[Sidebar] November 11 - 18, 1999


The Best

City Life

Best smack

Got skills? Bring your stuff to Candace Street Park on Smith Hill and leave your ego in the car trunk (with the car stereo). A cultural mish-mosh of Provcat ballers excel in the art of serving up razor-sharp smack with their 22-foot facials on those who claim game. E.g., when three whitebread Phoenix writers laced up and awaited next amongst a growing crowd of players and spectators in sweltering, mid-day July heat: "These guys got next" the winning team declared, looking in our direction. What ensued was more than a few quotable jabs ("Hey, this ain't ice hockey, big man" and "ever played a 2-3 zone?") in the midst of a fundamentally sound contest catered to mad ups, quick feet, and hilarious, rapid-fire banter; no illegal picks or cheap hacks and elbows, just sharp words and barely legal moves. Candace and Smith Street, Providence.

Best RIPTA bus deal

The attractive bright green "trolleys" (actually buses, outfitted with brass and wood interiors and running on cleaner fuel) cost 50 cents and run from Kennedy Plaza to the East Side, the Jewelry District, the South Side, the State House area (with a stop at the Mall) and Federal Hill. For RIPTA regulars, the Federal Hill trolley is of particular interest. Regular buses have what is known as a "short zone" fare of 50 cents, but the Federal Hill trolley run goes much farther on much less dough (standard RIPTA fare is $1.25). If you board "Da Hill" trolley, you can go all the way down to within a thousand yards or so of Harris Avenue on Atwells, meaning that you can hit virtually all of the renowned restaurants for a mere half dollar. Bus riders on a budget know this to be the best bargain in town.

Best future-past museum to celebrate indigestion

Back in 1872, one Walter Scott began selling pre-prepared food from a horse-drawn wagon in Providence. Hundreds of palms immediately slapped hundreds of foreheads and the rush to sling hash and home-fries from compact and sometimes portable indoor versions began -- yes, the Diner was born. The American Diner Museum, planned for Heritage Harbor next year, celebrates it all. Incorporated in 1996, the non-profit organization and museum will be, according to its Website, "a tribute to the individuals who built, operated and worked in the diners and to those who continue the diner tradition into the 21st century." A restoration workshop and tours of diners in the region will also be offered, as well as photographs, artifacts, archives and an operational vintage diner. These folks are serious, so one hint when visiting: in no conversation let the phrase "greasy spoon" crop up. 110 Benevolent Street, 331-8575, ext. 102. http://www.dinermuseum.org.

Best place to (really) ride a bike

Everyone talks about the one parallel to Rt. 114, but that's for wimps. Why not try the old bike path through Colt State Park, five or six miles where ups are ups and downs are cruises through tree-lined pathways with a view of the bay? Start at what locals call the joggers' park by way of Poppasquash Road. Then head through a lilac arbor and over an old stone bridge near Mill Gut, past Surprise Hill (huff, puff, you'll know when you're there) through the leafy arbors near the old Colt Barn and put pedal to metal round Coggeshall Farm (but beware of the bulls). Scoot slowly by the Bristol Yacht Club and sigh over the view and the 40-footers. Carry a knapsack lunch and lounge on the grassy knolls afterwards, and laugh at the cyclists sporting those ridiculous camel-backs. Spandex doesn't matter here: soul does. Route 114, Bristol.

Best non-flammable river walk

Barnaby Evans's WaterFire has brought thousands of people to Providence's downtown riverfront, but just a bus ride away is another quieter river walk where wildlife outnumbers people. The Pawtuxet River Loop Trail, in the middle of urban Cranston and Warwick, winds three leisurely miles through the woods and ends in historic Pawtuxet Village. Merganser ducks, swans, turtles and an occasional muskrat or great blue heron are frequently seen along the path that passes through grassy savanna, sassafras groves and wildlife habitat restoration areas. Fireflies are abundant in the spring and Virginia creeper and red maples provide beautiful foliage in the fall. To start walking, take the number 1 RIPTA bus (Eddy/Gaspee) to Rhodes-on-the-Pawtuxet (look for a trail sign at the lower parking lot). While walking through Pawtuxet Village make sure to stop at Dear Hearts Ice Cream next to the bridge.

