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Where to Find Rhode Island’s Best Niche Bars, Speakeasies and Hidden Gems

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Dr. Duffs in Johnston features bathtubs made into seating nooks and walls covered with stickers and beer labels. Photography by Wolf Matthewson

 

Here’s our insider’s guide to imbibing locally (and somewhat secretly) throughout the Ocean State.

SPEAKEASIES

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It might not look open from the outside, but if you know, you know. This secret bar is located across the street from its big sister restaurant Plant City, and while there’s a sign outside, the windows are dark and the doors are locked. Don’t give up. It’s part of the experience. Pull a few door handles to no avail, then go around the side to an open door leading to the kitchen. A cook might show off some culinary skill (right now it’s rolling vegan sushi), but hover in the doorway, and they’ll nod to say you’re in the right place and lead you from a red carpet to a dark and mysterious, plant-based cocktail bar. Grab a bar stool or sneak to the back where there’s a hidden nook with couches where you can evade social media snaps. the details: 345 South Main St., Providence, 347-4429, instagram.com/345plantcity

Dive Bar

The name may be deceiving as a dive bar is usually a no-frills spot with cheap drinks and atmosphere worthy of your parents’ wood-paneled basement, but Dive Bar is decidedly upscale in both design and flavor. Right now, the high-end cocktail lounge hidden in the depths below Surf Club is available only for private party rentals and Newport special events, but guests can book it for celebrations, pre-wedding events and more. The plush velvet seats, comfy couches, elaborate wallpaper and vintage furniture sure beat an awkward stool and sticky bar. Plus, the flower- and fruit-bedecked cocktails served in fancy glassware outdo a rum and Coke poured in a plastic cup any day. The Details: 337 Thames St., Newport, 619-5701, surfclubnewport.com/dive-bar

The Avery

This is the OG that preceded all other elusive bars in Providence. It more recently embraced its patio instead of hiding behind dark curtains. Back in the day, there wasn’t a sign in sight, but now it welcomes the world with hand-painted lettering on the window marking its spot right out in the open. The twinkle lights and fountain make Luongo Square a magical spot to sip cocktails and rare bottles of craft beer outdoors, but the dark and moody interior with tin ceilings and a dark wooden bar make it the ultimate atmosphere for conversation. the details: 18 Luongo Memorial Sq., Providence, 262-9009, averyprovidence.com 

Justine’s

A bar that’s so secret, you do
a double take before even entering. We dig it. Located behind a velvet curtain in an incognito lingerie store in Olneyville, Justine’s is the perfect speakeasy bar experience. Cocktails are inexpensive and the decor transports you to the past when illegally was the only way to imbibe. This bar pays homage to ’50s pinups, ’70s cinema stars and scandalous Prohibition babes. Wear a vintage frock and a hot red lip (pin curls optional), then kick back with a sidecar or aviation and think about all the lady bosses who lived back in the day fighting for change, then get motivated to kick butt against today’s atrocities.
the details: 11 Olneyville Sq., Providence, 454-4440

Courtland Club

Long live the live jazz bar! Sit back and relax to local acts like the Leland Baker Trio on Sundays and live deejay sets to lounge to on most other nights. Courtland Club is a bar with no sign, down a nondescript side street on the West End of Providence. Just turn the knob and find out if you’re in the right place, but you’ll already know since the lively patio gives it away. Although it’s still considered a hidden gem, the former bakery-turned-social-club-turned-gathering-spot is welcoming to “all genders, races, ethnicities, religions and personal identities.” Guests can become members and gain privileges like access to lockers for securing special bottles, monthly perks and exclusive invitations. Go for a full meal of meatballs made with lamb from Hopkins Southdowns farm on housemade flatbread with garlic yogurt sauce, a margherita pizza or housemade black tea pappardelle with spicy gin and tomato cream sauce, Grana Padano and fresh herbs, and of course, don’t skip snacking on treats from the kitchen like Peking-style wings and irresistible cast-iron cookies. The details: 51 Courtland St., Providence, 227-9300, courtlandclub.com

