Mary McAvoy performs onstage as patrons enjoy the food and drinks. (Photo: Corey Plante)
The sweet scent of sweat and liquor lingers everywhere in downtown Nashville, which is definitely related to how and why the city has exploded as a national hub for bachelor and bachelorette parties in recent years (according to one of my Lyft drivers there, anyway). Genuinely good live music blasts out of every open door. The drinks are strong and the vibes even stronger.
I went recently for the bachelor party of a friend I went to Providence College with, the same friend I’d go to McFadden’s with about once a week in our senior year. So it struck me as doubly ironic and a bit surreal when I stepped foot in Providence’s “Nashville-inspired” Moonshine Alley a week after returning from Music City. 12 years after we graduated from PC, our old haunt at 52 Pine Street has been transformed into a good old fashioned honky-tonk with tons of charm that’s good clean fun for the whole family.
If you want to dodge the intense heat and even hotter chicken of actual Nashville, Moonshine Alley is an excellent alternative to Music Row. It’s definitely got a Nashville vibe that skews a bit more broadly country, but this home away from home for Tennesseans in Providence feels all-American in a way that anybody can enjoy.
Sometimes, you really can have your hot chicken and eat it too.
My party of seven arrived for our Saturday late afternoon reservation with minutes to spare and were quickly seated on an elevated platform to the left, a space I remember fondly as one of the VIP areas from the McFadden’s days. Though I didn’t tell my mother-in-law this — we were here to celebrate her birthday after all. A neon sign above the bar reads “Giddy Up Providence” right next to a massive screen typically showing six different sports feeds, inviting patrons to gather around the bar. The crowds gather at night to party and watch live acts, but even then it feels spacious and pitch-perfect.
Shortly after our arrival, Mary McAvoy from Boston took to the stage with a guitarist by her side. She has the look and voice of a performer that would fit right in at any of the Nashville music venues, playing a smattering of crowd-pleasing covers and original songs that capture her appealing “chilled out pop” vibe. (Over on her website, McAvoy cites Donna Missal, Lennon Stella, and Tori Kelly as some of her biggest influences.) She’s a little bit Linda Ronstadt and a little bit Miley Cyrus, and she’ll be back on July 29.
Moonshine features live music almost every day, and while McAvoy is one of the many talented local artists featured, the venue also showcases some up-and-coming Nashville talent. Like the many walls and surfaces, the stage itself has a splash of color at the back: the restaurant logo emblazoned with a golden guitar and “Nashville, Rhode Island” scrawled out in a kind of cursive that strikes me as distinctly southern. A few feet away, there’s a Tito’s Vodka neon sign that includes the spirit’s hometown of Austin, Texas. The men’s room is chock full of photos featuring female pinups, and I’m told the lady’s has a photo of bad boy heartthrob Rip Wheeler from Yellowstone, which takes place in Wyoming.
All of the above makes for a more broad country music lifestyle tone, rather than exclusively Nashville, for better or for worse.
A similar vibe emerges through the menu, where the “Nashville Hot Chicken” is a tangy, spicy, and sweet affair that’s a far cry from the red-cheek-inducing, blood-red Tennessee sandwich. The apple cider slaw and spicy honey drizzle balance things out for a delicious and far more palatable bite. The Dirty Fries offer a delightful riff on poutine with scallions, cheese curds, house demi, and crispy bits of chorizo. Like the Skillet Cornbread served in four neat squares with honey butter, it’s a must-get for groups of any size. The food menu is full of crowd-pleasers like a brisket and chuck blend of beef for the Great American Burger, or a Skillet Cookie, but rarely does it truly capture a “that’s so Nashville!” vibe. The excellent drink menu, however, is another story.
The top-heavy Nashville Bloody Mary is a real standout with an entire slider-sized hot chicken sandwich as the feature garnish. Moonshine flights are also a must-try as they feature legit spirits from Ole Smoky Distillery, an essential Nashville tourist destination with a myriad of cream and non-cream flavors. You can mix and match at Moonshine Alley to sample flavors like Banana Pudding alongside Apple Pie. The Red Bull Watermelon Frose is exactly the kind of drink you’d have while at a bachelor party in Nashville, so I love seeing it on the menu.
While the bar does have a nice mix of about 10 local and regional beers on tap, I’d love to see at least one or two beers from Yee-Haw Brewing Company, the brewery that shares the same vast space as Ole Smoky Distillery. We all love Wormtown, Grey Sail, and Whalers. But a little bit o’ Yee-Haw would go a long way to lend this place even more authenticity and unique flair.
All things considered, there is no place like Moonshine Alley — in Nashville or in Providence — and whether you’re here to party to live music or soak in the honky-tonk vibes over a solid meal, it’s a place you need to try more than once.