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Bright nights under city lights

Bustling with the latest in music, theater, art, poetry, and restaurants, Rhode Island’s free-thinking capital casts a spell after dark

By Paul E. Kandarian
Globe Correspondnet / January 1, 2012
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P rovidence by night is a city alive with places to learn, taste, see, and hear, an urban center with a fiercely independent spirit left over from free-thinking founder Roger Williams. Brian Hodge, communications and social media manager for the Providence Warwick Convention and Visitors Bureau, says Providence “is not a city of big-box places. There’s no carbon-copy menus, just rehab stories in the architecture, custom-design buildings, personalized service in restaurants, amazing music and theater. Providence’s night vibe is memorable.’’


Ponder lofty thoughts before stepping out on the town at Rhode Island School of Design’s inaugural “Shared Voices: The RISD Presidential Speaker Series,’’ kicking off Thursday at 7:30 p.m., a forum for what RISD calls “some of the most expansive thinkers of our time.’’ Thursday’s thinker is Juan Enrique, who studies the impact of genomics and life sciences on society, followed in coming months by Lisa Randall, theoretical physicist and string theory specialist, and Kevin Kelly, former executive editor of Wired magazine, now publisher of the Whole Earth Review. 17 Canal St.,, free admission but reservations recommended and available online

Libraries can be stuffy, but not the Providence Athenaeum, one of the country’s oldest libraries and a great place to get a jump on the night. The free Friday night “Salon Series’’ resumes in February, which along with sherry in antique glasses and appetizers, features dancers dancing, authors reading, actors chatting, and collectors showing their stuff. More fun can be had at the pub-style trivia quizzes that kick off in spring, and if you are wild about Oscar, the library’s fund-raiser, “Wilde at Heart,’’ a celebration of the English writer’s life that calls for wearing “flamboyant/creative/colorful/dandy’’ attire, will be Feb. 3. 251 Benefit St., 401-421-6970,

Regular book readings are held at Ada Books, a small, wonderfully stuffed store where a regular “Publically Complex’’ series resumes in February, showcasing writers, poets, and comic-book creators. 717 Westminster St., 401-432-6222,

The Providence Poetry Slam runs in various places, including at AS220 with “Free Speech Thursdays,’’ featuring an open-mic event at 8 p.m. led by the Providence Slam Team. 115 Empire St., 401-831-9327,, $4


Providence is famous for food - a Travel and Leisure reader survey last year listed it number one and two for burgers and pizzas, respectively - including newbie Cook & Browne Public House, which opened in mid-2010. The East Side eatery is styled after European gastro-pubs, where proprietor-chef and Martha’s Vineyard native Nemo Bolin uses local foods for dishes such as chicken liver pate, house-made pasta, and gnocchi made of fresh ricotta cheese from Narragansett Creamery. 959 Hope St., 401-273-7275,, entrees from $13

English Cellar Alehouse, which also opened in 2010, offers a menu of English pub fare like bangers and mash and more than 200 craft beers from the world over. Most beers are in the $5 range, but occasionally spike to $27 a pint for treasures such as Great Divide Oaked Aged Yeti, said to taste like a gourmet chocolate bar. Sunday night trivia contests are held here, but be wary of the Ivy League chops of some possible players: Brown University professors and students routinely hang here. 165 Angell St., 401-454-3434,, entrees from $8

Latino flair is at Cuban Revolution in the arts and entertainment district, a dark, moody place of art and decor reminiscent of a ’60s coffeehouse. Popular are Cuban staples such as ropa vieja, tapas, and fun eats like “The Fidel’’ and “The JFK’’ sandwiches. 50 Aborn St., 401-331-8829,, entrees from $9.75

Tini is a tiny, narrow, contemporary place of bright, electric design, with a white-marble horseshoe bar and seating for 20 and popular with the theater crowd. Trinity Rep is across the street. Chef-manager Darius Salko kicks out some great late-night bar food, as well as full dinners earlier, most with state-sourced food. Try the signature Teenie Weenie, a not-so-small homemade hot dog with chow chow topping, and follow up with some eggnog panna cotta. 200 Washington St., 401-383-2400,, entrees from $17

Hungry denizens of the wee hours swear by Haven Brothers Diner over by Providence City Hall, an eatery wheeled in from 4:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. It is a favorite spot for lovers of burgers, fries, hot dogs, and shakes, eaten in the cramped and super-shiny aluminum interior. The legendary diner is said to have left the city only once - to visit the “Today’’ show in New York in 2008 because co-hosts Meredith Vieira, an East Providence native, and Matt Lauer, remembered it fondly from their days at Channel 10 in Providence. Fulton Street, next to City Hall


