Menemsha: Warm spots in chilly times
It's the season of chill and gusts and shorter days, book clubs and potluck dinners, and beaches stamped with soles, rather than toes. The ride up-Island is now solitary - a chance to feel the road unwinding and notice the subtleties in the layers of colors in hilly pastures, stone walls, and slices of gray blue sea.
Menemsha in November has surrendered quaint, and is once again a quiet old fishing village. The Galley, The Bite, Home Port, Menemsha Market, antique and boutique shops are closed, but as the Island readies to be shrink-wrapped, there are still havens of warmth to be found in its nooks and crannies.
In the most natural manner of expertise and experience, the staff of the Menemsha Fish Market combines friendliness with business. Set against a cold rocky vista of fishing boats and docks, Menemsha Texaco, with its snacks, coffee, conversation, and fraternity of regulars, is always in everybody-knows-your-name session.
In the Beetlebung dry goods store the racks display tee shirts with titles like "Lobster Rorschach" and "Cheap Gas," "Jellyfish," and designs by West Tisbury's Dan Waters (mermaids) and Boston tile artist Jane Goldman (serpent stars). John Molinari, who with his wife, Renee, also owns the down-Island Beetlebung stores and coffee shop, explains that they're "trying to create fashion."
It's early afternoon, and pausing in the midst of doing office work, Mr. Molinari is ready to exchange this-and-that opinions about the Island. He'll keep this shop open through Thanksgiving, he says - nothing definite, he'll see how things go.
Around the corner, the door of The Copperworks is open, and the start-stop tapping of a dowel being hammered on copper takes on dance rhythms that can be heard from the road. Owner/artist Scott McDowell (a fishing charter captain) sits in the workshop area behind a display of his copper fish and Aaron Beck's carved duck decoys, talking in seductive tones to Milly, his apprentice Brooke Olson's white German shepherd. It's a relaxed and easy atmosphere. A smiling Mr. McDowell comes over to say hello, and introduces his visitor to Ms. Olson and Milly.
Inside the studio (open 2 to 4 pm, and by appointment year round) is a surprising collection of art. The case that faces the door displays wampum jewelry, and Ms. Olson's intricately carved scrimshaw. The walls of the small, brightly lit gallery to the right of the entrance are covered with photos, paintings, copperwork - all with a nautical theme. There's an energy and warmth in this rustic studio that makes it tempting to linger, to talk to the artists and pat the dog.
But there's a low-key party going on next door at the Menemsha Café that calls. It's a snug eatery; open seven days a week (Monday through Thursday, and Sunday, 7 am to 2 pm, Friday and Saturday serving dinner until 8 pm). A calm and contained Josh Aronie and his wife, Angela, own and operate the café, and he is standing behind the counter writing up orders. "What it feels like to me is like I'm having a dinner party every night," he quietly says.
The cozy interior is an artistic and immensely inviting hodgepodge: only six tables, a salvaged church pew, mix and match chairs, a long counter under the floor-to-ceiling nine-over-five paned windows, eggplant-colored walls and gallery quality paintings by Wendy Weldon, Allen Whiting, Nathan Shepard, Bill Mclean, and Marjorie Mason - Island artists all.
There seems to be a collective expectancy that anyone coming in is going to be someone familiar. But friend or stranger - it doesn't matter. By the time they go to the counter, give their order, and take their seats to wait, they will probably be having a conversation with someone. Strangers offer a consensus of approval of each other's orders - homemade black bean soup, clam chowder, and a slow-cooked pulled pork sandwich - good choice.
Chilmarker Wendy Weldon and James Langlois sit on the pew under Mr. Shepard's large painting talking to a group at the next table. Bob Howard and Alex Mayhew, Kathy Tehran, and Will Whalen are here. Toni and Richard Cohen from West Tisbury are lunching on sandwiches and decide to return tonight for a full-course local bay scallop dinner, $16.50. Workers from up the road come in, and the town's police officers are regulars. Alison Bartlett and Mike Perry sit together at a small table against the wall, but when the word gets out that they just became engaged, they briefly become the center of attention in a burst of noisy enthusiasm.
In Menemsha, the degrees of warmth are not determined by the weather.