Best non-political use of hot air

The annual South County Hot Air Balloon Festival will be in its 23rd year next July, again filling the URI athletic field on Rte. 138 in Kingston with some 20 massive and colorful throwbacks to 19th-century aviation. Blasting fiery tongues of propane, they lift off and fill the sky at dusk. Warming up the air for them beforehand are ultralights, paragliders, gyrocopters, remote-controlled model airplanes, competitive kite-flying and even National Guard helicopters. After the vicarious thrill of a parachute demo, or when your neck gets tired, you can look down at the vintage cars on display, peruse the craft booths and listen to the band concerts. For the kids, there are sack races and pony rides. Admission is $2 for adults and $1 for children on Friday night, $5 for adults and $2 for children on Saturday and Sunday. 783-1770.

Best place to get some tail

If the disappearing sun has left you a bit lonely, stop by the Potter League for Animals in Middletown and spread your love. You don't buy your friends, so why purchase a lifelong companion at a shoddy pet store when there are plenty of felines and canines eagerly awaiting the good life on the outside? All it takes is the $45 application fee (respectable animal facilities screen potential owners), and a spay/neuter contract for which you will receive a $20-$45 reimbursement. Cats and dogs, kittens and pups come fully equipped with a collar, ID tag, vaccinations and a free $25 vet visit. You provide the TLC, and what better a chick-magnet than walking your adorable pup through the streets of Newport? It's a win/win situation all around. 87 Oliphant Lane, Middletown, 846-8276.

Best place to sit on the throne of a king

His name was Metacomet and in 1662 he was sachem of the Wampanoag Indians; the Pilgrims called him King Philip.Philip's domain included the lush forest of Mount Hope in Bristol, where he held court sitting on a granite outcropping, a natural throne that was as imposing as befitted one of Philip's stature. Philip took a bullet through his heart fighting settlers for control of his land and died near a woodsy spring not far from his seat. In 1912, Rudolf Haffenreffer bought the property and set up the eponymous museum that now belongs to Brown University. But the throne is still King Philip's Seat, and his mystique hovers in the southwestern portion of the museum property, accessible to anyone for the price of a small hike. Maps are available. The woodsy area boasts chestnuts and oaks, some old enough to have been around in Philip's time. 300 Tower Street, Bristol, 253-8388. http://brown.edu/Facilities/Haffenreffer.

Best place to watch adults throw temper tantrums

This is a personal shout-out to the Administrative Adjudication Court in Providence, most commonly known as Harris (insert expletive here) Avenue. A place you needn't be reminded of, but we're getting paid for this and we need the cash to get our license ($75) and registration ($50) reinstated -- again. It's not fun, but you wouldn't be there unless you screwed up -- a fact most people forget shortly upon arrival. Here's the drill: state your name at the window upstairs, pull up a brown folding chair for a few hours, and from there, quite simply, it sucks to be you. You'll hear grown adults scream, curse and cry uncontrollably in the presence of children. Once beckoned, you are lead to an office and subtly patronized by a state employee (to the white guy with the glasses -- we'll see you on the highway to hell) while you empty the wallet. 345 Harris Avenue, Providence, 222-2994, but don't bother, you'll never get through.

Best place to play chicken

High above I-195, right after the Gano Street exit, is a local attraction that oddly doesn't make the tourbooks. The India Point Walkway, a footbridge connecting Fox Point to India Point Park, is a great place to amuse the entire family for free. The rules go something like this: saunter across the fenced-in span and silently tally how many hits you've taken. Funny how, even from above, an oncoming RV draws a fear-inspired adrenaline. And of course you should develop a point scale: getting squished by a semi is way worse than a harmless VW Beetle. The person with the lowest score wins. Also, you probably don't want to wear bright colors or hop on a pogo stick to distract the drivers below -- somehow a multi-car accident takes the fun out of everything. Accessed from George M. Cohan Boulevard or India Point Park, Fox Point, Providence.

