Friendly, creative, and gay-welcoming Providence 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 LGBT population, including plenty of students and staff at Brown University, Johnson & Wales, and - to a lesser but still significant extent - Providence College. The city's handful of gay bars are mostly downtown, in the hip DownCity neighborhood. Providence also contains New England's only two gay bathhouses (they're illegal in Boston): Club Body Center and Mega-Plex.
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Providence Gay Bar Guide - continued on Page 2
With a central location downtown, within walking distance of several gay bars and a number of hotels, Club Body Center (257 Weybosset St., 401-274-0298) is part of the CBC men's bathhouse chain - the other branch is in Philadelphia. Although CBC Providence isn't quite as consistently popular as Mega-Plex (a short drive south of downtown), it's long cultivated a loyal following among leather daddies, bears, and beefy butch guys. The crowd tends to be over 35 here.
photo by Andrew Collins
Part of an eclectic, thriving, multifaceted arts space in the middle of downtown, the Bar @ AS220 (115 Empire St., 401-861-9190) is a popular gathering spot among the city's creative spirits and open-minded souls. AS220 also contains a performance spaces that feature plays, film, dance, and literary events; a series of galleries showing the works of more than 150 artists, a print shop, free youth-oriented arts programs; and more. As a social venue, AS220 Foo(d)
serves creative, reasonably priced lunch and dinner fare, and the Bar @ 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.
photo by Andrew Collins
In the center of downtown, a short walk from several of Providence's most prominent hotels, Dark Lady/Alleycat (17 Snow St., 401-831-4297) 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. Dark Lady used to be in a separate space down the street but moved beside the adjacent Alleycat space in 2011. In the Dark Lady space, there's a women's night on Wednesdays, and the well-regarded, occasional lesbian parties produced by Girl Spot
take place here. Other nights, such as Thursday (college night), Friday (retro tunes), and Saturday (top local DJs) draw men and women of all ages. Drag shows and hot go-go dancers are also part of the fun. Alleycat is smaller and more intimate, more a spot for conversation.
Adjacent to the popular male bathhouse Mega-Plex
, Hush RI (257 Allens Ave., 401-441-0072) owns the distinction of being the only all-nude male strip joint in New England. It's a pretty brilliant location, in terms of one-stop shopping: if watching the randy dancers in here puts you in a willing mood, you can simply venture next door to the Mega-Plex bathhouse. Hush has a full bar, and in addition to the main stage, there's a private VIP lounge as well as spaces for private dances. Hush has been known over the years by a number of other names, including Saints & Sinners, Touch, and Trixx.
Lot 401 (44 Hospital St., 401-490-3980) is a good-size dance club in the city's Jewelry District, on the southeast edge of downtown, near where I-95 and I-195 meet. The big GLBT event here is the weekly Sofrito Fridays Latin party, hosted by Gizelle Fierze and featuring Latin dance music. Providence and the surrounding region (including southeastern Massachusetts) has a sizable gay and lesbian Latino community, and this party has quickly become quite popular.
The Roots arts and cultural center
(276 Westminster St., 401-272-7422), right in the middle of downtown, is a fun place to watch concerts and other performances throughout the week. On Friday nights, the space hosts Luna's Ladies Night until 1 am, featuring live music (also sometimes comedy, poetry, or other performing arts), dancing later in the evening to DJ-spun tunes, and socializing. These events welcome everybody and are geared toward both "queer and straight women and their allies to celebrate our creativity, femininity, friendships and power."
Quite a few gay clubs have come and gone in Providence over the years, but MiraBar
(15 Elbow St., 401-331-6761) has been bumping and grinding for decades, although it did move from its long-established location in 2012 to a space a couple of blocks away, still in the Jewelry District near the campus of Johnson & Wales University. The former space was torn down, and by all accounts, Mirabar's new location is looking good, making this still a favorite gay hangout in town for dancing, cruising, and enjoying a variety of theme nights, from karaoke to drag shows.
photo by Andrew Collins
As Boston is without any sex clubs or bathhouses, New England's top city for cruising and late-night fun is Providence, Rhode Island - it's home to a pair of gay bathhouses, Mega-Plex (pictured here) and Club Body Center. Providence is just an hour's drive south of Boston, so it tends to lure plenty of guys from there as well as in nearby cities like Hartford, Worcester, and even Cape Cod. Mega-Plex
(257 Allens Ave.
, 401-780-8769) is the largest and most popular of the two, drawing a lively crowd around the clock. The spacious club is a five-minute drive south of downtown in an industrial area of South Providence, near the river and just off I-95. It's along a small strip of sexually charged establishments, most of them straight "gentleman's" clubs, but there's also a gay, all-nude strip bar called Hush Rhode Island
in an adjacent building. Mega-Plex lives up to its "mega" billing with some 300 lockers, 75 private rooms, and plenty of fun common areas for strutting, cruising, and mingling. The crowd here is all-ages, ranging from randy college students (Providence and Boston are both major university centers) to more seasoned veterans of bathhouse culture.
Side-by-side gay bars catering to a mostly male, 30s to 50s crowd, Union (200 Union St., 401-831-5366) and the Providence Eagle (198 Union St., 401-421-1447) are, like most LGBT venues in Providence, right in the center of downtown, which can make them a fun part of a bar crawl through the neighborhood. The Eagle is, as Eagles tend to be, 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: "Promiscuous Mondays," 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.
Union is a classic video bar, with music vids, popular movies, and camp TV shows playing on the monitors (which include a ginormous 100-inch screen). Sundays and Thursdays are popular for karaoke. You're far more likely to find a mixed male/female crowd in Union, which also has occasional drag shows.
photo by Andrew Collins
A casually elegant French-American bistro in the funky Fox Point neighborhood just south of College Hill and Brown University campus, Rue de L'Espoir (99 Hope St., 401-751-8890) is chiefly a dining venue, serving dinner nightly, lunch and breakfast on weekdays, and extremely popular brunches on weekends. The crowd here is diverse and fun, from academics to neighborhood gays to tourists, and at those weekend brunches you'll often recognize those who were out clubbing the night before. Creative contemporary fare, with an emphasis on local and seasonal ingredients, is emphasized, and there's a great wine list and cheese board - perfect for a date or noshing and sipping with friends. The owners also operate downtown's Rue Bis (95 South St., 401-490-9966) and Baker Street Rue (75 Baker St., 401-490-5025), south of downtown, both of which serve breakfast and lunch on weekdays