Introverts

3 Restaurants for Solo Dining in Providence

Every city comes with a million recommendations from locals and travelers alike, filling up most of your itinerary with so much food that there’s no way you’ll make it home without an extra pound. I had about 15 restaurants to hit during my two days in Providence, and while that wasn’t even a little plausible, I narrowed down a few of the places I felt most comfortable dining alone, from casual to formal, should you ever find yourself in need of a bite in Rhode Island’s capital city.

Small Point Café, Providence, RI | truelane

Small Point Café

Small Point Café, housed in the Downcity Arts district between Symposium Books and the Queen of Hearts clothing boutique, has been around since 2010 and it’s easy to see why there’s a constant hum of customers and activity. In addition to a stellar coffee menu brewing fair-trade beans, there are plenty of breakfast and lunch sandwiches to sustain your afternoon exploration.

Most of the sitting customers were art students meeting for group projects, solo flyers typing away on their laptops, or a pair or trio catching up over chai. Sitting down to breakfast or lunch on your own won’t even get a second blink, but I felt very comfortable asking others patrons for the wifi information or other restaurant recommendations. Rhode Islanders are happy to share about their state.
 

Duck & Bunny, Providence, RI | truelane

The Duck & Bunny

I went on a day where the wait staff was very “dude-heavy,” as Mike the barista informed me once I inquired. An adorable “snuggery,” as they call it, their specialty is cupcakes and afternoon tea, which struck me as slightly hilarious considering everyone working there was a guy in all black with tattoos and facial hair.

I sat at the barista bar with a cheese and spinach crepe for brunch, and was surprised by the flurry of activity at 11 a.m. on a weekday. The phone was ringing off the hook and customers were coming in and out of the door for cupcakes to go. The barista’s friends filtered in and out as well, making it easy to integrate myself into conversation. It was a wonderful, welcoming experience in a light and bright environment.
 

Birch, Providence, RI | truelane
Birch, Providence, RI | truelane

Birch

Birch was a restaurant that changed my life while in Providence. It came with glowing reviews from both the tourism board and locals I met around town, and I was not disappointed. Expect a much more formal dining experience than at breakfast cafes or lunch spots: the eighteen-seat, 500-square-foot dining room makes for immediate intimacy. If you aren’t used to dining alone, this may be a good setting for you. Close quarters with strangers means less awkward stares and more casual conversation when you’re literally brushing shoulders.

The space itself is beautiful and a mix of modern and rugged. A large mirror is angled from the ceiling, which doubles the space through the reflection and bouncing light. The two bartenders for the night were also the two waitresses, happily chatting to each other and to dinner guests. With the U-shaped, counter-height table surrounding the bar, everything goes on right in front of you. Behind the scenes commonalities—servers drying and returning silverware to storage—somehow adds to the experience rather than detract from it. Friendly protesters at a theatre across the street provided some short term dinner engagement while I snacked on my pre-appetizer, a gift from the kitchen—an absurdly good crispy asparagus spear, dipped in the dreamiest garlic cream. It was exactly what I was hungry for, and I could have eaten ten.

The lone asparagus spear set the stage for an unforgettable meal. As a vegetarian, I had one (occasionally two) selection for each course of the four-course meal, but I thoroughly enjoyed three of them, which I count as a success. Dessert almost came in second behind an heirloom cornmeal dish with mustard flowers and some other deliciousness with vegetable broth, but the cherry blossom jam tart with beeswax ice cream took the cake, if you will. It would appear that gifts from the kitchen are frequent—I finished my meal with a melt-in-your-mouth homemade whoopie pie placed in front of me. Once I realized everyone around the table was receiving one, I loved the lack of exclusivity. Everyone feels special leaving Birch.




Societal Solitude: Part III

In years past, I approached solo ventures with a desire to explore and overcome the insecurities that surround them. Simply going to a restaurant without a companion paralyzes some people with fear, and others claim it’s a great personal experience. I've been to the movies by myself and taken myself to dinner, but I wasn’t afraid of those things. I was interested. I wanted to experience it, and generally just know and understand what the big deal was.

