The Dunkin' Donuts Center is an arena built in the 70s, but feels much newer than that. Thanks to a recent $80 Million renovation from the Rhode Island Convention Center (who bought the building), the place has been refurbished from the inside and out. This has set the stage for a terrific arena to come and watch AHL hockey. Plus, the facility is located in a downtown section of Providence that has undergone a renaissance and turned into a decent area with plenty of good restaurants around.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
There are a ton of options for food and drink at the arena. The two items that you would figure to be featured prominently on the menu are donuts and coffee. Yes, the affiliation with Dunkin' Donuts has led to a few of those stands and it's up to you whether you want to pay $4 for a medium coffee that is half the price just a few blocks away. The rest of the food items available are varied and pretty good. Calzones ($6.50), Meatball Subs ($6), Chicken Caesar Salad Wraps ($7) and Fish & Chips ($8) are just some of the offerings. Fenway Franks, popular hot dogs from nearby Boston's Fenway Park, are also served here. The one area delicacy I saw were "Doughboys", which essentially is fried dough.
I am always happy to see local flavor at stadiums and it was nice to see a few Rhode Island microbrews on hand. Newport Storm and Narragansett, both brewed in the Ocean State, were among the many varied beers available. Most 16oz beers were typically expensive ($6-$8) and other options included Blue Moon, Guinness, Harpoon and Sam Adams.
Inside the Dunkin' Donuts Center is a standard, two-level arena that rounds the rink with nearly an equal distribution of seats between the 100s and 200s. It feels bigger than the near 12,000 seat capacity, but all of the seats have a good view of the ice, as only the upper corners seem far away.
All of the new black seats are comfortable and come with cup holders. The renovations brought suites to the upper-sides of the arena, along with a restaurant (the Providence Players Club) at the upper end. Because these were fit in after the arena was built, they are neatly tucked away allowing for the "true" fans to have the seats closest to the ice. The only awkward thing about the Dunk is that it looks like there could be a walkway between the first and second level seating, however, some oddly positioned seating rows are placed at the top of the lower sections.
A packed house made for a lively and enjoyable atmosphere. However, the only time it really got loud was after a goal, during a fight or when the scoreboard told fans to make some noise. There wasn't any real spontaneous energy.
During the game, there were a ridiculous amount of people who got up during play and walked down the aisles and stairs, which is incredibly annoying and frustrating when you're trying to watch a fast-paced sport like hockey. It would have been nice if ushers put a stop to this. Regardless, despite the minor-league atmosphere full of kids and families, it's always good to watch a game where fans show up and pack the place.
The Dunk is in a terrific location as it sits on the Northern edge of a remodeled downtown area. Adjacent and attached to the arena is the Convention Center and the Westin Hotel. Just a bit further beyond that (and within walking distance) are plenty of places to eat including the upscale Capital Grille and the Union Station Brewery, which is likely better suited for the sports crowd. Also in the vicinity is Providence Place, a massive indoor shopping center, where most of the food options are typical chains, though there is a cool restaurant attached called Fire & Ice. Aside from the restaurants, the State Capitol and Waterplace Park are worth a brief visit or stroll by.
Trinity Brewhouse is an option right across the street from the arena and it serves a lot of different beers. Otherwise, for a more formal pre or post game meal, try Federal Hill. Located on the other side of I-95 and just a half mile away from the Dunkin' Donuts Center, the Federal Hill section is Providence's Little Italy and it's one of the best in the Northeast. You are sure to leave stuffed if you go to one of the many great Italian Restaurants in this area and a couple of the highly recommended ones include Camille's and Blue Grotto.
The region supports the P-Bruins very well and the game I attended had an announced attendance over 10,000. The fact that the majority of fans are likely big Boston Bruins fans, has a lot to do with the continued success that Providence sees. Much of the crowd was wearing something black and yellow with a nearly even split on whether the logo had a "P" or "B" in the middle. Attendance figures are always in the league's top ten and this has been one of the AHL's most stable and successful franchises.
Despite the great numbers Providence brings in, I was a little disappointed in the fans during the game. There was very little noise during those big plays that weren't goals (for example, a successful penalty kill generated only a few claps). This was likely due to the fact that the majority of the crowd were families with kids, though it was surprising to see little in the way of diehards.
I-95 is the easiest way to get to the arena as it is just a few minutes from the Interstate. However, beware of evening rush hour traffic if you are arriving for a weekday 7 PM start, as it can get congested. Exit 22A, from both sides of I-95, brings fans to Memorial Blvd and then a couple turns to Sabin St., which is the location of the arena. Everything is well signed coming off of I-95 and the easiest parking available is on the street that splits off to the North (Exchange St.), into the Convention Center's two huge garages. Despite the ease and convenience of parking, $10 is way too much for an AHL game and there are also several other parking areas around the area that charge the same.
The remodeling of the concession area also included bathrooms, and they are plentiful and adequate.
The most glaring hit on the wallet when going to a Providence Bruins game is the parking. The downtown location allows for the nearby garages to charge $10, which seems pretty high for the minor leagues. Tickets from the team website are $18, $24 and $28, with a $2 fee included. Concessions were not a bargain, but moderately priced. Though Bruins games aren't necessarily cheap, they are worth it as the Dunkin' Donuts Center offers one of the better experiences in the AHL.
Next year will mark the 20th season that the cities of Providence and Boston have been paired together and the partnership is going to last until at least 2015-2016. It's one of the better affiliate relationships in professional hockey and benefits Providence greatly.
Another point for Providence recognizing their history. The Reds were the city's AHL team for nearly fifty years, until moving to Binghamton in 1977. At the Dunkin' Donuts Center, the banners hanging from the roof include one for the Reds with all of their championships listed. Also, the giveaway for the game I attended featured a Providence Reds t-shirt.
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