Needle and Thread

Look for the Needle and Thread logo on the door, then head down the spiral staircase (hold onto the railing — this is my mom voice!). Descend into an underground bar that was previously a tailor shop for more than forty years. Handsome leather chairs, brick walls and a tin ceiling await, along with a small- and large-plates menu of corn fettuccine, tiny tuna tacos and roast chicken, plus a cocktail menu that spotlights whiskey and smoky mezcal. Inventive bevies include the Money Clip with blended scotch, Cherry Heering and house bitters accented by a hundred-dollar bill. Jive to music from deejays and live jazz musicians, scheduled on certain nights.  The details: 45 Peck St., Providence, 437-8725, needlenthreadpvd.com

Copper Club, Newport

Bartender Zach Schavone serves cocktail recipes from a bygone era at the Copper Club above Wally’s Wieners in Newport. Photography by Wolf Matthewson

Copper Club

A speakeasy above a wiener joint? Yes, please, but hold the onions if you’re swiping right. On weekends, head upstairs above Wally’s Wieners for a taste of Newport’s best-kept secret. Copper Club leans into its name with a copper-tiled wall behind the bar, red velvet banquettes and gilded black-and-gold wallpaper. The bar specializes in high-end craft cocktails from a bygone era, like the fleur-de-lis with elderflower, gin, lemon and cucumber and a traditional sazerac with an absinthe-rinsed glass, rye whiskey, simple syrup, bitters and lemon peel. The good news is they have built-in late-night eats
on weekends till 1 a.m. (But remember what we said about the onions.) The details: 464 Thames St., Newport, copperclubnpt.com

Hide Speakeasy 

If the George on Washington is the place to grab an elegant dinner, then the Hide Speakeasy — located beneath the restaurant’s front entrance — is the spot you sneak off to afterward for a good time. Once an illicit speakeasy serving patrons of the Dreyfus Hotel, this velvet-draped space has been serving up cocktails and sultry vibes since before Buddy Cianci made corruption synonymous with Providence. Try a modern twist on a classic cocktail, like the Old Meets New — an old fashioned with tequila instead of bourbon — or one of the creative small bites (lobster PB-and-J, anyone?). The roaring ’20s live on in deejay and comedy nights that keep Washington Street hopping all weekend long. The details: 121 Washington St., Providence, 642-6840, hidespeakeasy.com 

Jefferson Speakeasy 

Brush up on your history for a visit to this Revolution-themed bar tucked beneath a Mexican restaurant off Jefferson Boulevard. The Founding Fathers would approve of cocktails with names like Dead Man’s Redemption and Spirit of ’76. House-smoked bourbon features heavily in the drinks, but those who prefer their whiskey neat can choose from a selection of more than 100 varieties behind a glass case. For all its dusky ambience, the space still maintains the close-knit vibe it had in a former life as the Jefferson Pub — a place where neighbors and friends might gather over a drink to plan a little rebellion of their own. The details: 137 Kilvert St., Warwick, 773-3079, jeffersonspeakeasyri.com 

 

HIDDEN GEMS

Marcelino’s

This sensual, Mediterranean-style bar opened right in the middle of the pandemic and persisted. Settle into an intimate nook with drinks labeled by dominant flavors like the strawberry-infused vodka with herbal wine, pink grapefruit and lime and the cocktail made with baklava-spiced whiskey, sweet vermouth, blossom water and honey. Bartenders create most ingredients for the cocktail menu from scratch, including infused spirits, housemade syrups and dehydrated citrus and fruit garnishes. The vegan and vegetarian-friendly Mediterranean menu features various versions of hummus, tahini, salads and flatbreads, perfect for sharing with friends or a date. The details: 1 West Exchange St., Providence, 666-0088, marcelinosboutiquebar.com

The Slow Rhode

The Southern-style restaurant comes from the same owners of Broadway Bistro and small plates are the way to go. We love dishes that sexy-up casual fare like the falafel plate with cucumber and mint and blistered shishito peppers with honey-whipped ricotta. The drinks are some of the best around, and it’s well-known as a hospitality industry favorite to avoid mainstream mayhem when the college kids are back in town. The details: 425 West Fountain St., Providence, 351-0006, theslowrhode.com

Dr Duff’s Lost & Found Project Johnston

Dr Duff’s Lost & Found Project in Johnston. Photography by Wolf Matthewson.