I’ve been lucky enough to see live comedy a couple times in my life, which is a fascinating experience in itself. The stages and scenarios were big enough that I got to play my favorite part—a fly on the wall—and avoid being called out by anyone onstage. However, the most recent time I went to a show, it was stand-up open-mic night, and the only available seats were in the very front row. Please note there is no size, boldness, Italic or other form of text I can use here to stress how terrifying it is for a shy and quiet twenty-three year old girl to be sitting so close to a stage that she has to rest her feet on it, where ten or fifteen comics will perform three-minute bits and at least half are bound to call you out on something. Introvert’s worst nightmare.

It ended up being worth it. Despite getting spit on, accused of using the paper seat covers in public toilets, and asked out for drinks under a spotlight onstage, I made it almost nearly to the end and was glad I did. I managed to fall hard for the last routine I sat through and the comically confident guy who delivered it. Since it is 2015 and I am an Internet human, I Googled him as soon as I got home and did what anyone else would do. I clicked every link, listened to every podcast, sent half the photos to my friends and followed him on every social media channel. It wasn’t until the weekend rolled around that I realized he was doing a full stand-up set at another comedy club in the city.

I vacillated between going or not all day, because I knew I would end up at the event alone. Half of my friends were out of town, and the other half were busy. Come to think of it, another half of them were at weddings. I had it in the back of my mind that I would go no matter what, because my desire to watch his full routine was massive. The only thing holding me back was that it was a comedy show.

Stand-up comedy is well-known for being an excruciating endeavor for the introvert world. Performing it obviously, which I have clearly never done, but attending can be just as intimidating depending on the level of anxiety you get in the public eye. I was able to talk myself into going; I would go early to make sure I had a seat at the back, I would avoid eye contact with as many people as possible. The day had even set itself up well: I was showered, had just done my nails, and had been forced to leave my bed only like three times. I was in a good place for this. It was going to be just like that movie I went to by myself. It would be dark and I would be watching something...only in this case, someone could pick on me from a spot-lit stage. Still, I was confident walking into the bar where the show was held. I was in the scariest place doing a scary thing: a stand-up comedy show, in attendance alone. My strong desire and positive mood set the stage well.

The irony found me as the featured performer before my headlining hunk began his bit. He launched into a terrifically funny story about a book he received as a gift once, the point of the joke being total discouragement from ever doing anything that scares you. “You do one thing that scares you every day, until one day you’ve got a cop in your trunk driving down the wrong side of a freeway and realize how much better off you were before living in perpetual fear.” (Maybe you had to be there? I'm still laughing...) This event was one thing I said yes to, even though I was afraid, and it was helping me. I was growing somehow. Throughout the two hours and time I was sitting there, I was aware of the positive experience happening around and in me. This ain’t so bad, I convinced myself, sitting at a corner table with steaming black coffee. In fact, attending a comedy show on my own might have been the least frightening thing I’ve ever done, but the conditions were pristine. I got to stare at a handsome man making me smile nonstop for forty-five minutes, even after laughing until my cheeks hurt at his opener.

I had done my research and knew what I was getting into, and as such I can’t say I recommend grabbing a ticket to the first comedy club you can find if you’re afraid of going out alone. Comedians can be scary. I got lucky enough to find the tame ones, and maybe that’s a Minnesota thing. But the outcome, or the aftermath, has been the third big concept for me in developing my public aloneness skills. Where I’m at mentally when I leave and how I feel about the experience in hindsight does a lot to affect how I go about my next opportunity to go out alone. I left the comedy show smiling, not only because jokes but because I was proud of myself. Maybe I would have felt differently if one of the comics had heckled me and left a bright red flush of total mortification across my face, but would that have negatively affected the grand scheme of my enjoyment enough to keep me from ever going out alone again? I’ll never know.

