History isn’t the only thing seeping from the walls at the Newes from America Pub in Edgartown.
“Feel that breeze?” restaurant manager Robyn Joubert said in a recent conversation with The Times. “That’s because this building is 275 years old, and the wind comes in through those little cracks.”
But the year-round restaurant is far from drafty. In fact, it’s probably one of the coziest spots on-Island. The walls are painted dark, the wooden floors are almost black. The interior brick and stone walls and overhead pipes give the place its feeling of total timelessness — like you could be dining in the 1800s. It’s dimly lit, and the soft jazzy soundtrack accompanies the mood like sound therapy. A large indoor fireplace is a centerpiece for winter regulars.
The Newes from America Pub is part of Kelley House, which is the oldest hotel on Martha’s Vineyard. The Newes opened in 1992, although Kelley House has occupied that space since it was first established in 1742.
Ms. Joubert was part of the restaurant’s grand opening. “There was this really ugly green carpet in here for the longest time. A group of us were here having beers as the maintenance crew was ripping up the carpet. We found these great wooden floors underneath, and thought, ‘This would be a great place for a pub.’”
After ripping out the carpets, they decided to take down a few walls, and the Newes was up and running in about six months. According to Ms. Joubert, things haven’t really changed. “When the place first opened, we were joking around about how people would pay us in wooden nickels,” she said. “Eventually, we turned it into a promotion. For one small beer, you get one wooden nickel, and for one tall beer, you get two.”
When you get 500 wooden nickels, your name goes up on the Declaration of Distinction board, and with 1,000 nickels, your names goes on the Declaration of Superiority Board. There are two large boards that look like giant framed Declarations of Independence, listing the names of these wooden nickel extraordinaires.
“People get really into it,” Ms. Joubert said.
History is embedded in everything, and the colorful custom-painted downtown Edgartown murals are striking against the dark simplicity of the dining room.
“Thomas Street made this one,” Ms. Joubert said, gesturing to one in the upper dining area. “He and his wife were an eclectic couple. They were the people who owned the Daggett House, and they used to come here every day since it opened.”
It’s hard not to inquire about lingering spirits when you’re dining in a building that’s been around since the early 18th century.
“We call her Helen,” Ms. Joubert said. “She’s not harmful. She likes music, and blares the TV in the middle of the night. We actually got a picture of her a couple of years ago.”
Ms. Joubert reflected on a Christmas party five years ago when the staff was decorating a tree, and one particular ornament kept falling off. “‘Helen doesn’t like that one,’ one of our staff said, and all of a sudden, we saw this blue light go by, crossing right in front of the fireplace.”
Ms. Joubert said people keep coming back to the Newes because it’s cozy, and everybody knows everybody. Their staff is made up of the same year-round crowd that’s been there for years.
“Our bartender Doug has been here since we opened,” Ms. Joubert said. “Our staff is consistent. Our regulars come in on days they know their favorite server is working.”
Ms. Joubert described the menu as comfort food that changes with the seasons. “Everything on the menu is made from scratch and cooked to order,” Ms. Joubert said. “We don’t make frozen products, and anything on our menu can be made vegetarian or gluten-free.”
Now that it’s winter, the Newes is kicking off the season with daily specials: Meatloaf Mondays, shrimp and grits Tuesdays, chicken pot pie Wednesdays, beef and bean burrito Thursdays, and fishermen stew Fridays.
“We’re never slow,” Ms. Joubert said. “We’re still doing 200 covers per day. But in the summer we do anywhere from 500 to 800.”
The French Onion Soup ($10) and the Roquefort Stilettos ($12) are among the popular dishes at the Newes, according to Ms. Joubert. The oldest and most famous dish is Fish and Chips ($17). “We used to wrap it in newspaper as part of the presentation,” she said. “The Board of Health eventually put a stop to that, but it went along with the restaurant’s old feel.”
According to Ms. Joubert, The Newes’ original owners were Englishmen, and the building’s interior beams reminded them of old English pubs. Newspaper spindles used to hang on the walls, and people would sit around and read them all day. The owners wanted to keep the spelling of “newes” in its traditional English format, and thus became the Newes from America.
The Newes hosts community events and live music on Fridays throughout the off-season. In March, they have a big St. Patrick’s Day parade that marches around the block and back, and Dock Dance Band performs. “We’re always so surprised with how many people show up,” Ms. Joubert said. “This will be our seventh year doing it.”
Being at the Newes solves all winter problems because it’s like being warm and cozy under a blanket while still being out. “You have to learn how to light a fire if you work here, it’s part of the training,” Ms. Joubert laughed.
Elizabeth Rothwell is Kelley House’s director of marketing and special events. She said Ms. Joubert is the reason why everything at the Newes works so seamlessly.
“Robyn is the mom for everybody here,” Ms. Rothwell said. “She takes care of her staff and brings everyone together. She’s responsible for this family unit down here.”
The Newes from America is open seven days a week from 11:30 am to 10 pm. For more information, visit kelley-house.com.