Dr. Duffs Lost and Found Project

One look at Dr. Duffs pop-art splattered facade, and you know you’re in for a good time. Colorful beer labels adorn every inch of the massive bar and a good portion of the zebra wood walls; neon beer signs and lava lamps spotlight spirits behind the bar; and one corner even features bathtubs-turned-couches and kegs-turned-tables beneath the glow of brilliant, tree-like lamps. And while the fun, illustrated menu offers tasty American snacks and sandos, drinks include $6 cocktails divided by vodka, rum, tequila or whiskey. Our pick is the Situational Ethics, a magic mix of golden tequila, triple sec, sweet and sour mix and strawberry schnapps (the Alien Rock Candy vodka is a close second). Bring a lively group of friends and order the ninety-six-ounce fishbowl to split during Thursday night music bingo or a deejay-led dance sesh in Dr. Duffs’ back room on weekends. The details: 198 Putnam Pike, Johnston, 618-5195, duffsri.com

PTX Lounge

The PTX stands for Pawtuxet, the charming village that surrounds this little bar that’s like an ode to the sea shanty. Vintage nautical decor, portholes and sailor paintings set the vibe in the space, which was designed by Kyla Coburn and is owned by John Richard of the Avery and his radio star buddy Doug Palmieri. You half expect salty fishermen who look like the kitschy art on the walls to line up along the stools (bright yellow rain slicker, pirate patch and corncob pipe, anyone?). But barflies are mostly neighborhood regulars, chatty boat owners and friends of the bartenders (isn’t everyone?). The details: 27 Aborn St., Cranston, 262-9009, instagram.com/ptxlounge_ri 

Glou

The new cocktail and wine bar from Alexa Trembly and Emory Harkins, the owners of Twenty Stories bookstore down the street, features a magical patio that’s three times the size of the interior. Twinkle lights illuminate an area to the right of the former Malachi’s building set off by planters, and the patio continues in the back. Cocktails are expertly mixed with housemade syrups and fresh-pressed juices like the Palace with gin, Aperol and grapefruit and the Mariposa with mezcal, kiwi, pepino and lime. There are curated bottles of wine and zero-proof drinks that rival the booze-filled beverages, too. The clean white interior gives off a bright and airy daytime vibe but evolves into a dreamy candlelit mood come nightfall. The details: 134 Ives St., Providence, instagram.com/glou.pvd

The Royal Bobcat

Travel to 1920s New Orleans without leaving the state at the Royal Bobcat. This bar pays tribute to the Big Easy with saxy music and cat-centric artwork on the walls, plus velvet armchairs and exposed brick as the backdrop. The bar serves up Hanju Kitchen’s Korean-Cajun food and pretty potions including seasonal and tropical-style cocktails that are sure to fuel a fun night out. Try the Royal Hawaiian, a Hurricane or a spicy margarita. There’s monthly live jazz from some of the greats like the Leland Baker Trio, as well as Saturday night music from Kweku Aggrey and Marcus Grant,
and Wednesday jazz from Birt and Harley.
The details: 422 Atwells Ave., Providence, 537-7777, theroyalbobcat.com

The Walnut Room

This cocktail bar with both indoor and outdoor seating looks like the lavish interior of the Titanic. Soak up the ornate gilded and dark wood detailing, antique artwork and plush purple seating or grab an intimate streetlit sidewalk table for two. The menu offers a wide variety of cocktails served in vintage crystal glassware like A Pear Shaped Monk in Mexico (tequila, pear liqueur, green chartreuse and lime juice) and Traveling Man (bourbon, yellow chartreuse, amaro, Grand Marnier and lemon juice), plus a beer menu with something for everybody. Stay up to date on the live jazz schedule on Instagram at @thewalnutroompvd. The details: 245 South Main St., Providence, 227-9500, thewalnutroompvd.com

 

NICHE BARS

Galactic Theatre

Upholding the “Keep Warren Weird,” promise, owner David Podsnap knows how to reel in city and small-town folks with open mic nights, live bands and a flute-playing comedy act. The Galactic Theatre started out softly with silent movies and acoustic acts, followed by the steadily increasing volume of bluegrass, rock and blues musicians, and bands with genre-defying sets. The bar is known for quirky kitchen concoctions like $3 hot dogs and grilled cheese, plus potent $8 craft cocktails and beer. There’s never a cover charge, but show your support by tipping the musicians and bartenders well, and you’ll earn instant VIP status. The details: 440 Main St., Warren, galactictheatre.com