The city is a hotbed of cultural activities at night, including art galleries, theaters, and the performing arts. Gallery Z on Federal Hill holds a variety of winter exhibits, including one for more than 40 Rhode Island-based artists opening Jan. 19 from 5-9 p.m. Winter events are so well attended, gallery owner Berge Zobian said, “We’ve had to open the door and turn on the AC.’’ On Feb. 16, the gallery unveils its ArtMobile, which will bring art to all areas of the city. 259 Atwells Ave., 401-454-8844,

Check out “A Taste of Romance’’ at Chabot Fine Art Gallery on Feb. 10, in honor of Valentine’s Day, with free food and wine, and romantic art for sale. 379 Atwells Ave., 401-432-7783,

“Up Close on Hope’’ brings classic and contemporary ballet in intimate doses from the Festival Ballet Providence at its Black Box Theater, with shows starting Feb. 17, in a space for 90 patrons offering ballet “so close you can touch it,’’ says artistic director Misha Djuric. Afterward, audience members can chat up the dancers and choreographers. 825 Hope St., 401-353-1129,

Everett, a dance company and stage school in an old carriage house, offers cool stuff for all ages, including its family friendly “Friday Night Improv’’ at 7 p.m., followed at 8 by an open-mic night hosted by Everett’s resident hip-hop group. Everett has also created “Brain Storm,’’ a multimedia dance-theater production about the interconnection of neuroscience, medicine, and art, premiering Jan. 13 at Dartmouth College, and coming to Everett in April. 9 Duncan Ave., 401-831-9479,, improv tickets $5, if staying for open mic, $8

Popular late-night offerings are found at 95 Empire (the former Perishable Theatre, part of AS220 as of today), with Improv Jones every Thursday and Saturday nights; “Live Bait: True Stories from Real People,’’ giving anyone six minutes to tell their life stories; “Bring Your Own Improv’’ for do-it-yourself improvisers; and “Blood From a Turnip,’’ quite possibly the state’s only late-night puppet show. 95 Empire St., 401-331-2695,, admission $5

Specializing in European and independent films is the Art Deco Avon Cinema in the heart of the Brown University area, with offerings such as “My Week With Marilyn’’ through Thursday, followed in coming months by “The Artist’’ and “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.’’ 260 Thayer St., 401-421-2866,, general admission $9.50


The Spot Underground opened in summer 2010 with live music nightly in a horseshoe-layout space with sectionals, bars, tables, and a huge fish tank over an electric fireplace. It is equally dedicated to the arts with the works of more than 35 artists here on a rotating basis, as well as wall hangings, sculptures, and installations, along with poetry slams and hip-hop. Dance music leans toward funk and jam, focusing on horns, keyboards and vocals, and you can laugh it up here, too - comics play regularly. 15 Elbow St., 401-383-7133,, no cover Tue-Wed, from $5 on Thu, $10 Fri-Sat

Opening in October to great reviews was Fete in the city’s revitalized Olneyville section, with a ballroom and lounge space for nearly 1,000 people to dance and mingle to a crisp high-tech sound system, a place owners call “a boutique live music venue like no other in New England.’’ Regular music is provided by local bands, and the occasional headliner, like Mos Def last month, Nils Lofgren last fall, and the Cowboy Junkies coming up Feb. 25. You never know who will be here: Former mayor and convicted felon Buddy Cianci last month hosted an Onion magazine launch party, schmoozing and handing out raffle prizes. 103 Dike St., 401-383-1112,, ticket prices vary by event

Mixing art and music, the Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art’s grand gallery hosts “Music Thursdays’’ from 5:30-8 p.m., with performances by Zydeco band Slippery Sneakers Feb. 2, the Duke Robillard Jazz Trio March 1, and the Superchief Trio April 5. 224 Benefit St., 401-454-6500, www.risd, museum members free, nonmembers $10

Wrap up a weekend night at Local 121, a restaurant with the aptly named Speakeasy in the basement of the former Dreyfus Hotel that once housed an illegal bar during Prohibition, and now features live music that could be anything from DJ to jazz to blues to rock, starting at 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. 121 Washington St., 401-274-2121,, cover $5-$10

Paul E. Kandarian can be reached at kandarian@globe .com.

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