Met Cafe, Friendship Street

“That very Rhode Island, deliberately shabby den of loud music, cheap beer and all kinds of people”

About this Property

Reason for Demolition

The Met Cafe was a local bar located on Friendship Street on the edge of Downtown and the Jewelry District. It was in the shadow of the raised interstate 195 that cut through the district on the block bounded by Richmond Street to the north and Chestnut Street to the south.

According to city directories, “Frank Keegan’s Tap” was the first bar at this location. The name “The Met” appeared for the first time in a 1962 city directory under the ownership of Louis and Mollie Strashnick. According to lore, they sold to friends Tom Fairchild and Josh Miller in 1975. Tom Bates would join their ownership plan the following year. (See In the News stories for details.)

Our property excerpt is extracted from a 1983 Providence Journal article talking about the recent “Ring Road” development in downtown Providence. The circulation patterns marked by blue or green signs were supposed to make it easier for out-of-towners to move around the city. The complete excerpt is:

Or, if the Met Cafe would be more to their taste, tell them to stay on the green ring road to Friendship Street, home of the Met, that very Rhode Island, deliberately shabby den of loud music, cheap beer and all kinds of people.1

The Met started as just a bar with a pool table but quickly grew into a small but powerful music venue. Friends of owners were the first to perform, passing a hat around for tips. Soon local acts made it a stop and touring acts came down as well.

Bands that have shown up in Providence Journal articles include (not an exhaustive list by any means):
Riley Hayford, Duke Robillard Band, Ron Dass, Three Legged Horse, Neon Valley Boys, Jim McGrath and the Reprobates, Groovemasters, Louie Camp Band, Young Neal and the Vipers, Joe Houlihan, Albert Otis, The Detours, Chicago Vinnie Earnshaw, Lynne D. Harrison, Stovall Brown, Atomic Tom McDermott, Jerry Miller, Murphy’s Law (November 1984), Stovall Brown, Bobby Watson Blues Band, Mike Lattimore, and Shorty Jackson.

20–30 years before we were ready to frequent a local watering hole, the vibe of the place described in the news stories reminds us of places like the One Up, Nick-a-Nees, the former Decatur Lounge, and the E & O Tap.

In a September 29, 1985 article, Bob Kerr penned this short eulogy:

The Met Cafe sits beneath the highway on Friendship Street, an oasis of good times amidst blacktop and weeds. It is small, sweaty and close, and for more than 15 years it has been the place where the prepster and the groveler, the professor and the biker can find common ground and listen to music that makes your teeth hurt while drinking Rolling Rock in the long-necked green bottles. Tonight, the Groove Masters are playing, and the place is packed. On Halloween, the Met will close to make way for a parking lot.2

Indeed, the bars demise was a lack of parking. Johnson & Wales owned the land and the building that the Met Cafe sat upon. The owners were only leasing. Their decision was to raze the building to expand their faculty parking lot.3

In 1992, the name The Met Cafe was revived alongside Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel in the former Peerless Department Store building with an entrance on Union Street. Josh Miller and Tom Bates were mentioned as owners.4 This was Lupo’s own return to the night life as well, having been evicted from their former location in 1988.

Current Events

The former location of The Met Cafe is still a Johnson & Wales faculty parking lot adjacent to the Emblem 125 apartment building.



  • 1926 G.M. Hopkins Map, Plate 2 — A small square in the middle of the highlighted area might be an early version of the structure located at 165 Friendship Street.
  • 1937 G.M. Hopkins Map, Plate 2 — The former square has expanded into the same shape that is depicted in the more detailed Sanborn maps. We guess to a build date between 1926 and 1937, therefore, and assume the smaller structure was replaced.
  • 1920–1951 Sanborn Insurance Map, Plate 11, Volume 1 (page 22) — A square building is split down the middle inside into spaces for numbers 165 and 167. Attached at the rear is an “L” shaped concrete block building. To the northeast is a three-story wooden “U”-shaped structure. To the northeast of that and to the south of the number 165/167 building are open surface parking lots.
  • 1920–1955 Sanborn Insurance Map, Plate 11, Volume 1 (page 12) — Same as 1951.

City Directories

In the News

A Slice of: In the belly of three good bistros

by Tony Lioce
Providence Journal | November 11, 1983 (abridged)

THE GUY IN the black leather pants and jacket pulled his Honda V-Four Interceptor motorcycle up to the corner of Chestnut and Clifford Streets in Providence, parked it on the sidewalk and walked into the bar where the executive director of Save the Bay and a congressional staff member were drinking.

They didn’t bat an eye. Neither did he.

It was just another night in the factory district underlooking scenic Route 195, where three nightspots - the aforedescribed Leo’s, the Met Cafe at 165 Friendship and the Last Call Saloon at 15 Elbow - draw crowds that could make a line at the Registry of Motor Vehicles look like a model of homogeneity.

“College kids, construction workers, you’ll find everybody in here,” said Walter Moore, a 24-year-old correctional officer from East Providence who was sitting at a table in the Last Call with a 30-year-old bank manager named Denise Johnson.