Still, I’m not writing this to tell you a big arcing story of how I’ve “overcome insecurities” and why “going out alone is the best” and “everyone should do it” and “conquering fear” and what have you, because I’m not sure I believe all that. In fact, this whole series started merely with a thought toward the amusing irony of showing up to do something that scared me only to be dissuaded from ever doing something that scares me. I don’t know that there will ever be a point in my life when I’m suddenly game to go do all the things by myself, happy as a clam. I might find other ways to broaden my horizons and conquer my fears, but only to a point; I don't plan to find myself on the wrong side of funny business, or the freeway. For now, I’ll take my public aloneness opportunities on a case by case basis...all jokes aside.




Societal Solitude: Part II

Making a plan to go out on my own for the first time nearly set me straight up for success. With a goal and the mindset to achieve some kind of peace in being alone in public, the experience was going to be positive no matter what. Even if I didn’t check off every box on the list of what I would consider victory and triumph, it would be progress. It didn’t take much to convince me that going out alone can only get better the more you do it.

I found myself in Manhattan a few years after my first foray into my public aloneness experiment, which had since been somewhat dormant. I was in town for the rough and tumble times of New York Fashion Week, a very weird week of the year when it kills me to be alone. I need insane amounts of moral support to make it through a day of dealing with the New York fashion scene. After a stressful day of travel that kicked off at something like four o’clock in the morning, the last thing I wanted to do when I landed was deal with a bunch of perfectly made-up girls in heels whose biggest goal of the night was to get the most likes on Instagram. Turning down the dinner invitation, I kicked on my sneakers and headed toward Central Park.

Beyond the travel weariness and intimidating circle of fashion people I had escaped from, I was the most hangry I’ve ever been in my life, except maybe for the depresso I would experience the day we left New York and my two friends dragged me across the entire Upper West Side shopping from eight to eleven before I had any coffee in my system. It was the kind of hangry that can only be resolved with the divine pairing of pizza and beer, so I mapped the closest walk and ended up at a sit-down pizza and pasta chain I wish I remembered the name of.

I wallowed my way through my entire deep dish. I think it was one of the few experiences in my life where my bummer mood could have been resolved by human interaction, had it been the kind I wanted. A quiet dinner, maybe even delivery in our hotel room, with my fashion week gal pals that I actually wanted to catch up with.  Of course, I forgot momentarily that the hotel situation hadn’t gone my way for the first half of fashion week and I was staying all the way downtown, alone, in the only hotel that could put me up for free, which was about the extent of my budget at this time in my life. I don’t think I smiled once during my entire meal.

I tried to snap out of it a couple times. Half of the romance behind being out in public alone is the prospect of whom you could meet. I think it comes from my writer tendencies, but I can be intrigued by almost anyone I see anywhere. Being by yourself in public lends itself easily to conditions where anything can happen. I live and die for meet-cutes, and the opportunity seems to have much more potential when out as an individual rather than a big group. But reality never listens, and meet-cutes are rare in my life. I tend to exist with a pretty downcast demeanor and I think it intimidates the masses, or at least makes them fear potential interaction. People don’t like to deal with a lot of emotion, and having a lot of emotion is the entirety of my life and being.

Beyond desire (read more on that in part one), mood is another key element to a successful solo date. Things need to be pleasant if I’m going to go out alone and enjoy myself. I need to be in a place of mild self-confidence with a settled soul. The circumstances don't need to be perfect, but my head needs to be in the right mentality. Drowning my stress and sorrows in pizza was a last resort, and left me continuing to flail in a black hole of gloomy isolation. The experience left a little black mark on my public aloneness progress report. It could have been good if this or that had gone differently. Instead, I gave up on my experiment for another year, until I took myself out once again to conquer a very specific fear. 

Check back Friday for part three, because believe it or not, I went to a stand-up comedy show alone.