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Beertown, U.S.A.: Providence, R.I.

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Little Rhody may be our tiniest state, but when it comes to beer, bars, art and activities, its capital proves size doesn’t matter.

By Noah Davis

BREWERIES

Founded in 1890, Narragansett (narragansettbeer.com) recently experienced a revitalization at the hands of former brewmaster Bill Anderson and High Falls Brewing Company. Be sure to ask for it by its signature slogan—“Hi neighbor. Have a ’Gansett.”—and you’ll sound like a local. In 1999, four Colby College grads did what any group of beer-loving friends should: They started a brewery. The result, Coastal Extreme Brewing (newportstorm.com), produces Newport Storm beers, including Hurricane Amber ale and Regenschauer Oktoberfest. The brewery tour is a can’t-miss. Downtown, Trinity Brewhouse (trinitybrewhouse.com) has at least six house-brewed beers on tap at all times. Highlights from the state’s largest brewery include the unoriginally named yet thoroughly enjoyable Rhode Island IPA, Point Break Pale Ale and Russian Imperial Stout, not to mention a cask-conditioned stout. Hit the brewhouse before catching a hoops or hockey game at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center, then swing by afterward to celebrate the victory. The highlight of Union Station Brewery (johnharvards.com) is its staff: The crew is friendly, beer-knowledgeable and, best of all, willing to give samples. Thanks to them, you’ll feel like a regular the first time you pass through the doors, and the beer, courtesy of John Harvard’s, isn’t too shabby, either. Located just miles from Providence in Middletown, R.I., Coddington Brewing (coddbrew.com) brews something for every palate, from a Czech pilsner to a raspberry cream ale.

BARS

“Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall, 99 bottles of beer…” At the Wickenden Pub (401.861.2555), not only are they on the wall, but you can drink them. And those that do (not all at once, of course) are rewarded with their name on the Wall of Shame. Now that’s a feat worthy of a song. At Captain Seaweed’s (401.261.9220), you’ll find a mix of ancient, hard-nosed locals and Brown students seeking a good time. Pull a stool up to the bar, grab a reasonably priced pitcher, and listen to the stories of real Providence. You won’t be disappointed. The spacious Wild Colonial Tavern (401.621.5644) sits in an old brick building just feet from the Providence River. On weekends, it’s packed, but during the week the tables are free, the pool table open and the dart boards available. With 30 bottles to choose from and a dozen more on tap, you’ll find something great to sip. Featuring almost 20 taps and 70 bottled beers, Doherty’s East Avenue Irish Pub (401.725.9520) is one of the city’s better beer bars. The establishment’s current owners recently upped the selection of microbrews, a choice that any beer connoisseur will appreciate. It’s off the beaten path, but worth the trip. The beer selection at the restaurant/bar combo Red Fez (401.272.1212) leaves something to be desired, but the upstairs level is one of the city’s best-kept secrets. It pairs the hipness of Brooklyn with the prices of Providence; with $2 Schlitz pints and ’Gansett bottles for $2.50, you’ll feel like one of the cool kids without breaking the bank.

DINE

A trip to Providence isn’t complete without a stop by Federal Hill, the city’s Italian neighborhood. Recommending one specific spot is an exercise in futility, as some of the best pasta this side of Sicily lines the streets, though you can’t go wrong with a slice of pizza at Caserta’s (casertapizzeria.com) and dessert and coffee at Caffe Dolce Vita (caffedolcevita.com). Another of the city’s famous Italian restaurants, Al Forno (alforno.com) chef-owners Johanne Kileen and George Germon have been crafting fine culinary concoctions since 1980. They specialize in simple food that somehow wouldn’t taste nearly as good if you made it yourself. Go for the grilled pizza, stay for the Grand Cookie Finale. Julian’s (juliansprovidence.com) defines artistic Providence, featuring tabletops covered by album art, a pierced and tattooed waitstaff and paintings from the town’s up-and-comers lining the walls; the worldly cuisine (think falafel wraps, Portuguese pork and beer-battered fried pickles) is artsy, too. Finding the restaurant is the hardest part; look for the letter “J” with a star next to it on the building’s exterior—and a line of people outside. After a night out, there’s nothing like a good, hearty meal to start the day off right, and Connie’s & Nikki’s Restaurant & Creamery (401.725.2540) is the best spot in town to get your breakfast on. The tiny place is short on frills, but boasts service with a smile and the city’s greatest breakfast platters at prices that make you wonder how it stays in business.

SLEEP

Located in the heart of downtown, the Biltmore Hotel (providencebiltmore.com) has been a Providence fixture since 1922. The highlight is the glass elevator that runs up the middle of the L-shaped building, not to mention $10 million in recent renovations that brought comfort to the hotel’s historic feel. Another of the city’s old guard, the Westin (starwood.com) is connected to the Rhode Island Convention Center and the Providence Place Mall. With more than 500 rooms, you’ll find one to suit any trip. You can see the Trinity Brewhouse from some of the rooms, so you’ll always know beer is within reach. The Hotel Providence (hotelprovidence.com) combines the charm of old town Providence with modern amenities. The seven-story building features 80 rooms, but the attentive staff gives the place the feel of a boutique hotel. Best of all, it’s within walking distance of downtown. The Mowry-Nicholson House (providence-suites.com) was originally built in 1865 and formerly owned by two of Providence’s manufacturing barons. Before converting into a hotel, the building found itself on the Providence Preservation Society’s Top 10 Endangered List. Now, it’s a beautiful, quaint B&B with top-notch service, and a perfect home base from which to attack the city’s attractions. No one would confuse the Radisson Hotel Providence Harbor (radisson.com/providenceri) with Sydney’s majestic bay, but Little Rhody’s biggest city offers some pretty water vistas just the same. The Radisson is one of the few hotels featuring rooms with views of the water, making it easy to watch the boats as you plan your day.

DO

A dozen times a summer, the Providence River lights on fire, and not because it’s polluted. Artist Barnaby Evans created 100 basins rising from the water that each hold a small bonfire. The strange spectacle, known as WaterFire, (waterfire.org), is best viewed from the riverwalk, where thousands of people mingle, watch street performers and drink Dell’s frozen lemonade. Fenway Park’s an hour up I-95, but for sheer value, you can’t go wrong catching a game at McCoy Stadium, home of the Boston Red Sox’s triple-A team, the Pawtucket Red Sox (pawsox.com). You’ll see the stars of tomorrow up close and personal at the beautiful stadium. Plan ahead, and you might even catch a player from the major league club on a rehab assignment. Thayer Street’s the place to go for all your quirky shopping needs. The retail center of Brown University features everything from independent bead stores to an Urban Outfitters and enough restaurants to feed the hunger you’ll develop. Don’t miss the Brown Bookstore, which holds thousands of tomes you never knew you needed. You will find few regional theaters better than the Trinity Repertory Theatre (trinityrep.com). From Shakespeare to its yearly production of “A Christmas Carol,” more than 160,000 visitors attend the Trinity Rep’s plays each year, and there’s no reason you shouldn’t be one of them. The historic seaside town of Newport is a short jaunt from Providence, featuring some of the best beaches in New England. The Cliff Walk offers stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean on one side and huge mansions on the other. No car? No worries. Just take the Water Ferry from Providence to Newport and back.

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