The building at 122 fountain St. in Providence has long welcomed strangers. Built in 1912 as an Episcopal rescue mission, it was a refuge “downtown in the center of things on an almost respectable street, its door wide open to everyone,” as one text from the time describes. In more recent years it offered a very different brand of hospitality as the Sportsman’s Inn, a strip club with rent-by-the-hour rooms upstairs. Now, it’s been restored and transformed into the Dean, a brand-new boutique hotel that reflects the renaissance of its Downcity neighborhood, which has been revitalized into a dynamic arts district (albeit one where you can still find “spas” with some unusual operating hours).
A counterpoint to the big corporate chains that dot the area, the Dean is the first hotel project from Brooklyn real estate development and design firm ASH NYC, and the latter specialty shows in its 52 spartan yet stylish guest rooms. They’re full of details to delight a design geek: industrial-chic exposed-bulb lighting from Vermont, sleek midcentury-style furnishings and one-of-a-kind vintage finds from Dutch dealers, Belgian vendors and French antique markets (the source of the assorted portraits of distinguished gents that appear in each room). ASH’s 30-year-old CEO grew up in Providence, and affection for local artisans abounds, with beds and desks forged in Providence’s Steel Yard and elephant side tables cast in concrete by RISD alum Will Reeves. Even the in-room snacks (Yacht Club sparkling water, Glee Gum, Rip van Wafels) have a Providence pedigree. No two rooms share the same shape and size, and the commitment to minimalism extends to other quirks—phones in the corridors instead of the guest rooms, wall hooks and hangers in place of drawers and closets, open-door glass showers—that may put off some travelers, but perhaps not the young urban adventurers who seem to be the Dean’s target demo, especially with room rates starting at $109 and luxe touches like the cloudlike bedding from Fall River’s Matouk.
The Dean’s lobby is envisioned as a collective gathering space à la New York’s Ace Hotel. And with indie coffee company Bolt operating a buzzing bar there, guests and locals are already lingering over Chemex brews on the velvet sofas and pommel horse benches, surrounded by art books, design glossies and plentiful outlets for laptops. Soon to come are other options for food and drink: intimate cocktail den the Magdalenae Room, sausage- and pretzel-slinging beer hall Faust, and the Boombox, a Seoul-style karaoke lounge decked in red and black with five private rooms—the only ones on the property still rented by the hour.
Those three venues are slated to open this month, but, in the meantime, there are plenty of gems within easy walking distance. Take the Eddy, a cocktail boîte offering concoctions such as the fun and fizzy Bottle Rocket, a tart blend of bols genever, kalamansi syrup, lemon and Peychaud’s bitters finished with foam and a luxardo cherry. Pink at the bottom and blue at the top, it’s like a cocktail whipped up by the feuding fairy godmothers in Sleeping Beauty. Just around the corner is Flan y Ajo, a tiny tapas joint where elbow-to-elbow cooks prepare your pintxos in full view, working wonders with just a couple of burners and an oven. It’s BYOB, but there’s a wine shop right next door. And just a few steps from the hotel is Ken’s Ramen, a newly opened noodle spot that’s already drawing raves (and lines).
As for nearby entertainment, there are funky shops like Cellar Stories, the state’s largest used and rare bookstore, with 70,000 tomes and specialties that include New England history, vintage sci-fi paperbacks and even a shelf labeled “Books Joe Hates.” Community arts center AS220 offers daily shows and classes, spanning four galleries, several performance spaces, a restaurant and bar, a recording studio, an electronics and fabrication lab, a print shop, a darkroom and dozens of live/work studios. And the award-winning Trinity Repertory Company is celebrating its 50th anniversary season. (Coming soon: Veronica Meadows, a dark comedy that’s the latest of the company’s nearly 60 world premieres.)
Of course, a stay in such a design-centric hotel wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the RISD Museum, less than a 15-minute walk from the Dean. The collection is dazzling in its breadth, with fashion, furniture, posters and tableware joining Roman statuary, medieval altarpieces, period rooms, Impressionist icons, modern heavies from Picasso to Rothko and contemporary acquisitions. Special exhibitions now on view include Andy Warhol’s Photographs, with more than 150 Polaroid and black-and-white shots from the king of pop art, and Arlene Shechet: Meissen Recast, featuring strange porcelain specimens made with reproductions of centuries-old factory molds, like a bowl that seems to have sprouted a cherub’s head and arm. Stay tuned for Graphic Design: Now in Production, opening March 28—one more good reason to visit a destination for divine design that’s just a commuter rail ride away.
-The area is eminently walkable, but if you want wheels, the Dean offers a Zipcar and five vintage bicycles restored by Providence’s Recycle-a-Bike.
-Got a group? The Dean’s fifth floor—dubbed “The Heights”—features four guest rooms that can be connected into a 1,500-square-foot suite.
The Dean | 122 Fountain St., Providence | 401-455-3326 | thedeanhotel.com
Eddy | 95 Eddy St. | 401-831-3339 | eddybar.com
Flan y Ajo | 225A Westminster St. | 401-432-6656 | flanyajo.com
Ken’s Ramen | 51 Washington St. | kenramenpvd.com
Cellar Stories | 111 Mathewson St. | 401-521-2665 | cellarstories.com
AS220 | 95-115 Empire St. | 93-95 Mathewson St. & 131 Washington St. | 401-831-9327 | as220.org
Trinity Repertory Company | 201 Washington St. | 401-351-4242 | trinityrep.com
RISD Museum | 224 Benefit St. | 401-454-6500 | risdmuseum.org