”And you know something? I’ve been coming here since the place opened and I’ve never seen even one fight.”

EACH BAR has its own distinctive flavor. The Met is the smallest and funkiest of the three; among the items taped and stapled to its walls are a souvenir license plate from Tennessee that says ELVIS, a “Boston Red Sox 1975 - Eastern Division Champs” pennant, a sign that asks “Have you hugged a pig today?” and another one that states: “We do not cash checks. Does your bank serve beer?”

Not that you need a lot of money at the Met. Ask for a beer, give them a buck and you’ll get change back.

The same is true at the the Last Call, which is bigger than the Met, newer, and decorated with neon beer signs and pictures of professional athletes.

Leo’s, which was the first place to draw all walks of life to these previously abandoned-after-sundown streets, is the classiest. You won’t get change from your dollar there. On the other hand, you will get a glass with your bottle of beer. You won’t at the Met unless you ask for one.[…]

SARTORIAL PRESSURES, social pressures, even sexual pressures seem to have little place in these bars. You well may spot two new-found friends leaving together from time to time, but all these places are a far cry from the meat markets on North and South Main Street, or on Post Road in Warwick or Thames Street in Newport.

A woman at the Last Call put it this way: “nobody hits on you in here.” A man at Leo’s put it another way: “everybody in here is asexual.” But both agreed with Rebecca Dunn, a 34-year-old Pawtucket woman who works for Xtra Mart: “people come to these bars to relax, and people let them.”

At the Last Call and the Met, relaxation often takes the form of dancing to live music. On a recent Wednesday, so many came to the Met to dance to the hot R&B of a band called the Groovemasters that about 20 of them couldn’t get in - and ended up dancing in the street.[…]

THE MET and the Last Call also have great jukeboxes - which by themselves are testament to the eclectic nature of the clientele. Between the two places, you can listen to everyone from Fats Domino and Little Willy John to Ernest Tubb and Tammy Wynette to Frank Sinatra (“just give me one for my baby, and one more for the road”) and Duke Ellington to the Shangri-Las and Tommy James and the Shondells.

The Last Call even has In A Gadda Da Vida by Iron Butterfly. The Met even has Hugo Montenegro’s theme from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, not to mention Marlene Deitrich.

And at either place, if you don’t like music you can always shoot pool.[…]

LIOCE, TONY. “A SLICE OF In the belly of three good bistros.” Providence Journal (RI), ALL ed., sec. WEEKEND, 11 Nov. 1983, pp. W-01. NewsBank: America’s News, Accessed 14 Jan. 2024.

CLOSING TIME: They’re playing the last waltz at the Met Cafe

by Bob Kerr
Providence Journal | October 27, 1985 (abridged)

IT’S THE MIX that makes The Met.

The aging swashbuckler with geometrically perfect hair, the rheumy-eyed groveler, the theater patron looking to water down some cultural overload - all can dive into the dusty, sweaty social swarm of The Met Cafe and find a certain balance.

The Met is pure barroom, a survivor of the hanging fern and five-part cocktail. All by itself down below the highway on Friendship Street, with orange and green neon marking its place among weeds and blacktop, it is a place for things undiluted — the warm sting of whiskey, the ragged punch of rock ‘n roll, the chance to meet a stranger without ritual.

At The Met, the most direct light shines on the pool table.

The house vintage is Rolling Rock in the long neck green bottles.

The bandstand is the size of a breakfast table and the curtain behind it the color of slush.

Behind the bar, there is a picture of Oil Can Boyd, a string of lost keys and bartenders who move fast or starve.

On the jukebox, there is Jimmy Rodgers, Kitty Wells, Bill Doggett, Waylon Jennings.

Some scattered tiles in the tin ceiling are scrubbed clean, making small white islands in a sea of deepening grime.

A biker once brought his new motorcycle to The Met to show it off. He wheeled it in.

A trumpet player from Swansea making his first visit was fascinated by the experience of standing at the urinal in the men’s room and looking out the opened door to see a girl waving at him from the dance floor.

IT IS A SMALL, close place where the basics are well tended and the frills die. It is a place done in heavy earth tones, from nicotine brown to bourbon amber.

Bob Stewart found it when a cabdriver took him there in 1973, back before The Met got musical. He loved it then and he loved it later, for a lot of reasons. He remembers the great pinball machine, the roach races on the bar, the Met canoe race, the Met softball team and the woman who frequently came in during one hot summer and insisted on removing her clothes.

“It’s no frills, man, it’s a bar,” said Stewart, a former Providence Journal reporter now at the Los Angeles Times. “The drinks were always incredibly cheap but they always served top shelf whiskey.”

Stewart claims a piece of Met history. He took the picture that went on the Met t-shirt. It was taken out front, a setting that appears perfect for some down and dirty blues band to choose for an album cover. There were nude people in the picture. A RIPTA bus went by at the time and the passengers fairly steamed the windows with the hot breath of curiousity [sic].

Now, the shirt is a collector’s item, a relic of sorts. There will be no more T-shirts because there will be more Met. It will be mourned by many who found it to be the best of bar, a place apart from frosted glass and smooth moves.

