The Ya Like Dags? Social Guide to Rhode Island

Two posts in two days?  It’s like I’m a real blogger all the sudden.

The occasion for this post is that next week I’ll be participating in the Joint Meeting of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists.  I’ll be presenting a poster on my work as well as seeing an almost impossible number of shark talks thanks to the fact that the American Elasmobranch Society is rolling deep at this conference.  However, being at a conference alone is not what this post is about.  This post is about Rhode Island.

This particular conference is taking place in Providence, Rhode Island and is hosted by my undergrad alma mater.  Aside from being able to reconnect with some of my old professors and peers as well as being able to spend some time in a state I still very much consider home, this also presents me with an opportunity to show some of my North Carolinian colleagues (and any other shark people out there who want to hang out) just how awesome my little state can be.  Below the jump are some of my favorite places in the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.  I know that some of my old Rhody friends know of places that I’ve overlooked, so feel free to add any other points of interest in the comments.

In Providence
Rhode Island is very much a city-state.  There’s Providence, then there’s the rest of the state, most of which is inhabited by people who work in Providence.  This is not a function of there not being any other interesting areas in the state (I’ll be covering those in a minute).  It’s just that given the size of the state (it could probably manage a snug fit inside some North Carolina counties) the state’s settlers and developers wisely decided on having one main urban center with the rest of the state functioning mainly as suburbs, forest, and beach towns.  Since the conference is in Providence and most of the attendees probably won’t make it out of the city, I’ll start there.

Places to drink:  People drink after hours at conferences.  You know it, I know it, it happens (this is apparently where I earn that disclaimer at the bottom of the main page).  Providence has an excellent selection of bars for your drinking pleasure, whether you’re looking for a relatively quiet place to socialize or a someplace loud and raucous.  The Trinity Brewhouse is a quick walk from the Biltmore, functions as a full-service restaurant (with awesome wraps and burgers) and brews all their own beer.  The upstairs is where the sitting down and eating occurs, downstairs (featuring a mounted Tyrannosaurus head) is where people get loud and pool is played.  I’ve never had a bad beer there.  Much quieter is the Union Station Brewery near RiRa (which is where some of the conference socials are happening).  I haven’t spent as much time there as the Trinity, but if you can handle a ferociously heavy beer, their coffee milk stout is every bit as delicious as it sounds.  One of my favorite bars in the city is The Wild Colonial, which is a bit of a hike from the conference but still a comfortable walk on a nice night.  The atmosphere of the place is amazing (it’s built into a colonial-era brick basement and is dark and sketchy in all the best ways) it has plenty of room inside, and ‘Gansett, Rhode Island’s own cheap beer, is available on tap.  If you want to brave Providence’s College Hill neighborhood (not dangerous at all, just a hell of a walk) be sure to check out the Wickenden Pub, which has an absurd number of beers available, and is prone to combining them with tasty results.

Non-drinking activities:  Most of the official material on the conference will tell you all about the Providence Place Mall, downtown shopping, the PPAC, etc, so I’ll skip those.  Providence is well-known for supporting live music (though truth be told a lot of the glorious old venues have unfortunately closed) and there’s usually someone playing some of kind of music somewhere.  One of my particular favorites is AS220, which books mostly local acts just getting on their feet and also pulls extra duty as an art studio, taco joint, and pretty sweet bar.  A lot of the band that play there are old friends from my previous life booking shows at URI, and yes, I’ve played there too.  For bigger shows you’ll want to check Lupo’s.  If architecture and history are your things, you’ll want to take a walk around pretty much the entire College Hill area, which is home to Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design (Family Guy creator Seth McFarlane, the Talking Heads, and members of Sonic Youth are alumni) and is loaded with historic buildings, parks, and cemeteries (including both the former house and grave of the one and only H.P. Lovecraft).  For people watching, you can’t beat Thayer Street, with a motley collection of hipsters, artists, and college students, as well as a plethora of eateries that serve good, reasonably-priced food and stay open late.

