Friendly, creative, and gay-welcoming Providence is one of the great success stories among industrial Eastern U.S. cities. Just an hour south of Boston, Rhode Island's relatively small capital still manages to have a significant LGBTQ+ population—largely hailing from Brown University, Johnson & Wales University, and Providence College—which has lent itself to a pretty robust gay nightlife scene.
In addition to its handful of gay (and lesbian) bars, Providence is also home to New England's only two gay bathhouses: Club Body Center and Mega-Plex. The nightlife is mostly concentrated in the downtown area, so tourists need not venture too far from their hotel rooms.
Maybe it has something to do with its young demographic, but Providence's bar scene is hip and lively enough to rival Brooklyn's. Most places are gay-friendly, but a few cater specifically to the LGBTQ+ community.
- Providence Eagle: Catering to a mostly male, 30s-to-50s crowd, Providence Eagle is a favorite hangout among guys who are into leather, uniforms, bears, Levi's, and the like. It's one of the best downtown bars for cruising, with nightly themes that suggest a fun, sexually-charged vibe: "Promiscuous Mondays" and cruise-and-jockstrap parties on Fridays, for instance. There's no formal dress code and leather is by no means expected. You'll fit in just fine wearing jeans and a t-shirt. Be warned before you go that the video monitors often show porn.
- The Stable: This welcoming, convivial downtown gay bar is perfect for happy hour, pre-dance-club socializing, late-night hobnobbing, and conversation—although it can get loud and crowded on weekends. The crowd is quite mixed, but with a younger bent. Snazzy cocktails give it a more cosmopolitan flair than others in the area, but though it may be sophisticated, it's just as friendly and the drinks are reasonably priced.
- Alley Cat: It's crowded, but that's what makes this cozy little bar so fun. Its lack of space certainly doesn't stop it from hosting regular trivia and "PIXXtionary" (an R-rated take on the family-friendly game) parties.
For a small city, Providence has an impressive number of designated gay clubs (more than gay bars, in fact). So, after you finish your beer at Providence Eagle, your cocktail at The Stable, or your round of trivia at Alley Cat, hit these happening clubs for a night of riotous dancing.
- Dark Lady: In the center of downtown, a short walk from several of Providence's most prominent hotels, is one of the top dance clubs for gay men and lesbians in the region. Drag queens and go-go dancers are the normal clientele at this disco ball-clad club (Alley Cat's older sister), which hosts weekly karaoke, shows, DJ acts, retro dances, and more.
- Mirabar: Quite a few gay clubs have come and gone in Providence over the years, but Mirabar has been bumping and grinding for decades. Although it has switched venues, it hasn't left the Jewelry District, near the campus of Johnson & Wales University, where it's a longtime staple. Mirabar remains a favorite gay hangout for dancing, cruising, and enjoying a variety of theme nights (karaoke, drag shows, body contests, and the like).
- EGO: This two-story hangout is always high energy and boy, does it pour a strong drink. Revelers like to dance on the stage when no one's performing even though there's plenty of floor space. Star Search Thursdays are EGO's weekly drag show, where queens are crowned based on the audience's roar.
- The Salon: This dance club is right by the historic Haven Brothers Diner so you never have to go far for a 2 a.m. bite. It's a straight venue, per se, but it's extremely LGBTQ+-friendly. It's also a very popular place for dancing, comedy shows, small concerts, and other events, some with direct ties to the community (such as occasional gay speed-dating). Whereas dancing and performances take place on the ground floor, there's a more casual bar with picnic tables upstairs.
The gayest diner in town, DownCity (where the hostesses dressed in drag), has closed, leaving Providence's gay-specific culinary scene a bit lacking. However, the LGBTQ+ community does seem to frequent a few special restaurants still.
- AS220: Part of an eclectic, thriving, multifaceted arts space in the middle of downtown, the bar at AS220 is a popular gathering spot among the city's creative spirits and open-minded souls. It serves inventive and reasonably-priced lunches and dinners and is open for locally-sourced beer, wine, and spirits every night (except Sunday and Monday) until 10 p.m.
- Viva Mexico Cantina & Grill: Gay revelers hanging out at The Stable next door make up part of the regular crowd at Viva Mexico Cantina & Grill, a Mexican eatery serving up mean sangria, margaritas, and a good (albeit small) selection of tequila shots. The food here ventures away from the usual Americanized standards with more authentic fare like sauteed beef tongue and shredded goat meat, but you'll find all the familiar fajitas and tacos, too.
Events & Festivals
You're likely to stumble upon gay-themed events in Providence's bars and clubs during your regular weekend romps, but for something even more celebratory, join in on one of these annual LGBTQ+ festivals.
- Rhode Island Pride: Rainbow flags adorn South Water Street come June, when Rhode Island Pride sets up camp in the capital city for a day. Its annual pride parade is different from most in that it takes place at night. This portion of the festival is considered to be PG-13 (too many chaps and thongs for young eyes), but the subsequent festival is perfectly family-friendly. Throughout the year, look out for regular drag brunch, drag bingo, LGBTQ+ movie screenings, and more from the Rhode Island Pride organization.
- LGBTQ Film Festival: Each summer, Providence plays host to the Rhode Island International Film Festival, which has an entire festival-within-a-festival dedicated to LGBTQ+ films. During this week-long event, you can see as many gay-themed movies as your heart fancies, or perhaps submit one of your own.
- AIDS Run/Walk for Life: While it doesn't technically fall into the nightlife category, the annual AIDS Run/Walk for Life is worth a mention because it's been a staple of the city's gay calendar for decades (and you can always reward your efforts with a beer afterwards, right?). Funds from the event go to AIDS Project Rhode Island, which offers services to more than 1,500 every year.
- Worcester Gay Pride: And if you didn't get enough pride at Rhode Island Pride, then you could always drive 45 minutes to Central Massachusetts for Worcester Pride, which takes place in early September.
Tips for Going Out in Providence
- Last call in Massachusetts is early compared to other states. You won't be served alcohol past 1 a.m., but the bigger clubs (like Dark Lady and EGO) remain open until 3 a.m. on weekends.
- If you're visiting from Boston, don't expect a train or an Uber to take you back to the big city late at night. Rather, stay in one of Providence's gay-friendly hotels: Hotel Providence, Graduate Providence, or the Renaissance Providence Hotel.