Rebels with a Cause: A Weekend in Providence, Rhode Island

by Matthew Wexler

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday April 30, 2019

Providence skyline
Providence skyline   (

Ever since Roger Williams founded the city in 1636, Providence has long been a forerunner for free thinkers and entrepreneurs. One hundred and forty years later, Rhode Island would become the first colony to declare independence. With plenty of ups and downs, the city has remained resilient, and most recently, seen a resurgence of small businesses and a flourishing LGBTQ scene.

Providence offers a hassle-free weekend getaway for East Coasters traveling by train. Whether you're rolling in from New York City, Boston, Portland or beyond, you'll arrive at the city's charming epicenter, and just a short walk or car ride from centrally located accommodations. Warwick's Green Airport, 10 minutes away, boasts affordable, direct flights from Orlando, Nashville, Minneapolis and more. Most of the city is pedestrian-friendly, and if you want to explore fringe neighborhoods, it's never more than a 10-minute car ride.

Den Den Korean Fried Chicken
Den Den Korean Fried Chicken  (Source: Matthew Wexler)

Take a Bite

Providence's booming food scene transcends its modest population of 180,000 with casual offerings, cozy coffee shops and destination-worthy dining.

Den Den Korean Fried Chicken — Move over, Buffalo, the Korean fried chicken craze has arrived in Providence. If the packed crowd of university students and other locals craving the crispy, sweet and spicy double-fried wings and drums are any indications, it's here to stay.

The menu's ancillary items, such as kimbap (Korean sushi rolls) and gyoza are but supporting players to the heaping pile of fried chicken, garnished with pickled radish and slathered in your choice of dark (soy garlic) or red (spicy) sauce.

Birch — Chef Benjamin Sukle leaves no stone unturned in his ongoing quest to represent indigenous ingredients through a modern American lens. The minimalist décor focuses most of the seating around a central island overseen by hipster servers with an encyclopedic knowledge of the chef's seasonal arsenal.

At $60 per person for a four-course meal (beverage pairings for an additional $40), it's a steal compared to big city dining. A dining experience last season included sea agretti, hay cream, and onion syrup drizzled over dessert, among other thoughtfully composed esoteric components. The current menu (catch it while you can) showcases raw Rhode Island beef, crab rice with wild laurel and honeycomb soufflé.

Go Mobile — Stroll the streets to discover Providence's food truck scene, which includes dozens of vendors popping up throughout the city. Keep an eye out for Del's Lemonade for a refreshing tart and sweet frozen treat. For a carnivorous bite, seek out Sazon Bandit, serving up Spanish steak and onions, sofrito-marinated pork, and guilty-pleasure sides such as plantains and yucca.

Arcade Providence
Arcade Providence  (Source: N. Millard/

Street Scene

There's plenty to explore by foot among Providence's various neighborhoods. Take yourself on a self-guided walking tour to discover downtown's Art Deco architecture or the quatrefoil fountain in the West Side's DePasquale Square.

Providence's Arcade, built in 1828, is the oldest indoor shopping mall in the country. Its Greek Revival columns and soaring atrium provide a stunning backdrop for local retailers. (It even includes micro-lofts for minimalist downtown living.) Be sure to check out the vintage streetwear at Bad Taste, the oddities at Lovecraft Arts & Sciences Council, and coffee or cocktails at New Harvest Coffee & Spirits.

RISD Musem
RISD Musem  (Source: N. Millard/


Home to the Rhode Island School of Design, Trinity Rep and a range of art galleries, Providence is a feast for the creatively inclined.

RISD Museum — While the collection includes more than 100,000 works of art and design, RISD's real gem is its forward-thinking approach to the intersection of creativity and culture. Don't miss "Bona Drag: An Incomplete History of Drag and Cross-Gender Performance in Film and Video Art (Part 2)," a collection of films and videos from the 60s to today that frames drag within the context of the art world. (Through July 7, 2019)

"Marisol" at Trinity Rep — José Rivera's magical, absurdist and fantastical work offers an apocalyptic exploration of society's disparity and capitalism through the lens of a young Puerto Rican woman.

Big Nazo — Be sure to check out the creative lab of these exceptional mask and puppet makers and their collection of oversized creations. Call ahead to ensure the lab is open, where you can hopefully have an informal chat with founder Erminio Pinque and his collaborators as they create their next fantastical design.

Omni Hotel & Rhode Island Convention Center
Omni Hotel & Rhode Island Convention Center  (Source: N. Millard/

Stay a While

Omni Providence — The landmark hotel, connected to the Rhode Island Convention Center and Providence Place Mall, is conveniently located within walking distance of downtown attractions.

The massive property includes an indoor heated pool, in-room fitness kits, and a terrific spot for wine at Fleming's Steakhouse, where you can choose from more than 100 wines by the glass. For a spacious stay, consider a one-bedroom suite, which features a king-size bed, club chairs and sofa.

The Dean — This quirky 52-room hotel embodies Providence's creative spirit with custom-design furniture, found objects, and a unique sense of style. Keep it affordable with bunk beds or opt for the Guardian Suite, furnished with luxury linens, original artwork, a dramatic onyx bathroom and customized toiletries. Get crafty (cocktails, that is) at the Dean Bar, which offers just enough swanky style to feel like you've stepped back in time.

WaterFire  (Source: N. Millard/

Don't Miss

Be sure to mark your calendar for these Providence-centric events:

WaterFire — For more than 20 years residents and visitors alike gather on the shores of Providence's interconnected river channels to experience this immersive flammable art installation. Approximately 100 bonfires blaze along the rivers, which can be viewed from shore or by motorboat. Click here for this season's schedule.

Rhode Island PrideFest & Illuminated Night Parade — Rhode Island Pride dates back to 1976, and today draws upwards of 60,000 attendees. This year's grand marshals include transgender activist Justice Ameer Gaines and the Providence Student Union. The Festival is held along South Water Street, followed by the illuminated parade at dusk. (June 15, 2019)

"We are proud to have such accomplished and impressive Grand Marshals leading our Parade and helping us tell our story this year," said Joe Lazzerini, President of Rhode Island Pride. "These are folks who truly embody our theme for this year: 'Live Your Truth.'"

Check out these bustling LGBTQ-friendly bars any time of year:

The Alley Cat — This neighborhood bar (and its sister bar The Dark Lady) always seem to have a crowd and boast weekly programming and special events, such as live screening of "RuPaul's Drag Race," fundraisers, and karaoke.

The Stable — The weekend crowd skews collegiate, and there's plenty of themed events to choose from, including Sangria Sundays, which always draws daytime revelers.

Mirabar — Want to dance? You may have to tread a bit off the beaten path, but it's worth it for this multi-room venue. Enjoy a mellow Sunday night with Danny Arico on Sunday nights, or pack your best briefs for "Fearless in the Dark," a black light underwear party held the first Friday of every month.

Matthew Wexler is EDGE's Senior Editor, Features & Branded Content. More of his writing can be found at Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @wexlerwrites.