the bank.

Whether you’re here to eat, see some art, shop or relax, Providence has you covered on all fronts.

Featured image by Stephen Downes.

August 8, 2012