Divine Providence

A downtown district, revitalized.

Used to be, Providence was perceived by outsiders as a take-it-or-leave-it city—a lesser Boston, at best, with a corrupt mayor, crumbling downtown, and transient student population. All that, however, is changing, thanks to a “downcity” renaissance that has reinvigorated an abandoned warehouse district.

The Westminster, Washington, and Weybosset strips today look like a mini SoHo, filled with swank home-design shops and clothing boutiques and flanked by affordable (for now) live/work lofts. (The attitude is still pleasantly Rhode Island, though: no parking tickets issued during holiday shopping hours.) Developers have taken note, too. At least four hotels will debut in the area by 2010. Here’s what not to miss in New England’s newest shopping and dining enclave.

1. Downcity The just-rebuilt Weybosset Street eatery has a sleek all-orange, split-level interior; a comfort food–heavy menu (think ginger-and-plum-flavored ribs); and the city’s best weekend brunch. 50 Weybosset St., 401-331-9217, downcityfood.com.



2. Renaissance Providence Hotel/Temple Downtown Set in an old Masonic temple, the 272-room hotel is cooler than its chain-brand name suggests, with comfortable rooms and the graffiti-decorated, yuppie-filled Temple Downtown restaurant and bar. 5 Avenue of the Arts, 401-919-5000, marriott.com.



3. Homestyle Part art gallery, part gift shop, part home décor store, interior designer Lisa Newman Paratore’s eclectic spot maintains an always creative (and truly covetable) mix of wares like kids’ toys, Robin Bruce armchairs, and modern art prints. 229 Westminster St., 401-277-1159, homestyleri.com.



4. Elsa Arms Asian-style tables and armoires showcase women’s high fashion at Heejun Arms’s modern, spare Westminster Street shop. Her well-edited collection runs from funky preppy (Tory Burch and Nili Lotan dresses) to cutting-edge (Rag & Bone and Manoush separates). 231 Westminster St., 401-383-5558.



5. Clover Co-owners Patrick Lavelle and Rachel Soloff stock their concrete-floored, white-walled men’s and women’s upscale clothing shop with fashions from emerging labels like Charlotte Ronson, Graham & Spencer, and Seize Sur Vingt. 233 Westminster St., 401-490-4626, cloverprovidence.com.



6. Tazza The cast of Showtime’s Providence-based show Brotherhood hangs here; so does just about every other downtown artist/hipster/next big thing. The breakfast-through-dinner café buzzes nightly with indie rock concerts, poetry readings, and fashion shows. Oh, and the food’s great, too. 250 Westminster St., 401-421-3300, tazzacaffe.com.



7. Local 121 Alice in Wonderland–sized white-leather-framed mirrors, plush cushioned benches, and cascading velvet drapes set the tone inside state senator (and serious foodie) Joshua Miller’s fresh, local-ingredients-only boîte, housed in the completely rehabbed Dreyfus Hotel. 121 Washington St., 401-274-2121, local121.com.



8. Hotel Providence All 80 rooms inside the city’s first boutique hotel have wireless Internet, Bulgari or Molton Brown toiletries, and spacious glass-and-marble bathrooms. Its adjacent Italian restaurant, L’Epicureo, is an ideal place to start—or end—the night. 311 Westminster St., 401-861-8000, thehotelprovidence.com.