Providence, Rhode Island

Destinations by | Feb 2012 | Issue #61

Illustration by Sam Brewster

At 1,033 square miles and a population that hovers around 1 million, Rhode Island has long juggled both the opportunities and challenges of its tiny size.

The capital city of Providence has a bustling downtown that’s surrounded by residential neighborhoods, each with its own distinct look and feel. Home to six colleges and universities, the continual influx of students brings energy to Providence every fall. The DIY and “buy local” movements have captured the imagination of lawmakers, activists, artists and businesses, inspiring them to find creative ways to capitalize on Rhode Island’s interconnected, small-town intimacy.

This connective spirit has fired up the Rhode Island craft beer scene; bars and bottle shops have revamped their offerings, happily joining the craft beer revolution. Annual events, such as the International Beer Festival in Providence and Beervana Fest in nearby Cranston, consistently sell out, even in Rhode Island’s tough economy. In October 2011, craft beer fans celebrated the second annual Providence Craft Beer Week, and Trinity Brewhouse brewmaster Sean Larkin is working hard on his tasty side project, Revival Brewing Company. The following beer venues will keep a visitor busy for a long stay or multiple weekend trips.

E&O Tap
Standing for “early and often,” E&O Tap may be a hipster-style bar, but with a nice variety of beer styles on draft and ample seating, this is a good place to pre-game or wind down from a long night. Work out your issues on the Big Buck Hunter arcade game and then grab tacos at the Poco Loco food truck across the street.

The Avery
The Avery keeps its lights down low. With a zebra wood bar and art deco murals, this little bohemian hideout could become an East Coast Vesuvio’s. Friendly co-owner John Richard is on a mission to promote craft beer in Providence, teaming up with nearby bars to curate events like the “Beermuda Triangle” during Providence Beer Week.

Harry’s Bar & Burger
A mix of old-school diner décor and earthier touches, Harry’s offers five drafts, around 80 bottles and one beer engine. You can bring Mom in the afternoon, but on a late weekend night, you’ll find suits and students, greasy punks and professional drunks, all devouring sliders and fries.

Loie Fuller’s
Loie Fuller’s is a small, elegantly decorated restaurant and bar on the West End of the city. Six taps are scratched in chalk on a piece of gray slate—gems like Hop Ruiter Belgian and Firestone Walker Porter await your attention. Their Sunday brunch is so damn good, it just might cure your blinding katzenjammer.

Trinity Brewhouse
Located downtown, Trinity Brewhouse offers up nine beers brewed on-site, with a balanced collection of styles, including a Saison, a Russian Imperial and more. Trinity’s flagship, the Rhode Island IPA, is available in six-packs at many local bottle shops. Join their “mug club” for $50 a year to get discounts and other benefits. Come for the beer, but sadly don’t stay for the food; it’s overpriced and consistently disappointing.

Graduate Center Bar
Brown University’s “private, non-profit” on-campus bar is funded by a combination of student activity fees and outside memberships (non-students pay $30 for the year or $5 for the night to get in). Fifty bottles and 16 interesting taps are priced affordably, and a chunk of revenue from the bar goes to local charities.

La Laiterie at Farmstead [closed]
La Laiterie is a cozy restaurant located in the quaint Wayland Square neighborhood, and thoughtful bar manager David Mangiantine’s 20 craft selections span the globe. Pair up a cheese plate with beer, choose a satisfying dinner, or just settle in at the bar—the place is like a warm, comforting, French hug.

The Apartment
Calling itself an “American craft alehouse,” The Apartment serves up a decent variety of craft selections and food that’s a step above pub grub. Their beer menu is bottle-heavy and organized by state, featuring nice selections from Jolly Pumpkin and Oskar Blues. Beers listed as available are occasionally tapped out, so keep your options open.

Over the past 15 years, Julian’s has evolved from a BYOB hangout for young urbanites to a must-visit restaurant for locals and tourists alike. Co-owner/general manager Brian Oakley compiles 20 drafts, one cask and over 30 bottles (including nine Belgians) that are all salivation worthy. Julian’s occasional six-course beer dinners focus on either a brewery or a region. The food matches the quality of their beers, with a masterful use of seitan as a meat substitute for vegetarians. Did we mention there’s a TV in the bathroom?

Track 84 [closed]
84 Kilvert Street, Warwick
Located 15 minutes south of Providence, Track 84 features over 20 taps, including one or two beers on cask. Weekend nights can get jammed, but a great bartending staff makes it easy to get an order in. A longtime watering hole, word-of-mouth praise is turning Track 84 into a hot property. Just obey the sign above the bar: “Be Nice or Get Out.”

Blackstone Valley Brewing Supplies
Just 15 minutes north of Providence, homebrew expert Steve Duhamel has turned a hobby into a thriving business. Whether you’re an extract noob or an all-grain veteran, everyone is welcome. There are many recipe kits to choose from, but Duhamel is happy to compile a kit on the spot or make suggestions. Beginner homebrew kits, draft systems and accessories are all available too.

Coastal Extreme Brewing Company
Newport Storm beers are widely available all over Rhode Island. In July of 2011, the company upgraded its facilities, including a new visitors’ center, which offers tastings every day (except Tuesdays), from noon till 5pm. Guided tours and tastings cost $7, which includes four Newport Storm samples and a souvenir glass.

Doherty’s East Ave. Irish Pub
Known locally as “East Ave.,” Doherty’s has a whopping 83 taps. Their tap list, called the “Libation Ledger,” fills an entire 11-by-17 page and is organized by beer style. Bring a patient DD and some friends who are new to craft beer for a long Saturday night session, but start early; by 7pm, East Ave. fills up fast.

Nikki’s Liquors
One of Rhode Island’s first “mix-a-six” programs and with over 1,000 beers to choose from, Nikki’s has been a beer advocate for years. Even in the smartphone era, some BA reviews still hang like black-and-yellow butterflies around the store. He saves you money, too: Nikki’s takes 10 percent off mix-a-six-packs and 20 percent off a “mix-a-case.”