Durk’s Bar-B-Q

Follow Durk’s on Instagram at @durksbbq for the cheeky industry memes alone (and try not to spit out your spirits). The barbecue restaurant not only has some of the best slow-smoked ribs, brisket, pork and chicken around, available seven days a week, it also prides itself on a terrific whiskey collection. There are 180-plus bottles from which to choose, as well as a cocktail list developed by the same team at the Eddy, including an old fashioned on draft, a mean margarita, boozy house punch and more. But you can also grab a quick bite and a High Life to watch the game, or head to industry night to schmooze with other hospitality folks on the first Sunday of each month starting at 10 p.m. The details: 33 Aborn St., Providence, 563-8622, durksbbq.com

Sport and Leisure

When you walk into this fancied-up sports bar, what catches your eye first: the back bar made from halved canoes, the green Tiffany and Co. basketball, or the vibrant drinks with decor to match? After sipping on an elegantly garnished cocktail or two (the passion fruit margarita is surely refreshing), stick around for the food. Choose from the Asian chili cauliflower bites, the street corn nachos and the S&L Burger — made with lettuce, tomato, cheddar cheese and housemade S and L sauce. Come in for late-night shenanigans including bright orange sports coolers filled with beer or save your misbehavin’ for Sunday brunch. The details: 108 North Main St., Providence, instagram.com/sportandleisurepvd

Tiny Bar

Cocktails in all the colors of the rainbow garnished with fresh herbs and flowers are the name of the game at Tiny Bar. >>
The outdoor mural by Lena Mac, commissioned by the Avenue Concept, provides a vivid backdrop for conversation with friends (and lovers). There’s also a beautiful sculpture by Michael Alfano in the courtyard. The whimsical indoor and outdoor cocktail bar offers seasonal drinks for sipping at the “tiny” indoor bar, at outdoor tables or inside the heated tent. Try the purple Amethyst cocktail with lavender and the Soirée made with Bully Boy gin specially created for Tiny Bar with lavender, rose hip and rose petals, elderberry and lemon. With one of the biggest patios around, Tiny Bar is actually living large. The details: 377 Richmond St., Providence, instagram.com/tinybarpvd

Lucky Enough

The self-proclaimed beer-and-a-shot joint is owned by local bartender and funnyman Vito Lantz and restaurant industry vet and wine and spirits insider Art Chamberland. Lucky Enough opened last winter in a brand-new building, but everything inside tells a tale of another time and place. It starts with the horseshoe bar made with bricks salvaged from the basement of the former Satin Doll and continues with the horseshoe beer tap handles and a collection of classic vinyl records and a turntable. Of course, Lantz has quirky names for all the drinks based on song titles like the “Party Every Day” cocktail (Kiss) featuring Old Forester bourbon, Bully Boy amaro and Laphroaig single malt scotch, best washed down with hoagies and grinders and “The Bear”-worthy Italian beef sandwich. The details: 1492 Westminster St., Providence, 642-2749, luckyenoughpvd.com

Mews Tavern

Once a small fisherman’s tavern circa 1947, Mews is now a legendary restaurant with three bars — all of which serve sixty-nine beers, both local and non, on tap. Fortunately, Mews makes getting those brews easy no matter where you sit: just flip the blue “got beer” license plate sign over to reveal the red “need beer” signal. The moodily lit upstairs bar hosts trivia on Tuesdays while the downstairs bar overlooking the tree, ahem, dining room (it does have a live tree as a centerpiece) offers front-row seats to the kitchen’s wood-fired pizza making. The dollar bar gets its nickname from the walls covered in graffitied George Washingtons tacked on by generations of customers. The bills sport everything from “insert URI graduating class year here” to anniversary commemorations to, well, things that aren’t quite suitable for print. The details: 456 Main St., Wakefield, 783-9370, mewstavern.com