Best low-intensity skyline

Yes, the East Bay Bike Path is beautiful -- but one need not, umm, overexert oneself to enjoy one of its best draws: park on Veteran's Memorial Parkway, then go just beyond the Squantum Club, a former mansion that is now a private eating club, down toward the Mobil Oil dock. Then stop. That'll be enough exercise for one day. Start back toward the city and you'll catch one of the best views around of the Providence skyline. You're looking to the northwest, and there, outlined before you, are the familiar shapes of capitalism -- the three banking towers of Citizens, BankBoston, and Fleet, plus Textron's dear tower. Add the glow of a winter sunset and you'll know why Hollywood has zoomed in on it. Starts at India Point Park, Providence, runs 15 miles to Bristol.

Best double date with Governor Bradford and President Washington

Finally, we can relish the outdoor splendor and romance of Mt. Hope Farm, a 319-year-old plantation sprawling 127 acres on picturesque Mt. Hope Bay in Bristol. After three-plus centuries of private ownership, it opened to the public this past summer. Big George stayed with former owner Governor William Bradford for a week in 1789; another prominent tenant was Rudolph F. Haffenreffer, owner of the Narragansett Brewing Company. Walk or bicycle through the farm's winding paths and back roads, and share some quality time with the deer, coyote, fox and wild turkey that have been spotted there. You might recognize the main house, built in 1745, from Spielberg's 1997 epic Amistad. To keep up with the over $100,000 yearly maintenance costs, you can rent the property for a unique and scenic wedding reception or graduation party. Metacom Avenue, Bristol.

Best fountain -- not to be confused with "bubbla"

They say no trip to "America's Greatest City" is complete until you have traveled under the pinecone (it's not a pineapple!) or `La Pigna' (a traditional Italian symbol of hospitality and abundance), and enjoyed a day on da Hill. One of the many highlights is the fountain in DePasquale Square, where you can sip brandy at La Dolce Vita or enjoy an outdoor brunch at Plaza Grille. The original fountain, installed in the 1970s when DePasquale Street became a Square, was replaced last year. The square offers a year-round view of people dispensing change from their pockets and purses, flipping coins onto the top of the three-tier fountain. And where might all that change go? Before you can scream scandal, it is collected by the Federal Hill Businessmen's Association to maintain the fountain, jibroni. DePasquale Square, Providence.

Best, and most edifying, neighborhood walk

It was a close call. Back in the '50s and '60s, between liberal Federal funding and the national fad for urban renewal, many of the dilapidated Victorian, Colonial and Early Federal houses along north Benefit Street nearly fell victim to the wrecker's ball. But thanks to the Providence Preservation Society -- and Elizabeth Buffum "Happy" Chace, who bought up 40 architecturally interesting College Hill houses for restoration and resale -- the society can now conduct "Mile of History" walks down Benefit instead of some sort of Mile of Neon tour or something. The area has been described as having the greatest concentration of well-preserved Colonial architecture in the country. Walking and bus tours are available for groups through the society, 831-7440. www.cs.brown.edu/fun/pps/benefit.html.

Best ballpark dog

Enough cannot be said about the glorious renovations to America's oldest triple-A ballpark, McCoy Stadium, home of the Pawtucket Red Sox. With over 3000 seats added, this past season saw the all-time attendance record shattered with 596,624 fans pouring through the majestic five-story entry tower and pavilion greeting fans on Columbus Avenue. McCoy still offers free parking, $7 box seats (less than a movie), along with added restrooms and an expanded food court. The ballpark fare is also new and improved, ranging from sausage grinders to pizza and nachos to the newly added kosher dogs. A measly $5 allows you to sprawl out on the fresh grassy knoll in left field with beer and frank in hand, the perfect complement to a seemingly perfect stadium. Reserve the new BBQ party tents down the right field line for a memorable office or family function. 1 Columbus Avenue, Pawtucket, 724-3000.

Best place to meet the stars

For more than 100 years, Ladd Observatory has offered the best spot to meet and greet the stars in Providence. Built in 1891, Brown University's chrome-domed observatory provided a source of inspiration for legendary local writer H.P. Lovecraft, known for some of the best sci-fi-infused horror tales of the 20th century. As a child, Lovecraft was obsessed with astronomy and owned a key to the joint. We suggest sprinkling that tidbit of local knowledge while sharing a refracting telescope at Ladd Observatory with a new and special "friend," a quaint and endearing way to start off a romantic evening of space exploration. Open to the public every Tuesday night from 7:30-10 p.m. 210 Doyle Avenue, Providence, 863-3452.

