LGBTQ Guide: Providence, Rhode Island

Providence

Providence Tourism Council

While Rhode Island is the nation's smallest state, its capital city of Providence packs a big, youthful punch in the culture, arts, progressiveness, and LGBTQ departments.

PVD for short, Providence has given birth to the acclaimed (and sometimes risqué!) international queer arts publication Headmaster Magazine, from local co-founders/editors Matthew Lawrence and Jason Tranchida, while former area resident Liam Campbell dedicated an issue of his globetrotting photo-packed Elska "bookazine" to Providence's gay male denizens. The city is home to the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and Brown University, the latter alma mater to late VOGUE Magazine trailblazer Andre Leon Talley, pioneering trans electronic music composer Wendy Carlos, and lesbian super producer Christine Vachon and award-winning gay director Todd Haynes, whose collaborations include the Oscar-nominated films "Far From Heaven" and "Carol."

Providence also boasts New England's most prolific, conveniently compact and buzzing queer nightlife districts, which includes around a dozen bars, dance clubs, and even a couple of gay saunas. Indeed, LGBTQ+ Bostonians regularly ditch their city on weekends for a dose of dancing, drinking, drag brunches, and merriment in Providence, either shacking up overnight at one of its growing assortment of hotels, some smack dab in the nightlife zone, or just until the party stops, if a designated driver is involved.

Meanwhile, many LGBTQ+ locals settle down in PVD's West End neighborhood, which boasts a very hipster Portland, Oregon vibe and cool indie cafes, restaurants, shops, and Rhode Island's first LGBTQ+ healthcare center, Open Door Health, which is worth strolling by for a look at artist Brian Kenny's trans flag-colored "Love Is A Many Gendered Thing" mural.

PrideNight Spectators

Providence Tourism Council

Another occasion that sees plenty of visitors across the region is Providence's unique Illuminated Pride Parade, celebrated each June, which takes place during the evening instead of daytime. The city's annual Flickers Providence LGBTQ Film Festival, a weeklong celebration of queer cinema that runs every August, is part of the larger Flickers diverse umbrella of Rhode Island film festivals and events, which include Jewish, Islamic, Quebecois, Children's, and Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror. And Providence's chapter of the international Imperial Royal Court—an LGBTQ+ organization that combines costumes, royalty, and fundraising for community causes and individuals—holds its annual grand Coronation gala at the historic Biltmore/Graduate Hotel.

For more queer info, resources and what's-ons during your visit, check out the 40-year-old LGBTQ+ Rhode Island magazine Options, the free online and print Providence Monthly, and eclectic indie blog Providence Daily Dose.

The Best Things to Do

Spotlighting and nurturing local talent through multiple exhibition and performance venues, AS220 Project Space entails five galleries, a restaurant/bar (AS220 Food & Drink), and studio/living spaces. AS220 has also collaborated with the Queer/Feminist/BIPOC-led The Glitter Goddess Collective and Haus of Glitter Dance Co. for outdoor performances. You can join the Glitter Goddess Collective in a yoga or dance workshop from Providence or anywhere thanks to their YouTube videos. Established in 1877, the RISD Museum is home to a broad collection of work spanning centuries, disciplines, and genres, including edgy contemporary. Pro tip: Sundays are free admission!

LGBTQIA+ art marketplaces have become an almost monthly fixture in Providence thanks to another queer and BIPOC Providence collective, Haus of Codec, which also opened RI's first marginalized transition aged youth shelter in December 2021. Check here for upcoming dates and more of HoC's events. The outdoor, dramatic WaterFire events along downtown's river artery entail one of Providence's signature events and its home base, WaterFire Arts Center, anchors the Valley Arts District, hosting indoor exhibitions and arts markets and fairs, including LGBTQ+ themed (plus there's a cool permanent gallery store selling amazing, quirky PVD-centric T-shirts and accessories).

If craft distilling and cocktails are your favorite art, The Industrious Spirit Company, PVD's first new distillery since prohibition, and tasting room are located just across the Woonasquatucket River. ISCo produces the USA's first vodka distilled with oysters, Ostreida, for a briny, quintessential New England essence and flavor. The less adventurous or shellfish-averse can opt for ISCo's delicious Ornamental Gin, which incorporates 15 botanicals including hops, citrus, and elderflowers, or blue corn-based, charred new oak barrel aged Blue Velvet Bourbon.

Rhode Island Spirits

Lawrence Ferber

Less than fifteen minutes by car from downtown Providence in the suburb of Pawtucket, Rhode Island Spirits is a fantastic lesbian-owned craft distillery and tasting room, with an impressively diverse Rhodium line of organic and gluten-free spirits and liquors you can sample in flights or cocktails or bring home in full or half bottles. Some of RIS's award-winning (and beautifully bottled) offerings entail limited run seasonal and collaboration batches, including several types of gin with radically different botanical and flavor profiles (the juniper and citrus-forward NRG sports rainbow colors along its upper border), a limoncello, coffee and black walnut vodka (the coffee, a decaf Guatemala Antigua, is sourced from local roastery Downeast), and fruit-infused vodkas (some of the line can be ordered online).