Kai Bar

Name one place where you can wear a Hawaiian shirt year-round and feel like you’re on vacation in the tropics. The answer is Kai Bar in East Greenwich, a tiki-style bar owned by renowned bartender Jason Kindness. Swanky lounge-like tables and a blue backlit bar set the mood for drinks like the frozen Painkiller, Kaipri Sun (vodka and lemonade served frozen in a juice pouch) and the Wolf of Main Street with rum, coconut, miso, citrus and orgeat. You can call in a pizza order from Slice and Co. to be picked up or delivered from across the street, or just drink your dinner in liquid form (piña colada should be a food group). The details: 232 Main St., East Greenwich, 884-2747, kaibarandrestaurant.com

Revolution American Bistro

When those after-work cocktails start calling your name, start off the night with
a pumpkin spice espresso martini, an apple cider mule
or a maple brown sugar old fashioned made with bourbon, maple and brown sugar simple syrup. Owner Dean Scanlon, with the help of Providence Painted Signs, designed the interior of Revolution to pay homage to Pawtuxet Village’s rich historic roots, specifically the burning of the English customs schooner HMS Gaspee on June 9, 1772, in Gaspee Point. Rhode Islanders can wear their pride on their sleeve in this bistro as many feel the event led to the start of the American Revolution.
The details: 2190 Broad St., Cranston, 780-8700, revolutionri.com

 

DIVE BARS

The Ocean Mist

Setting up on the deck of the Ocean Mist during summer is a Rhode Island rite of passage, but the indoor bar is good anytime for live music and Monday night bar bingo with singing, dancing, games
and prizes. With the waves pounding the creaking floorboards beneath your feet, the live stage roaring with rock ’n’ roll and walls covered with quirky Rhody nostalgia, it’s sensory overload in a good way. Give us a well drink or a simple ’Gansett and we’re as happy as a clam buried in the mud in Point Judith. The bar has been around since 1988 and it’s been everything to everybody — breakfast spot, restaurant, nightclub and live music venue — but to us, it’s the best dive there ever was and ever will be. The details: 895 Matunuck Beach Rd., South Kingstown, 782-3740, oceanmist.net

The Greenwich Hotel

Get blinded by the lights of the neon sign on Main Street in East Greenwich. The town sure has a music scene in its resident dive bar, the Updike Room at the Greenwich Hotel. A friendly atmosphere with live acts and open mic nights, the place also has a menu of burgers and bar food to keep hungry bellies happy. Expect everything from blues to r-and-b performances and a crowd that spans generations, and isn’t afraid to get up from their seats and dance the night away.  The details: 162 Main St., East Greenwich, 884-4200, greenwichhotel.com

Nick-a-Nee’s

Grab a stack of bills and leave your fancy cocktail order (and credit card) for another bar. The drinks here are served best out of a can or draft line, or pick a spirit with one or two mixers already. There’s no such thing as a bar tab, just have your cash ready. Usually, there’s a live band jamming out to everything from bluegrass and blues to covers of old-timey hits and classic rock; and if not, there’s always the jukebox. The crowd runs the gamut from retired newspaper reporters to indie kids and pool sharks to couples looking for a place to two-step. The kitchen’s turning out some terrific meals that aren’t your average bar food. Go for Taco Tuesdays and Thursday pizza night, and always get a stuffie and take a chance on a sloppy Joe. Dogs are welcome indoors and out, and if that’s not your jam, then that’s your problem. The details: 75 South St., Providence, 861-7290, instagram.com/_nickanees_ 

Market Street Pub

The true definition of a dive bar is a place where you can get good, cheap drinks and crowd-pleasing apps and there almost always has to be a pool table (and a few regulars at the bar sipping a sidecar of whiskey with a Budweiser to wash it all down). On any given night, the Market Street Pub has all of the above. Established in 1994 by Billy and Sandy Davock, the pub remains a family affair with the couple’s three daughters, Amy, Keri and Jodi, now running the show. Sit at the bar and make friends with the locals, or form a bond with Tater Tot Tuesdays, Taco Thursdays or Wing Wednesdays when you can sample up to twenty different flavors. Don’t miss the drink special where you “buy one and get the second for full price.” LOL. The details: 99 Market St., Warren, 245-8810 

 

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