Best reason to borrow a kid for the afternoon

No doubt you've gazed at the dragon lunging down the side of the red brick building in Providence's Jewelry District and yearned to take a peek inside the Providence Children's Museum. If you don't have a wee one at home, borrow a kid, take the afternoon off and revel in the museum's remarkable interactive exhibits. The water room, with its floating, damming and pumping activities, all in huge water tubs, is too tempting to leave to the tots. You can clamber through the rooms of the "Coming to Rhode Island" exhibit listening to colonial settlers, French-Canadian, Cape Verdean and Cambodian immigrants. Or you can don a hard-hat and bright yellow safety vest like the rest of the kids and scoot through the large sewer-like tubes of "City Streets." $4.50 for adults and children, free on first Sunday of each month. 100 South Street, Providence, 273-KIDS.

Best place to remember F.D.R.

In a little traveled corner of Cranston, sandwiched between the Pawtuxet River and the Capuano landfill is the Potters' Field paupers' cemetery, containing 612 numbered cement headstones. From 1909 to 1927, before Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal gave Americans some protection against poverty, residents of the state poor farm were buried here. Nearby, just south of Route 37, lies another paupers' cemetery containing 1050 more graves. Peaceful, pretty, and eerie. Plus it reminds you that today, thanks to Social Security, Medicaid and veteran's benefits, only about one resident of the state institutions a year lacks the money to pay for burial (the state pays a funeral home for those). Sumac trees are rapidly taking over the Potters' Field, but a new sign at the corner of Pontiac Avenue and Knight Street marks the site. A rough trail passes through the graveyard and then heads through the woods along the Pawtuxet River.

Best symbiosis of sin and stink

Sure, if you puff them like Bluto all day every day, they can turn your head into a tumor. But as a once-in-a-while activity, smoking a cigar can be an indulgence somewhere between the death-defiance of Japanese blowfish sushi and the connoisseur-ship of vintage wine. At Sir Winston's Tobacco Emporium you can splurge on expensive Dominicans, grown from Cuban seed. Perhaps an enormous $28 Monte Christo for its mellow cachet; or maybe a $17 Cohiba, for its earthy start and spicy build-up; or a stronger Honduran, maybe the popular Punch Rothchild for robust-yet-smooth flavor, at only $3.95. But maybe the best thing about Sir Winston's is its location. Only a few steps away are two cigar-friendly restaurant bars, Amicus and the Barnsider, where you can sip a brandy or cabernet while you puff to give your taste buds a double treat. 341 South Main Street, Providence, 861-5700.

Best summer dance floor

Though its claim to fame in the winter was its skating rink, the Fleet Skating Center in Kennedy Plaza also packed in a full summer season as an outdoor café and dance floor. If you were downtown for supper or WaterFire, you could easily be lured by the bluesy strains of Twyce, the urgent ballads of Kim Trusty and her band, the danceable tunes of the Dukes of Dixie, or any number of other bands there. Though the bands drew on the music of different eras and genres, the dancers and listeners were of all ages: little girls in summer dresses, holding both hands and swaying rhythmically, twenty and thirty-something couples in soft dance shoes sliding through retro-swing routines, and the over-40 crowd showing their age with here a jitterbug, there a Twist. Now we just have to shake this winter thing. 2 Kennedy Plaza, Providence, 331-5544.

Best and only place to view the "Bud-Eye Cam"

Ever wonder what Buddy sees as he peers out of his office window while contemplating the trials and tribulations of a Downcity kingpin? Click onto OSO.com and check out their Webcam views of the state. A camera outside Mayor Cianci's window provides a perfect view of his beloved skating rink. See what's happening in downtown Newport, watch the freaks loiter outside Café La France on Thayer Street, enjoy a view from Narragansett Pier, or check the traffic with our big blue friend, Nibbles Woodaway and the Bug-Cam. OSO Site Manager Tom Bates and his homegrown staff have perfected a quirky yet comprehensive site that is equally entertaining and informative. While you're there, check out the hilarious yes/no tests (the 100 question "RI Driver Test" is a riot) and quizzes, with categories like "Used'ta Be There" and "I Seen It In RI!" http://www.oso.com.

