Last call at The Ritz last weekend was a bittersweet harmonic of Island memories, fellowship and the final touching of a central force of Island life for four decades.
In anticipation of an expected sale later this month by Janet King to restaurateur David Ryan, the most local of Vineyard watering holes hosted a last-call weekend that drew several hundred communicants from four states to say their sayonaras.
Ms. King was overwhelmed by the swan song which, in typical Island style, began on Saturday and extended into Sunday.
By Sunday evening, Ms. King had sold out of “Last Call” T-shirts printed for the occasion. She has reordered to meet demand from regulars and pilgrims from Connecticut, New Jersey and New Hampshire.
Oak Bluffs resident Eric Rodegast and Bob Lee are Islanders who have used the Ritz as a gathering place for four decades. They have retained the details, events and the nuances of its history.
On this night, they stood at the end of the bar, in the corner by the front door, quietly watching as eighty to ninety Ritzophiles talked, hugged, grazed finger food and looked at a slide show of Ritz patrons from the 1970s to present.
The photos represent The Ritz as sort of Cheers with attitude.
A long-time commercial fisherman, Mr. Rodegast remembers the Ritz as a home away from the sea where he and his fellow watermen relaxed and related.
“My best memories are from the late 1960s and 1970s,” he said. “It was the local saloon and at that time the only year-round bar in Oak Bluffs.
“But times change. I mean, we’ve all changed,” he said, recounting the story of his wife Lindsay told earlier in the day of recognizing two of three women in a not-so-recent photo in the slide show. She looked again at the third woman.
“Then she realized, ‘Oh my God, that’s me,’” he said with a chuckle.
“We all grew up in this place,” said house painter and musician Bob Lee of West Tisbury. “There is a permanence here, a welcoming. We extended our adolescence here.”
As the two men talked, the stories came to life. They spoke of Arthur (Lanky) Pachico, Janet’s dad and former owner before Janet and her sister Chrissy Arenberg began managing the bar.
“Hey Eric, do you remember Lanky coming in on Friday afternoon with a huge tray of stuffed quahogs, sometimes still hot?” Mr. Lee said. “What’d he charge . . . a buck apiece?”
“Yeah, something like that,” Mr. Rodegast responded. “Someone was always coming in with trays and platters. I remember when guys would bring in scallops and we’d eat ’em raw. The place would smell for a couple of days.”
“In fact,” Mr. Lee said, “timing was very important. You could combine lunch and dinner. Get a small Guinness and two of those pickled eggs in late afternoon for a buck, then wait for the stuffed quahogs a little while later.”
“Remember that time here is divided into two eras, like B.C. and A.D.,” advised Mr. Rodegast, “B.C. was when the bar was upstairs — topside — and A.D. was when it moved down here,” he said.
Mr. Lee and Mr. Rodegast consulted briefly, then decided on the mid-1990s as the beginning of the A.D. era.
Mr. Lee is also the program director for new community radio station WVVY and his mind gravitated to B.C. music, describing some musicmakers in the early days that gave the term house band a new authenticity.
“George Baer on piano, a guy named Norman played percussion on a trash can lid, Mary Francis contributed vocals and someone, anyone, really, played the one-string washtub bass fiddles that George would make,” Mr. Lee recounted.
Their Ritz was a place of closeness, where hardworking blue-collar people entertained each other with homemade music and ring toss games using quahogs rings.
“Then Pong showed up,” Mr. Lee said with a laugh.
After Pong came the moving of the bar downstairs, ushering the A.D. era of live music and a different generation of fun-seekers still responding to the homespun but gritty legacy. The line to enter the Ritz was the longest on the block every night of the week.
Some of that generation was there. Johnny Hoy and Maynard Silva, musicians who spanned both eras, played Sunday night. The Ritz rocked.
But mostly, the crowd Sunday night were taking their time, savoring and remembering their Ritz.