Providence or Paris? Bars That Have The Best of Both

I can’t believe it’s been a year and a half since I metaphorically crawled through Providence in the late night hours (well, 9pm), guiding newcomers from bar to bar in downcity. Now a seasoned veteran of Dorrance and Eddy Streets, I wanted to pick a new corner of downtown to explore, one that I could confidently invite my friends to despite having come off a previous night’s impromptu dance party, game night and piñata beating. (There maayyy have been alcohol involved.) We needed something mellow but intriguing, and I could think of no better launching point than the Magdalenae Room.

Hidden inside the Dean Hotel, in the back of Faust German restaurant and adjacent to the Boombox karaoke bar, through an unassuming white door, is the Magdelenae Room. The bright florescent lights of the hallway are immediately extinguished, and torch-like wall fixtures dimly light the interior, supported only by flickering candles on the tables and along the bar. I felt like I’d waltzed into the 1920s and was about to meet Fitzerald and Hemingway for a cocktail in a seductive Parisian bar. It was still early for a Saturday night, only 7:30pm, so we had our selection of seats. Despite plush corner couches and private booths, we chose three seats at the bar because, of course, that’s where the magic happens.

I knew I wanted a cocktail because this is the kind of place that merits fanciness; their bar menu even boasts, “hand cut potato chips and fancy sauce” (although, if fancy isn’t your thing, feel free to follow my friend Jen’s example and drink Bud Light the entire night). The cocktails ranged from classic to in-house originals, and I was immediately drawn to the Brandy Alexander: Brandy, chocolate liquor, heavy cream. It was one of those days when I felt like life is short, why not start with dessert? I asked Richard the bartender, a Detroit native who came to RI in pursuit of art, exactly how much heavy cream was involved.

“Only an ounce,” he assured me. “And we use high fiber, low fat cream,” he added with a wink. Richard: my hero.

The third girl in our group, the only non-Jen, ordered a Cat’s Eye, with gin, green chartreuse and dry vermouth. I find gin hit-or-miss, but this drink was superb, gin at its best — refreshing even. The cocktails arrived in small chalice-like glasses, mine looking like a miniature chocolate smoothie and tasting just as good. We ordered hummus with preserved eggplant and toast, and I was surprised by how well the “preserved” (ie, pickled) eggplant added to the flavor of the dish. Just as the bar began to fill up, it was time for us to re-enter  the 21st century and head around the corner to Local 121.

As a food-lover, I hate to admit that I haven’t yet visited Local 121. I know it for its seasonal menu and locally sourced ingredients; my friends knew it as a nightclub and great place to meet men. “They might turn into stalkers, but this is definitely the best place to find guys in Providence,” they told me. At this hour of the night, however, before 11pm, it was a quiet bar with a few high tops along the rich mahogany walls. In the corner, surrounded by stained glass windows, was the area that would later turn into a dance floor. The bar stools were large and square, cushioned with white upholstery. This locale also had the feel of an old hotel, possibly because it used to be one (complete with a speakeasy in the basement). And again, the cocktail list was too good for me to pass up.

jennyblackflowerThis time I chose Black Flower Sour: bourbon, vanilla liqueur, lemon, Aphrodite bitters, soda and black pepper. I was sold, of course, by the Aphrodite bitters. Only after my first sip did the bartender tell me he didn’t use Aphrodite bitters because they were out; he was left with the non-goddess kind. Nevertheless, the drink was divine — a lovely blend of sweet and spice.

Our last destination was The Rosendale, a place I discovered from Google maps and therefore had no idea what to expect. It had a completely different vibe from the other two, bright lights and five TVs — a great place to watch a game with bar food and drinks. But their menu wasn’t lacking — flatbreads and burgers and Applewood smoked bacon in abundance, and they claim to have the largest whiskey selection in downtown Providence.

jennybaconAt this point, everything sounded great to me, so I asked the bartender to help me decide between drinks. She endorsed the Bacon Whiskey Sour (complete with maple syrup), which was sweet but not overbearing. The syrup/bacon combo reminded me of Sunday mornings, and I thought it was only fitting that I began my night with dessert and ended it with breakfast.

As the three of us headed out into the still-crisp evening, we fought off the chill with memories of fine drinks and good company. From the 20th to the 21st century, those two things continue to make a night on the town worth experiencing.

The Magdalenae Room – 122 Fountain St, Providence
Local 121 – 121 Washington St, Providence
The Rosendale – 55 Union St, Providence

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