Alter Ego - Is Temple a restaurant first and a lounge second? Or vice versa? The jury’s still out on Providence’s hottest new nightspot.
Photography by Nat Rea
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Temple120 Francis Street, Providence, 919-5050, temple-downtown.com. Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Reservations accepted. Wheelchair accessible. Valet parking for $3 after 4 p.m. Cuisine Casual and upscale American with decidedly local, Portuguese and Italian influences. Capacity Eighty in the dining room, twenty-five in the bar, three dozen in the lounge, plus two private party rooms. Vibe A nightspot that offers one quarter socially acceptable graffiti, one quarter occult, and one half seduction. The bar is particularly roomy for night owls. Prices Appetizers $4–$12, entrees $10–$23, desserts $6. Karen’s picks Johnnycakes with rock shrimp and chorizo, roasted beet salad, grilled onion chopper, Heritage pork chop. KeyExcellent Very Good GoodFair Half-star
I never did end up in the Naughty Booth. I will say that I put forth a reasonable effort, including an all-female dining group and several gifts inappropriate to present in a public venue, but the gods were against me. For clarification: The Naughty Booth is simply a corner booth at Temple Restaurant, tucked in the rear of the dining room and cloaked with a golden scrim for privacy.
It resembles the other orange semicircles but comes with a private server, a discreet entrance and six-foot-tall mirror so that you can look at yourself (or your presumably amorous guests?) while you dine.
A financial requirement had yet to be assigned to the booth when we reserved it although—make no mistake—it was co-vertly required. “You can take it for the evening,” said the hostess, “but I have to warn you that you could be bumped if a VIP comes in.” What constitutes a VIP (other than not being me)? “Someone approved by management.” Ouch. The mayor actually did pass through while I was eating one night, but he wasn’t in the Naughty Booth either. Maybe he got bumped.
At any rate, I still ended up dining several times at Temple, located in the basement of the mammoth Masonic Temple-turned-Renaissance Hotel, which had been abandoned for almost eighty years and covered in graffiti for half that time. Once inside the restaurant, architectural aficionados need only crane their head slightly upward to see the domed State House in all its neoclassical glory. Interior design enthusiasts can stare straight ahead to soak up the black, white and orange glow of a bar-driven restaurant, complete with TVs overhead, several see-and-be-seen booths and a lounge that holds a few scantily clad wo-men and many more stiffly suited men gazing at them. (It bears mentioning that the lounge turns into a pulsing nightclub scene on Friday nights, so those who have a late meal in mind should plan on a steady diet of house music with their dinner.)
It’s a long trip down the black marble staircase that descends from the front door and, like nearly everything at Temple, is adorned with candles. Bona fide and faux luminaries line the walls, dot the tables, menace the lounge in a Halloween-like manner and even hang from the ceiling on a suspended cross.
The restaurant is marked by Masonic imagery, from the legendary square and compass to private areas called the “Rites Room” and “33rd Degree.” The mystique was, perhaps, lost on me given that my ten-year-old self watched her father run off to Masonic meetings for years until my mother told him that this game of reciting strange passages to a roomful of apron-clad men was undeniably odd.
So it goes.
General manager (and mixologist emeritus) Maggie Longo is often granted top-billing over those in the kitchen—in part because of her affinity (professionally, of course) for the bar. Longo hails from John Elkhay’s Chow Fun group, well-known for sending the Providence bar scene mainstream. Temple’s own cocktail list is formidable and, to its credit, has some interesting concoctions that stray successfully from the ubiquitous cosmo and martini. Servers push the hard liquor with zeal and I—not wishing to offend anyone’s pride and joy— sampled nearly a third of their two dozen combinations. (Settle down, teetotalers, not all in one night.) There are standouts in the bunch, including a bright and herby Scottish Rite (citrus vodka with basil, red pepper and lemongrass syrup), a distinctly sweet Milk and Honey (none of the former, plenty of the latter) and an unex- pectedly subtle Magic Flute with Sauza and maple syrup. Less exciting by my standards were the Guilded Lily, a limoncello-based drink that tasted like a stale fraternity house, and the spa-like Urban Farmer, which suggested that cucumber often does better as a facial mask than as the foundation for a drink.
I had some complaints during my first visit to Temple, though some of my grievances had more to do with seating arrangements than food. Diners out in the middle of the floor (“present!” said I, on a Thursday evening) are unwilling recipients of cacophonous conversations coming from those blissfully ensconced in intimate velvet booths. I was a happier person seated in the latter, more comfortable and far more able to hear what the person next to me was saying.