Rhode Island – the Ocean State. Rhode Island (officially named Rhode Island and Providence Plantations) may be the USA’s smallest state, but it’s also the richest in terms of history – so much so, it’s been described as a living museum that dates from the 17th Century when the Narragansett Indians decided to sell a bit of land to a chap named Roger Williams. It was a pretty good 1,214 sq miles to have bought into…throughout the 1700s Providence and Newport became two of the busiest sea ports in the New World and the region soon prospered.
Subsequently, Rhode Island has become a state of ‘firsts’. It was the first colony to renounce allegiance to Great Britain (signalling the start of the American Revolution) and the first colony to prohibit slave importation, as well as being at the root of religious freedom in America. Rhode Island kick started America’s Industrial Revolution with the first water powered cotton mill and the foundation of the country’s jewellery industry by Nehemiah and Seril Dodge. It had the nation’s first manufacturing plant and the first enclosed shopping mall – and a great deal of all this is still in evidence today, along with a wealth of Colonial and Victorian homes and buildings.
Combine this with a population built heavily on immigration from Ireland, Italy and French Canada, and its not surprising to discover that tourism is big business, drawing thousands each year from at home and abroad, all keen to discover their roots. And wherever there’s tourism, there’s nightlife.
Bordered by Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island Sound and the Atlantic Ocean, Rhode Island – despite its name – is sited mostly on the US mainland ( Rhode Island being the original name for Aquidneck Island, now made up of Newport, Middletown and Portsmouth). Outside Providence the main towns are Warwick, Cranston, Pawtucket and East Providence, Woonsocket, Newport and Central Falls – all with their own attractions and historical landmarks.
Rhode Islanders like to have a good time! Happy Hours are popular, especially for beer, and usually kick off around 1700 hrs. You won’t necessarily find that many night clubs outside the capital of Providence, but wherever you end up when you’re all ‘history-ed out’, you’ll be sure of some decent pubs/bars, cafes and restaurants – many of which do have live music. Being an Ocean state, seafood is naturally a speciality – particularly shellfish and steamed clams. Look out for Stuffies (stuffed and baked quahog clam shells) and Clam Chowder. Not surprisingly, Irish pubs and bars are prolific – Ri-Ra in Providence, Patrick’s Pub in Newport, Fado’s in Lincoln, Tinker’s Nest in Warren, Celtic in Pawtucket; we’re sure you’ll come across many more.
Providence has an excellent choice of restaurants, bars and clubs – some of which can get pretty wild at night – Murphy’s Deli and Bar, Mills Tavern, Finnegan’s Wake, Dave & Busters name just a few on offer. For restaurants try trendy Olives on North Main street with its menu including lobster ravioli, 50 martini choices and occasional live music, CAV on Imperial Place, or the Boat House on Sakonnet Point, a must if you are a seafood lover. Custom House Tavern on Nolan Street is a good bet for jazz and Rue de L’Espoir on Hope Street, open for breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner!
Club wise, Providence is well up there, the hottest probably being Ultra The Nightclub on Pine Street, Club Viva on Thayer St, and Fusion Lounge on Mineral Spring Ave.
Newport is also good value with bars right on the water that have great views. Its generally a younger crowd here and places can get pretty crowded at the weekend, especially around Thames Street, but the atmosphere is usually congenial. Try the Cheeky Monkey Café on Perry Mill Wharf or Elizabeth’s on LowerThames Street if you’re into soft jazz. In warm weather head for the outside patio of O’Brien’s Pub on Thames St – fab for cocktails – and for breathtaking views and superb steak and seafood, the Marina Grille on Goat Island. Club wise, Newport has picked up in the last few years and now offers a good few choices from the intimate Boom Boom Room at Butlers Wharf, college-kid frequented The Landing at Bowens Wharf, and Rhino Bar on Thames Street, which combines a bar and dance club.
Hop across the bay to Jamestown and try Trattoria Simpatico, a wonderful venue for food and wine and – during the summer – jazz outside.
If you reach Pawtucket, The Blackstone in the mill complex of Hope Village, features some of the state’s best live music and dance, as well as a daily coffee and juice bar, lunch, dinner and late night menu.
And here’s another tip for a relaxing late afternoon//evening. Check out the events going on at the many vineyards in Rhode Island. In the summer months you can often enjoy live music whilst trying the wines. Greenvale Vineyards in Portsmouth, for example, offers Saturday jazz from Memorial Day onwards plus Friday evening concerts featuring Blues, Irish and Folk music. Chilling out to good music with locally produced Chardonnay – bliss.
No piece on Rhode Island can end without mentioning something of the state’s slightly bizarre passion for coffee and donuts. Apparently there are over 225 Dunkin Donut locations in the state and an awful lot of coffee shops (try Ocean Coffee Roasters cafes or The Coffee Exchange in Providence). Indeed the official state drink of Rhode Island is coffee milk made with a unique syrup. There are also a number of foods that you won’t easily find outside the state. These include wieners or gaggers, a small hotdog covered in meat sauce, onions, mustard and celery salt (try the Riverside Kitchen in Pawtucket); pizza strips, pizza without the cheese; spinach pies; Johnny cakes, made with corn meal and water; dough boys, deep fried dough sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar; and clam cakes, deep fried dough filled with bits of chopped clam. Good luck if you’re on a diet!