Thursday, April 17, 2014

O is for Oak Bluffs

Oak Bluffs Beach and Harbor (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Oak Bluffs is the home of both the gingerbread cottages I wrote about in my "G" post and the Flying Horses featured in my "F" post. It is also known as the party town of Martha's Vineyard.

In keeping with New England's Puritan beginnings, many of the towns on Martha's Vineyard are "dry," meaning no alcohol can be purchased in them. Diners who go to restaurants in these towns are invited to bring their own wine or beer to dinner but they will not find any alcohol on the menus. Oak Bluffs is one of the exceptions to this rule.

As a result, Circuit Avenue, the town's main street, is lined with bars. If you are looking for night life on the island, Oak Bluffs is the place to go.

But the town is not just about partying. It is also a diverse community that has been the preferred summer resort for many African-Americans for generations.

Oak Bluffs has been called the "Black Hamptons," and it has been a vacation destination for wealthy African-Americans since the 1800s. A popular beach in the town is known as the "Inkwell," reportedly named by Harlem Renaissance writers who visited the town and were inspired by its beaches. One of the Renaissance writers, Dorothy West, wrote a novel about the Oak Bluffs community called The Wedding, which was made into a movie starring Halle Berry and produced by Oprah Winfrey in the 1990s.

The African American Heritage Trail of Martha's Vineyard chronicles the history of African-Americans on the island and runs a tour dedicated to this effort. Dorothy West's home is included on the tour, along with 15 other sites of historical significance.

My A-Z of Martha's Vineyard theme is inspired by my book, The Ghosts of Aquinnah, which is set on the island. Click here for all the info on the book.


  1. You always here such great posts, Julie. Interesting.

  2. That sounds like an interesting tour to go on.

  3. Here in Australia, having to bring your own wine would be a blessing because it'd be way cheaper than buying it in the restaurant. Still not cheap, but cheaper for sure!

    Never heard of the Black Hamptons before - interesting!

  4. I like the Bring your own wine-it should be done more. I am surprised that there is so many "dry" towns. It is intriguing that a lot of African Americans went to this area-must have felt more free and equal here-which should have been everywhere

  5. @Cathy, aww, thanks!

    @Lynda, I think so too. I honestly didn't know about it until I did some digging for this post.

    @Alex, agreed.

    @Trisha, that's a good point! I never thought of it but it is a heck of a lot cheaper.

    @Birgit, yeah, I think it's something the island can be proud of - it must have been more welcoming than many places at the time.

  6. I went to visit a friend at Martha's Vinyard eons ago. She's an African American. I wonder if she stayed at Oaks Bluff. Not that she had to, but after reading your post, I wonder.

  7. That's interesting that there isn't anywhere to buy alcohol, but I wouldn't mind that. With all the bars and night-life goers I can imagine that there are probably a lot of drunk people there. lol

  8. Very interesting details, Julie!

    I'm not fond of many Puritan 'traditions'. But, I'm sure many love the 'old ways'. I don't think I'd like those attitudes.

  9. That's interesting history, I love that most places still don't sell alcohol.

  10. HI, julie!

    LOVE OAK BLUFFS... such a fun part of the Island!

  11. I don't think there's an inch of Martha's Vineyard that doesn't have heaps of history.

  12. Interesting. I like the idea of "dry" restaurants. We don't drink, and every time we order "water" the waiter looks at us like, "Oh boy, poor tips coming here." What they don't realize is that we lived in NYC and became accustomed to tipping people like their livelihood depends on it. It's not uncommon for us to leave a tip up to 50% of our bill.

    True Heroes from A to Z

  13. PARTY!!!

    That's so interesting about the dry towns. I never knew that.

  14. @Nana, oh, I didn't realize you'd been to the island before.

    @Chrys, yeah, definitely not the place to be at night if you're not drinking yourself.

    @DG, I'm not fond of them either. I'm glad I didn't live in the Puritan times!

    @Laura, it's kind of bizarre to see people bringing their own wine bottles into restaurants LOL.

    @Michael, it is!

    @Lee, I guess not, I never thought about it before though so this has been fun to do. :)

    @Crystal, oh I don't drink much and have had the same look when I order water.

    @Loni, LOL, it's the place for it. :D

  15. Night on the island? Count me in! Especially if the kids are not around with hubby and I :D
    We do promise to learn about the diverse community as well, but first let us party...pretty please? lol

  16. The diversity of Oak Bluffs was awesome. So many beaches up in the northeast are so...NOT diverse. It made me hopeful that maybe, someday, many more places will be integrated!

  17. The more of these post I read, the more I'm thinking of Martha's Vineyard for our next vacation.

  18. That's fascinating - I didn't know any of that. I'm especially surprised about "dry" restaurants. As someone who knows the Food & Beverage business pretty well, I know that liquor is way more profitable than food in any restaurant.

  19. Penny the Jack Russell dog and modest internet superstar is coming over for that tour. Should be most interesting.

    Gary :)

  20. Hi Julie - Oak Bluffs sounds a fascinating town .. and I'd love to do the tour .. but also see your Island! Martha's Vineyard is rapidly becoming a headline in my head!

    Cheers - so interesting to find out about - Hilary

  21. I had no idea about the dry towns, and this wet town is interesting.

  22. @SK, LOL, I'm in. And you definitely want to find a babysitter. :)

    @Liz, I hope so!

    @LD, oh, I'm so glad to read that.

    @Lexa, I know, I'm surprised they keep it up for that reason. I guess it works for them though.

    @Gary, I think Penny will have a blast. :D

    @Hilary, I'm so thrilled you feel that way about it, thanks!

    @Medeia, I know, I've never heard of this any place else. And when you think of it as dry and wet it seems kind of funny too LOL.

  23. Brand new information for me, all around. Seems like knowing where "the black hamptons" is would be useful.

  24. HI, Julie,

    I just popped back again after reading your article.

    I touched me... How incredible you found yourself from digging back into the past and appreciating your forefather's history...

    How lucky you are to have such long roots established in an America gone by...

  25. @Beverly, I think it's such an interesting history.

    @Michael, thank you, I'm thrilled you were touched by the article.


Thank you for your comments!