“THERE’S NOWHERE like it,” said Dennis McCarthy, the tall lean singer-songwriter of the Groovemasters, the house band if there is a house band. “For me it’s the closest place you can get to a honky tonk. People come here expecting to hear live music and drink a thousand beers.”

The Met can’t happen in another place, said McCarthy. There’s just no way to pick up and move all the memories and all the dust.

“You could build another place but for all intents and purposes it wouldn’t be The Met.”

The lease that Tom Bates, the current owner of The Met, has with Johnson & Wales runs out this Thursday, Halloween night. It will not be renewed. Johnson & Wales wants the property for purposes college officials will not divulge. The Met’s final closing is a day to day situation.

Bates, a RISD graduate, was working as a carpenter renovating houses when Josh Miller, who bought The Met with Tom Fairchild in 1975, gave him a chance to buy into the bar business the following year. He is not fighting The Met’s end. And he knows it can’t be transplanted. He thinks times at the bar are changing and he’s ready to change with them.

“I’m getting a lot of ‘don’t let it go,’” said Bates. “But I just don’t see the sense in that.”

BATES GREW UP in upstate New York just outside of Utica, an area that for many sets the standard for the bar of clear purpose. Between Utica and Albany and Utica and Syracuse are bars that have been around for a while, offering the homegrown taste of Utica Club and Genesee Cream Ale. They are furnished in stuff that looks like somebody’s great grandmother’s front parlor furniture - old wood and faded mirrors cluttered with cards of pocket combs, jars of pickled eggs and boxes of Slim Jims. There is a shuffleboard, a pool table and a feeling that nothing much will ever change.

Bates thinks there might have been a bit of the flavor of upstate New York on Friendship Street.

“The bars that made sense to me are the ones that people can come into and be themselves,” said Bates.

The Met made sense, until now. But Bates thinks its time is over. The efforts by the hastily formed Met Cafe Preservation Society to save it are apparently too little too late despite the hundreds of names on the group’s petition on the wall.

“The days of going to a bar and getting blasted out of your tree are gone. People are more aware of drunk driving. They are getting into more interesting drinks, more juices, mineral waters.”

BATES NOW owns the Custom House, a quiet place downtown. He is also a partner in the Hot Club, a converted heating plant on the Providence River that might be as cramped as The Met but is a long way from its earthy intimacy.

“The concept is still the same,” he said. “The mix of people, a place to get together. There isn’t that much difference. But I’m not trying to transplant The Met.”

Back at The Met on a Wednesday night, the Groovemasters are playing one of their final sessions in the corner. The place is packed. There is no room for anyone else. Dozens more come in. Roving prepsters with collars flipped into formation dance up and down. A woman who appears fresh from Talbots clings to her husband who is in full Ralph Lauren on what is obviously their semi-annual night of wild abandon.

In the middle of the sweating, bouncing barroom stew, Stanley Jaksina and Freddie Watson stake out their patch of bartop and drink draft beers. The Met is their bar, when the music’s playing and when it’s not. Jaksina runs Richmond News down the street. Watson says he’s a dancer and a sax player and is now working as a chef.

“Three, four times a week I come in,” said Watson. ”I came in about five, six o‘clock, drink some beers. I walk here. There won’t be another place like this. There’ll only be one Met.”

Jaksina points to the picture of Davey Lopes hanging next to the swordfish that arches over one end of the bar.

“I hung that up there,” he said. “And did you see the Olympic picture outside? I hung that too.”

He is obviously proud of having a piece of the place. He thinks Tom Bates is the greatest saloonkeeper there is. But he doesn’t know where he’ll go now. Neither does Watson. The Hot Club isn’t their kind of place. They’ve got some time in grade at The Met. It’s their place. They go to another place and the beer just won’t taste the same.

KERR, BOB. “CLOSING TIME They’re playing the last waltz at the Met Cafe.” Providence Journal (RI), ALL ed., sec. ACCENT, 27 Oct. 1985, pp. E-01. NewsBank: America’s News, Accessed 14 Jan. 2024.

  1. STETS, DAN. “Providence’s new ring roads not yet perfect traffic circles.” Providence Journal (RI), ALL ed., sec. NEWS, 21 July 1983, pp. A-09. NewsBank: America’s News, Accessed 14 Jan. 2024. 

  2. “A Day in our lives.” Providence Journal (RI), ALL ed., sec. MAGAZINE, 29 Sept. 1985, pp. M-34. NewsBank: America’s News, Accessed 14 Jan. 2024. 

  3. “J & W to raze cafe to build parking lot.” Providence Journal (RI), CITY ed., sec. NEWS, 1 Nov. 1985, pp. C-03. NewsBank: America’s News, Accessed 14 Jan. 2024. 

  4. KERR, BOB. “City board okays new Lupo’s.” Providence Journal (RI), ALL ed., sec. LIFEBEAT/WEEKEND, 27 Nov. 1992, pp. C-02. NewsBank: America’s News, Accessed 14 Jan. 2024.