Best place to get an ape thumb up your roddy bottom while taking a picture

Every June, AS220 and the Parks Department present the Convergence Festival, bringing artists and sculptors from around the globe to Our Little Towne. This year the celebrated international festival saw Nick Swearer present Brother to Empire Street. Swearer says Brother was "designed and intended for intimate photo opportunities." Originally facing the door of AS220, Brother now faces the street for a more social setting. Pull up a hand and have a seat -- the 6000-pound behemoth (constructed with hammered half-inch steel plate) stands 14' tall and won't budge, no matter how fat you are. Fig-leaf sporting Brother is Swearer's only work that is not buck-naked (other works include his line of naked politicians, including Wild Bill). Swearer is slated for a showcase at AS220 in April. 115 Empire Street, Providence.

Best dumpster

While he would rather be known for his roast beef sandwiches, Walt's Roast Beef owner Ray Perrotta has Rhode Island's most famous dumpster behind his Cranston restaurant. Here, then-Governor Edward DiPrete accidentally dumped a $10,000 kickback from banker Joseph Mollicone along with the wrapper from his recently consumed sandwich. Perrotta has never found anyone rummaging around the dumpster for money, but you might get lucky. Once you are at Walt's, it's just a walk next door to the DiPrete Realty Company where the payoff deals were hatched. Perrotta has one observation on the scandal that landed his regular customer and landlord in jail: while chief fundraiser Rodney Brusini always came to work at the realty company in a Cadillac and dressed in expensive suits, DiPrete appeared in rumpled suits and a banged up car. "I always wondered who made all the money," he says. 680 Reservoir Avenue, Cranston.

Best place to remember that RISD and Brown kids ain't as down as they think they are

There's just something about those J&W kids: during the frequent candy runs from Phoenix HQ to the Johnson & Wales Bookstore we are constantly impressed by the urban hipness and diversity of all of the JWers hanging out on the corner, smoking cigarettes, gossiping, and waiting for their crosstown bus. It's like a style or attitude lesson and we love it because it reminds us that we do, in fact, work in a city, with all of the bustling life implicated in that statement, and that, for all its bohemian attitude, College Hill lacks a certain . . . downtown bite. It's true, on occasion we've been accosted for trying to, um, like drive through that intersection during green lights. But when the jones for an entire box of Swedish Fish comes on, we can't help but make the walk down to the corner of Chestnut and Pine Streets.

Best place to wear orange-fluorescent

You have to have a lot of self-confidence to join this club. Not everyone can carry off a one-size-does-not-fit-all reflective-vest affixed snugly around your body with velcro strips. But as the days get shorter, it is the only way to safely continue your workout schedule without resorting to watching aerobic tapes of Jane Fonda in a spandex unitard circa 1980. Granted it's probably not a look that you can carry off in any neighborhood of Providence. Yet if you head to Blackstone Boulevard on the East Side, you'll surely feel the love from others sporting the same uniform. Sure, you'll get some snickers from people who you almost tripped over because you couldn't see them in the dark. But keep your head high. At least you haven't resorted to wearing a blinking battery powered red medallion around your neck. Uhh . . . Blackstone Boulevard, Providence.

Best place to loiter

While hanging out you need snacks, particularly the salty and sweet varieties. Hence the perpetual walk-in traffic flow at Store24 on Thayer Street. The people watching, day or night, is the most diverse and unique in Providence, from the busy summers to the cold and eerily quiet winter nights. It's more than just multiple piercings and inebriated college students looking to pillage the candy aisle and hoard those frightening, plastic-wrapped meatball grinders: it's all walks of life at all times of night, both cheap entertainment and a fascinating sociological study. And just as the name implies, this East Side bodega offers around the clock spectator action (well . . . almost: wouldn't "Store18" or something have been more appropriate?). Pull up some curb and enjoy. Loitering, it's not just for vagrants anymore. 247 Thayer Street, Providence, 831-9229.

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