Atwells Vs. Atwells

Restaurant Row is home to more nightlife than ever. How is it changing the character of the neighborhood?

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If you picked up a copy of the Providence Journal on the first weekend of September, you might have thought Federal Hill was on par with the Jewelry District in terms of its nightlife scene and the problems that come with it. The front page carried a story detailing the behind-the-scenes battle taking place between the old guard traditionalists on the Hill and the folks behind the sudden surge of “ultra lounge” style nightspots that cater to a completely different crowd than the neighborhood is used to – namely, 20-somethings in search of a party.

The clash between the two sides is real, and it’s not going away. Both sides are jockeying for position within the city to win over the support of Mayor Angel Taveras, who is attempting to navigate the waters of a neighborhood he barely needed to win the election last year. The mayor has stated that he would like to preserve the ambience of Federal Hill, which some have taken to mean that his administration would take steps to implement restrictions on some of the nightclubs that critics say are causing an increase in crime in the neighborhood.

The efforts are already underway. Forbidden City Tea Room, part of the vanguard of nightlife spots on Atwells, had its liquor license revoked after a recent fight that some claimed was gang-related. In addition, the city has issued a moratorium on entertainment licenses in the neighborhood and even blocked a liquor license for a restaurant owner who was considering spending close to $1 million to set up shop
on the Hill. The actions have caused some critics to suggest the city is attempting to block businesses from opening up just to appease an old guard opposed to catering to the younger club crowd.

Those decisions have been met with praise from outspoken members of the community like Bob D’Uva, who heads up the Federal Hill Commerce Association and publishes the Federal Hill Gazette. D’Uva believes that while the demographics of the
neighborhood may be changing, it should still be viewed as a classy, upscale Italian district. He understands that very few of the people living in the neighborhood are actually Italian anymore, but thinks it’s important to maintain the image.

“We provide the Italian heritage and the world class dining, that’s the image of Federal Hill,” D’Uva says. “That’s what it’s supposed to be. Atwells is an Italian street and we want it to stay that way. Our mission is to preserve the ambience.”

Those critical of the old guard point to this attitude as a classic example of protecting what you know and shunning change. But D’Uva says he’s okay with not being popular with the younger crowd because he believes he’s representing the best interests of the neighborhood.

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