City in a Glass: Providence, Rhode Island

Travel Lists
City in a Glass: Providence, Rhode Island

Thirsty? You’re in luck. In Paste’s drinking-and-traveling series, City in a Glass, we mix up a city’s signature swills and slide them down the bar to readers. Grab a stool. This round, in Providence, Rhode Island, is on us.


Rhode Island, the smallest state in the country, has a long tradition of local pride and its bar scene is no exception. “We almost have a Napoleon Complex about it,” Providence barman Benjamin Terry says. “People go over-the-top to support local ingredients and local establishments.” In the state’s capital, the rise of farm-to-table dining over the past five years paralleled the rise of craft cocktail culture, and bars became just as invested in using fresh, New England produce as the restaurants did. Vito Lantz, bar manager at The Dorrance downtown, says farmers come into his restaurant every day with herbs and fruits grown just 20 minutes away. “This stuff was in the dirt this morning and now it’s on your table, now it’s in your drink,” he says. In fact, he’d put the quality of drinks coming out of Providence up against anything in Boston, New York or Chicago. “We are way more developed than what you would expect,” Lantz says. “We’re like one of those small dogs that thinks we’re way bigger than we are.”

Small as the city may be (20 square miles), Providence’s bar scene can be broken down even further. “Each neighborhood its own sense of style,” says Ryan Kennedy of Cook and Brown Public House. “The West Side is eclectic and hip, Downcity has a hint of the Mobster Lobster mentality (New England mafia) still, and East Side has the gastropub vibe.” On this city drinks tour, we’re going to introduce you to three local cocktails—which all happened to be named after works of art—show you where to find them and even how to replicate them at home.


1. Malt Whitman
Where to order: Cook and Brown Public House

Malt Whitman.jpeg
Photo courtesy Cook and Brown Public House

At Cook and Brown Public House, a farm-to-table gastropub on the East Side, bar manager Ryan Kennedy takes inspiration from literature for his inventive cocktails. The Malt Whitman, for example, is named after Walt. “We took cues from his poetic and transcending egalitarian view on race and sexuality to create a drink for everyone,” Kennedy says. (Whitman’s work, particularly his mid-1800s collection Leaves of Grass, was revolutionary at the time for its celebration of nature and carnal pleasure.)

The Malt Whitman qualifies as both boozy and sweet, or as Kennedy calls it, an Old Fashioned-Manhattan hybrid. It contains New England maple syrup, bourbon, Cheery Herring (a Danish cherry liqueur) and black walnut bitters. Jason Kindness, the bar manager at The Revolving Door in Newport, Rhode Island, also collaborated on the creation of the drink.

Malt Whitman

2½ oz. bourbon
½ oz. Cherry Heering
2 dashes Fee Brothers black walnut bitters
1 barspoon maple syrup

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice. Stir. Strain into a rocks glass filled with ice or a coupe. Garnish with an orange peel.


2. Fire Cider, Walk With Me
Where to order: New Harvest Coffee and Spirits

Fire Cider.jpeg
Photo courtesy of New Harvest Coffee and Spirits

New Harvest Coffee and Spirits has been roasting coffee in Rhode Island for 15 years and pouring whiskey in Providence for two. The shop’s most popular cocktails are made with—you guessed it—coffee. “While I do think I make the best espresso martini in town,” bar manager Benjamin Terry says, “I didn’t want to be known as The Bar That Makes Espresso Martinis. We’re not just a one-trick pony.” So while you can’t go wrong with New Harvest’s bourbon latte (a.k.a. the Stay-At-Home Dad), you should also order up one of their more adventurous cocktails, such as the Fire Cider, Walk With Me (named after David Lynch’s 1992 prequel to Twin Peaks.)

This smoky-spicy-sweet drink includes mezcal, ancho chile liqueur, apple cider from an orchard in North Scituate, Rhode Island, and an unusual concoction known as fire cider. “Fire cider is a really cool ingredient that I stumbled across from local herbalists,” Terry says. “It’s basically a sweet and savory apple cider vinegar shrub.” The shrub (another term for drinking vinegar) includes active, live cultures and is used to promote good health. Terry makes his fire cider by steeping raw apple cider vinegar (made at a ciderhouse in Western Mass.) with habanero and chipotle peppers, ginger, turmeric and honey. He also adds a black chai tea to give the shrub a deeper flavor. “A lot of classic hot drinks like hot toddies are fantastic, but they’re not usually super complex,” he says. “The Fire Cider has kind of got it all going on.”

Fire Cider, Walk With Me

1½ oz. El Buho Mezcal
½ oz. Ancho Reyes
1 oz. habanero-chai fire cider (recipe below)
5 oz. Barden Family Orchard apple cider, steamed

Make habanero-chai fire cider: In a jar combine Carr’s Ciderhouse apple cider vinegar with dried habanero and chipotle peppers, fresh ginger root, turmeric, steeped MEM chai tea and Caledonia Spirits raw honey. Seal. Let sit at room temperature for four to six weeks. Strain before use.

Make drink: Combine all ingredients in a pre-heated mug. Stir. Garnish with a cinnamon stick.


3. “If You Like Drinking Negronis”
Where to order: The Dorrance

The Dorrance restaurant opened in downtown Providence five years ago, right about the same time the Sons of Liberty spirits company began distilling in South Kingstown, Rhode Island. “We have a great relationship with Sons of Liberty because we were both kind of making mistakes and learning at the same time,” The Dorrance’s bar manager Vito Lantz says. “From Day One we were asking them when they were going to make a gin, and when they came out with it, we fell in love right away.” The company’s True Born gin starts from a Belgian Wheat beer mash, giving it a funky, malty taste that’s closer to whiskey than botanical heavy and dry gins.

So at The Dorrance, they use the gin in nontraditional ways, like pairing it with sweet, chocolate-y mole bitters in the cocktail “If You Like Drinking Negronis” (pictured at top). Created by head bartender Tyler Schweppe, this before-dinner aperitif plays on the classic Negroni (gin, vermouth and Campari) and the catchy piña colada song that will probably be stuck in your head for the rest of the day after reading this. “It’s kind of like an intro to the Negroni,” Lantz says. “It’s not as bitter and it’s a really nice sipper. It goes a long way.”

“If You Like Drinking Negronis”

2 oz. Sons of Liberty True Born gin
1 oz. Tempus Fugit Quinquina aromatized wine
1 dash Angostura bitters
1 dash Bittermens Xocolatl Mole bitters

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice. Stir. Strain into a rocks glass containing one large cube of ice. Garnish with a lemon twist.

City in a Glass columnist Alyson Sheppard writes about travel, restaurants and bars for She spent many years drinking in New York before resettling in the great state of Texas.

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