Knickerbocker Cafe, Westerly

For generations, it would have been unthinkable to utter the words “arugula,” “brioche,” or, most startling of all, “philharmonic,” in the same sentence as “The Knick.” You think Knickerbocker Cafe, you think dive bar, shots, and the blues, all of it down and dirty. But even clubs that have hosted legends such as Count Basie and Stevie Ray Vaughan cannot pay the bills on history alone. So it was that a few years back, a team came together committed to see the Knick not only survive but thrive. And thrive it has, by becoming a non-profit and partnering with the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra and Music School to become not only a live music venue but a center for music education.


A $1.5 million renovation modernized the club, preserved art-deco elements, and added a taproom and a full menu. Don’t worry, the blues still rule at the Knick, with national touring acts alongside favorites such as Johnny and the East Coast Rockers or Eight to the Bar. But the lineup has diversified and so have the options in the dark bar, where the bartenders also play deejay and spin vinyl. Now, there are signature cocktails, craft beer, salads, and sliders. Wednesday night there are free dance lessons. The Knick plays host to nearly all the shows in the forward-thinking Westerly Sound concert series, which includes soul, gypsy guitar, indie, country, and an upcoming February 17 show by Josiah Johnson of superstar group The Head and The Heart. Not long ago, Providence’s critically-acclaimed alt-rock band Deer Tick, who can fill theatres nationwide, packed the house. And if a trip to the modern Knick gets you nostalgic for a dive bar, don’t worry, you can go a few doors down Railroad Avenue to locals’ favorite, Danny’s.    


35 Railroad Ave., Westerly.      


By Dan Pearson


Photo Credit: Knickerbocker Cafe