Horror and literature fans will likely be aware that Providence was home to author H.P. Lovecraft, who created the Cthulu mythology and fictitious Miskatonic University, and some speculate—if not have heated debates over—may have been queer or asexual. Summer's annual NecronomiCon Providence, celebrates all things Lovecraft, "weird fiction, art, and academia," bringing in an international crowd and certainly a dash of queer. And don't miss the Lovecraft Arts & Sciences shop, located in the country's oldest indoor shopping arcade, which is open all year.

Feeling a bit naughty? PVD has two gay saunas to satisfy that kind of thirst. Downtown's Providence Health Club/Eagles Nest and, about a mile or so south of downtown, 24-hour The Mega-Plex.

The Stable

Lawrence Ferber

LGBTQ Nightlife

With over a half dozen LGBTQ+ bars and clubs and even more mixed venues (specifically, speakeasy-style upmarket craft cocktail spots Marcelino's and The Eddy, and Freeplay Arcade Bar) clustered within walking distance, including 18+, PVD's nightlife has its New England neighbors beat in both numbers and convenience.

Start the night—or, heck, afternoon!—at brick-walled video bar The Stable (just next door to gay-owned restaurant and bar The George). Locals love to socialize over cocktails and local brews, while drag performers from The Boulet Brothers' reality competition series "Dragula" routinely make appearances and host the popular daytime Sangria Sundays (instead of a beer bust, it's all about fruity wine!).

A couple of blocks away, cozy bar The Alley Cat livens up its calendar with activities, while the adjacent 18+ dance club The Dark Lady hosts performances by local drag talents, "RuPaul's Drag Race" viewing parties, karaoke, go-go dancers, and more.

Over the past decade, traditional leather, bear and daddy bar The Providence Eagle expanded in multiple ways: space-wise, including outdoor fire pit and seating, and also in its demographics, adding every other letter of LGBTQ+ to its crowd between the fetish-themed parties, leather balls, and other events.

EGO

Providence Tourism Council

Open from Thursday-Saturday (and some holiday Sundays) PVD's biggest dance club is EGO, which like The Dark Lady is 18+. Besides dancing, expect plenty of drag entertainment from an assortment of colorful (and even bearded) queens and visiting Drag Race personalities, and themed parties. And located just steps from the new Aloft hotel, Providence's oldest gay bar, Mirabar, keeps things fun and unpretentious with karaoke, trivia nights, blacklight parties, and the area's edgiest drag queens.

Where to Eat

Opened in 2021, the two-level gay-owned Res American Bistro draws a big LGBTQ+ crowd for generously portioned and decadent menu items, including calamari (a Rhode Island staple) with garlic aioli and cherry pepper relish, tuna tartare, butter-aged sirloin, and fresh pastas. Of course, there's plenty of cocktails, beer, and wine on offer.

Another gay-owned recent addition to the dining scene is The George on Washington Street, a wood-rich, lounge space that traffics in American comfort fare like burgers, braised short rib mac and cheese, pastas, and seafood, plus a piano bar, downstairs speakeasy, and jazz music.

Both Black and lesbian-owned, the historical Smith Hill district's The Brooklyn Coffee Tea & Guesthouse has a sister venue, the Blaze Smith Hill bistro, which serves Southern, fusion, and soul-tinged fare such as shrimp and grits, a catfish Po' Boy, jerk chicken banh mi, chicken and waffles, vegetarian and vegan-friendly delights, and even a kids' menu.

Aloft Exterior

Aloft Providence Downtown

Where To Stay

Celebrating its centennial in 2022, the historic Providence Biltmore was reborn as the Graduate Providence in 2019 (although the Biltmore sign still remains on the roof, which is designated a historic landmark and easy to spot when surveying the city skyline). With 294 rooms and amenities like the full service Norvich Spa (opened in 2021), a lobby coffee shop, and cocktail lounge, the Graduate amalgamates its classic Beaux-Arts Great Gatsby-esque architecture with contemporary fixtures and design, including colorful portrait of trailblazing Black queer fashion world icon, Andre Leon Talley, in the grand lobby, while other art throughout the property pays tribute to other Rhode Island notables (like directors The Farrelly Brothers of "Dumb & Dumber" fame). Bonus for ghost hunters: the Graduate is reportedly haunted! Pride and other LGBTQ+ events also are hosted by the property.

Ditto for the 175-room Aloft Providence Downtown, located in the Innovation and Design District just steps from the recently opened Providence River Pedestrian and Bicycle Bridge and its buzzy new businesses. The Aloft features plenty of social spaces including Blu Violet, one of Providence's best rooftop bars and views, an outdoors backyard, and WXYZ, an indoor lounge and bar (the signature cocktails, including one served in a boom box-shaped ceramic, are delicious and photogenic!).

Located smack dab in the LGBTQ nightlife and theater district, the 96-room Hotel Providence boasts a long history, its building dating back to 1882. If planning to be out late or a night owl, though, make sure to request a room that does NOT face Matthewson Street, lest you be roused by the Grace Episcopal Church's wall and window-piercing church bells, which ring-a-ding hourly starting at 8am daily.

The almost 10-year-old, 52-room The Dean Hotel boasts a truly colorful and dichotomous history as both a strip club with hourly rooms and monastery, in reverse order, and is home to a gay foodie favorite restaurant, North. And new kid on the block The Beatrice opened in September 2021. A 47-room boutique hotel, The Beatrice features a members-only rooftop bar and Italian restaurant, Bellini.

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