Friendly, creative, and gay-welcoming Providence, Rhode Island, is one of the great success stories among industrial Eastern U.S. cities over the past couple of decades. Just an hour south of Boston, this capital city of Rhode Island has a significant LGBTQ population including plenty of students and staff from Brown University, Johnson & Wales University, and Providence College. The city's handful of gay bars are mostly downtown, in the hip DownCity neighborhood.
Providence is also home to New England's only two gay bathhouses: Club Body Center and Mega-Plex.
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. AS220 also contains performance spaces that feature plays, film, dance, and literary events; a series of galleries showing the works of more than 150 artists; free youth-oriented arts programs; and more. As a social venue, AS220 Foo(d) serves creative, reasonably priced lunch and dinner fare. The Bar at AS220 is open every night but Monday for beer and spirits sourced from mostly smaller, artisan New England producers as well as wine. There's a nice cocktail list of well-crafted drinks. And profits are used to support AS220's arts and performance programming.
In the center of downtown, a short walk from several of Providence's most prominent hotels, Dark Lady is one of the top dance clubs in the region among both gay men and lesbians with the crowds varying a bit depending on the night. Some nights might cater to the ladies or other well-regarded, lesbian parties, then there's karaoke on Thursdays and Fly Fridays drag shows. Saturday features top local DJs, which draws men and women of all ages. Hot go-go dancers are also part of the fun.
Quite a few gay clubs have come and gone in Providence over the years, but Mirabar has been bumping and grinding for decades. It moved from its long-established location in 2012 to a space a couple of blocks away, but it is still in the Jewelry District near the campus of Johnson & Wales University. Mirabar's remains a favorite gay hangout for dancing, cruising, and enjoying a variety of theme nights from karaoke to drag shows.
Catering to a mostly male, 30s to 50s crowd, Providence Eagle is, like most LGBT venues in Providence, right in the center of downtown. The Eagle is a favorite of guys into leather, uniforms, bears, Levi's, and the like. It's tops among downtown bars for cruising, with nightly themes that suggest a fun, sexually charged vibe like "Promiscuous Mondays" and cruise-and-jockstrap parties on Fridays. There's no formal dress code, and leather is by no means expected, but you'll fit in a bit more here dressed down (jeans, t-shirts, etc.). There's a dance floor, and video monitors often play porn.
A Downcity dance club behind City Hall, The Salon is right by the historic Haven Brothers Diner and is ostensibly a straight venue, but it's extremely LGBT-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 parties). Dancing and performances take place in the lower-level club space, while there's an airy bar with picnic tables and bar stools upstairs.
Although this hipster dive bar in the ever-changing West End/Olneyville neighborhood isn't a gay bar per se, the Scurvy Dog pulls in a good mix of folks of all orientations and styles, with an emphasis on artsy types, tattooed dudes, musicians, and students. Billing itself a source of "beer, booze, and rock & roll", the bar features a nice lineup of beers from craft breweries like Dogfishhead, Berkshire Brewing, Long Trail, Magic Hat, and so on. Inside this no-frills dark hole, you'll also find a Gilligan's Island-themed pinball machine and a pool table. If you're in the mood for food grab a classic Rhode Island-style hot wiener at nearby Olneyville New York System. Or, a few blocks east of Scurvy Dog, toward downtown, Loie Fuller's is another up-and-coming highly inviting, gay-friendly venue that serves exceptionally tasty French-American fare and features a terrific wine list.
The Stable is a welcoming, convivial downtown gay bar that's a perfect option 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, tending toward the younger (20s and 30s) side. Established in 1993, the decor is handsomely appointed in a nicely restored space with clean bathrooms. The vibe is sophisticated yet friendly, with the staff generally eager-to-please. Drinks are well-priced, too.
Gay revelers hanging out next door at The Stable also make up part of the regular crowd at Viva Mexico Cantina & Grill, a welcoming and festive Mexican restaurant with a lively bar known for its sangria, margaritas, and a good but 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 also find all the classics on the lengthy menu.