I had a chance to attend a conference in Providence recently. I had certainly been through Providence before at various times, but never with intent. Never went to Brown. I have played rugby there two or three times. My good friend’s mom lives in Barrington, so I’ve been there a few times. The same friend decided to have a 30th celebration in Providence, but that was for one night only. We also had a driver, because YOLO / 30th. Suffice it to say, did not get as much city flavor as I might have usually desired.
I hear good things about it, but had no evidence to back it up.
The conference was an engineering conference, so I didn’t know too many people there. I was able to keep most of the chatting / collaboration to the official conference hours themselves, which left me a good amount of free time to explore the city solo. I can really enjoy exploring places solo – I don’t feel obligated to keep anybody happy. If I accidentally have to walk three miles because I took a wrong turn, so be it.
Brown itself was nice, though nothing too surprising…it’s a nice college campus. Here is a picture of a thing on campus.
If you’re at Brown, there are many nice walks to take. You can go up and down Thayer St, which has funky shops, cafes, and bars. What Cheer is a great antique shop, and Blue State Coffee is recommended. But as the area also must appeal to 18 year olds straight from the suburbs, there are some less funky things like Chipotle and the university book store.
If you take Thayer all the way south to Wickenden, you’ll find the Coffee Exchange, a great roaster that also has good indoor and outdoor seating. It’s just far enough away from the university to have a mix of ages.
You can take Brook St back up towards campus, and see some other cafes and cute house. Actually the historic Victorian houses near Brown is a substantial part of the charm.
From Brown you can also swing over to RISD. I recommend taking Waterman St west to hit the RISD museum. A good permanent collection that can be done in a couple hours. A GREAT exhibition was there when I was, about dandy fashion, and I get the feeling that the exhibitions are typically off the beaten path.
A sandwich shop called Geoff’s was nearby. It was recommended that I go there, but I had eaten already. The line was also out the door. I guess it’s good? Just don’t go during a peak time.
The other thing I did while in the Brown area was hit up Farmstead Inc. To get there, walk east on Angell, until you get to Wayland Square, another cute area in itself. Farmstead has a cheese shop (with other fun fixins) and you can buy things by the pound. You can also eat in their restaurant. I sat at the bar, and had a couple of great cocktails. Their menu is probably what you expect: local, American, artisanal. But they also have cheese and charcuterie boards, and much of their charcuterie, sauces, and pickled items are made in-house. I was able to taste a few of my neighbors menu items (had a tasty heirloom tomato salad, and some ceviche…the ceviche was an odd choice and it was an odd ceviche), but ordered a cheese and meat board for myself. YUM. Can’t go wrong with the basics. If I lived in Providence, I’m sure I would be a regular and get to try more regular menu items, like grilled cheese….
Here are some random photos from the Brown-ish area of town.
Providence itself is split into two areas, separated by the Providence river. There is the College HIll area to the East, and downtown to the West.There was a shuttle operating between the downtown hotel and the university, but more than once I just walked. One way to walk was via Westminster St, the street downtown that has the requisite handmade shops, alterna-fashion, cute cafes, and classy liquor stores.
My hotel was right by the statehouse, in a weird intersection of the riverwalk and a mall. I took some nice runs through the town and along the river, but never quite made it to the harbor. For future reference, it looks like Collier Park (downtown) and India Point Park (College Hill) are good places to aim for.
Of course, Providence has more than two neighborhoods. One other neighborhood I checked out was Federal Hill, just to the west of downtown. It has a strong Italian-American history, and a large number of restaurants. Take a walk down Atwells Ave to get the gist. If you’re going for straight up Italian, you’ll have a number of choices, though I also recall seeing Lebanese and Greek places as well. I got a recommendation for Julian’s on Broadway, but didn’t have enough time to check it out. Looks to be an assortment of modern American fare, a good beer selection, and a good brunch spot. A place everyone can agree on if you’re in an eclectic group.
My goal in going to Federal Hill was getting to the Providence Oyster Bar. I had given two talks that day, and needed to get my grub on and enjoy a beverage. It looked to be not so great a deal for a regular meal, but had a smashing happy hour. The lobster roll, for instance, is usually $18. During happy hour it is $6. It was maybe worth $9. A good deal. Oysters are buck-a-shuck, and available fresh from many locations. My martini (okay, I had two) was another story. I was a little miffed when I saw the price tag for those, but the price of the food made it all okay in the end. Would definitely return, over and over again if I lived in Providence.