That’s a pretty bare-bones tour of Providence, and I know I skipped over a lot of worthy places, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention some of the points of interest in the rest of the state.

Outside Providence
Just because it’s not “the city” doesn’t mean there’s not stuff going on.  I can’t even begin to do justice to the rest of Rhode Island, so I won’t even try.  Here’s a list of places I really enjoyed when I lived there, and think conference goers should check out if they want to brave leaving Providence.

The Mews Tavern:  Yes, this is number one.  This Wakefield tavern was my second home during undergrad, and post-grad, and pretty much every time I’ve visited since.  They offer 69 microbrews on tap, and like the Wickenden Pub will combine them (try the Black and Blue, a variation on the Black and Tan with blueberry wheat beer in place of ale).  The food is also good, I can’t even count how many Rancho Relaxo pizzas my friends and I housed back in the day.  If you can make it down in time for happy hour, do it.

The Ocean Mist:  While we’re on the subject of southern Rhode Island bars, the Ocean Mist is a great example of a true beach bar.  In fact, the beach is eroding dangerously far under the building, so enjoy this institution while it lasts.  Way down in Matunuck, it’s pretty far from Providence and kind of out in the boonies, but worth a visit if you’re feeling adventurous.  It also frequently features live music and on Sundays has a hangover breakfast menu.

Boon Street Eateries:  This street two blocks from the beach in Narragansett contains two of the best places I’ve ever eaten at: Crazy Burger and Marko’s.  Crazy Burger is true to its name, offering an off-beat menu of variations on the burger theme, and is also BYOB (the Hot Girlfriend and I enjoyed some leftover wine over salmon and veggie burgers there).  Marko’s is a tiny place (like four tables total inside) serving Lebanese cuisine, including the best gyro I’ve ever had.  This part of Narragansett is inhabited by URI students during the school year, so both places have a good selection of vegetarian and vegan fare if that’s your thing.

Narragansett Beach:  Technically a town beach, and you’ll be paying a premium for parking because of it.  However, it’s still my favorite beach in the state thanks to the great location, nice water, good surf, and interesting mix of people.  The fact that I spent a couple idyllic post-grad summers in Narragansett might have a lot to do with it too.  If you don’t feel like hitting the beach itself you can walk along the Narragansett sea wall and watch the proceedings from there.

Brickley’s:  Homemade ice cream so good you’ll end up eating it way too fast (you’d think I’d learn eventually).  It has two locations, one not far from Narragansett Beach and the other a few blocks away from the Mews Tavern in Wakefield.  Both get busy on good beach days for good reason.

Newport:  This list has been very Narragansett/South Kingstown-centric, but I’ve got to give a shout-out to Newport.  It’s infested with tourists and has a brutal bridge toll (which you can skip if you take 114 from Providence) but has a lot to recommend it despite all that.  If you have an extra day to kill, check out the historic downtown, buy some cds at the Music Box, have a Guinness at the Fastnet, see the ocean at the Cliff Walk, check out the massive “cottages” of the roaring ’20’s-era robber barons, stare enviously at the hundreds of yachts packed in the harbor, and generally have the kind of old-time seaside day you’d otherwise have to take a ferry to Martha’s Vineyard to experience.  To be honest, and this is the opinion of a former local, Newport hits its peak in March during the St. Patrick’s Day parade, but still worth a look in the summer.

And that’s my horribly biased and by no means complete guide to what to see and do in the great state of Rhode Island.  As you can probably tell, I’m pretty excited to be able to go back, and I’m also pretty excited about playing tour guide.  Anyone going to the conference feel free to stop by my poster (I’ll be standing awkwardly by it during Poster Session 1) and if you want to know where to drink, you now know who to ask.


  1. Sam · June 30, 2010

    That drive-in on 146 in Lincoln is pretty cool, too.

  2. Chuck · June 30, 2010

    That it is. And not too bad a drive from Providence either. I wonder what's playing there next week.

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