A day in Providence's Armory district may well start with a vigorous walk around the Dexter Training Ground, joining the early risers and their four-legged friends in the park in the shadow of the Cranston Street Armory.
The Armory, a giant yellow-brick castle-like structure, built in 1907, gives this neighborhood on Providence's West side its name and serves as its landmark. Surrounding the Armory and park is a densely populated neighborhood, with a mixture of ornate Victorian homes, multi-family dwellings, and smaller mill buildings housing a diverse population only minutes from downtown.
From there head to Nick's on Broadway (500 Broadway; 421-0286) for a special treat: Parmesan polenta, topped with poached eggs, and salsa prepared by Derek Wagner, one of the city’s most talented young chefs. Wagner opened his business in the Armory in 2002 because, "I had already lived in the neighborhood for several years and I felt it had great potential."
After breakfast, peek in next door at the Stairwell Gallery (504 Broadway), which showcases eclectic and cutting-edge art by Olneyville artists.
As you continue down Broadway, take note of Julian's (318 Broadway; 861-1770), a long-time favorite that attracts the hipsters who provide the constantly changing art on the walls and the middle aged, mostly Italian, neighbors who enjoy a black bean burger or a crispy smoked tofu salad. Loop back for lunch or plan to attend one of the beer tasting dinners held on select Sunday nights.
The Armory is young and energetic; its unusual businesses reflect that. Many are started by independent types and target an audience living close by. A recent addition is DASH (267 Broadway; 453-3274), a bicycle shop catering to commuters run by Leo Labelle, a bike messenger.
Don’t miss the ever-changing window display at Rocket to Mars (144 Broadway; 274-0905), which specializes in vintage clothing and household items from the 1920s-1970s. If you're in the market for older fixtures - maybe a Victorian sink or a curved, wooden staircase - the Architectural Salvage accumulated by the Providence Revolving Fund (372 West Fountain Street; 272-2760, call ahead) is an absolute must.
The Revolving Fund, a non-profit organization focusing on developing and retaining affordable housing, has provided loans and technical assistance to many homeowners to help with the restorations of their historic homes in the Armory's local and national historic districts.
From there, head to Ada Books (717 Westminster Street; 432-6222), Brent Legaux's used book store with a focus on literary fiction, where in the evening you might catch a reading by a local writer, an exhibit of books made by local artists, or a Klezmer performance.
Ready to recaffeinate? Stop for an iced Latte at White Electric Coffee, (711 Westminster Street; 453-3007) before heading back to the park, where on Thursdays you can shop the Farmer's Market.
The park is ideal for a round of Frisbee, or a game of soccer or volleyball. Or, on Saturdays, take in a game of the Providence Kickball League. Now in it's eighth year, teams with names like The Gutterballs and The Stilettos play and drink - the league is sponsored by Narragansett Beer, which used to be brewed just down Cranston Street.
And in the in the summer stick around to enjoy the sounds of bands performing or, starting at sunset, watch a free outdoor movie.
Ready for a cold beer? Head to e&o tap (289 Knight Street; 454-4827) where you can choose from a wide selection of beers on tap or, if you're in the mood for oysters, you may prefer Ama's (3 Luongo Memorial Square; 421-1100), the newest and coolest addition to the growing number of unusual, independent eateries sprouting up in the Armory. Treat your self Rhode Island-grown Blue Point oysters, presented in an ice-filled trough running the length of the bar.
Follow this with a dinner of grits and ribs or sautéed scallops at Broadway Bistro (205 Broadway; 331-2450), a small and comfortable neighborhood restaurant serving excellent food from a small, changing menu.
And since they don’t serve desert, complete your day at Loie Fuller (1455 Westminster Street; 273-4375) with a Pot de Crème and a last glance at Cranston Street Armory.