AC gives way to Game Room and greater business efficiency
No more cutting a rug at the Atlantic Connection. The entertainment hot spot on Circuit Avenue will become a game room. File photo by Ben Scott
In a major change to Martha's Vineyard's entertainment landscape, the popular Atlantic Connection nightclub on Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs, one of the few Island venues large enough to accommodate live bands and dancing, will cease to exist this winter.
The sounds of the popular local band Entrain and the beat of local DJs will be replaced by the staccato sounds of video games. After 20 years of operation, the owners of the Atlantic Connection and the adjacent Season's Eatery and Pub plan to close the doors and open an arcade.
AMR Vineyard Inc., the company that operates the club and restaurant, is owned by Robert Murphy of Oak Bluffs, a realtor, and James Ryan, owner of Ryan Family Amusements, a Cape-based amusement company.
Mr. Murphy said that while all the details have not been finalized, the nightclub could close as soon as February.
Mr. Murphy said that he and his business partner, Mr. Ryan, plan to move the Dreamland Game Room, a seasonal arcade popular with local and visiting youngsters, located on the second floor of a building on Oak Bluffs Avenue owned by Mr. Ryan, to the Atlantic Connection location.
Mr. Ryan was in Florida this week and could not be reached for comment, but Mr. Murphy said that it is likely that Mr. Ryan will sell the property on Oak Bluffs Avenue.
Mr. Murphy said that the Game Room would likely remain a seasonal operation and that the building would be used for functions in the off-season. Seasons restaurant would remain unchanged.
Mr. Murphy said the decision to close the Atlantic Connection was several years in the making. He said that closing the nightclub in favor of an arcade would better utilize the prime downtown property, and would allow he and Mr. Ryan to consolidate their interests.
"It has always bothered us that the building is so under-utilized," said Mr. Murphy. "In the disco business, it's two or three hours a night, and that's it. With the Game Room we will be able to staff it with AMR people, and we will be able to better utilize the space."
Mr. Murphy said that the nightclub also demanded a great deal of time and attention from the owners. He said the arcade would give them more free time. "We have had the AC for about 20 years now, and we have had a good run, but both of us just want more time to ourselves," said Mr. Murphy. "By consolidating our interests we can accommodate that."
Mr. Murphy said that before the changeover to an arcade, the nightclub will undergo some minor renovations. First up, he said, is a facelift on the façade of the building. He said he plans to add more windows and replace some of the brick. He said the building will also get a fresh coat of paint. Instead of the bold black-and-red color scheme that exists now, he said the building will be subtler and "more Oak Bluffs-like." Mr. Murphy said he hopes to begin work on the building before the end of the year.
Michael Santoro, manager of the Atlantic Connection for the last 13 years, said the nightclub's closing comes after several years of steady changes to the nightlife landscape in Oak Bluffs. "The nightclub scene has been drastically changing over the last three years," he said. "We have seen less of the young, college, 21- to 25-year-old population, and it has caused a drop-off."
Mr. Santoro attributed the decline in business to several factors, including the relentless increase in real estate prices on the Island. "With the real estate market rising, there has also been a significant change in the rental market," he said. "It has become unaffordable for young people to come over here and rent a place. What we are getting now are more family-oriented summer tourists."
Mr. Santoro, who also manages Seasons pub, said that he sold more children's meals this year than any previous year.
Mr. Santoro also pointed to the Steamship Authority's restrictions on standby as a contributing factor to the changing business landscape. "I think the boatline has had something to do with the changes we have seen," he said. "I think the Steamship Authority has choked off the younger people from coming here by eliminating standby. The younger people often decide at the last minute to come over here, but they can't do that anymore the way it works now. I think that is a major breakdown."
The closing of the Atlantic Connection is just one of several changes to the Oak Bluffs- nightlife landscape this year. This spring, after more than three decades under the same ownership, the Lampost was sold to new owners. In September, Balance, the restaurant and bar at end of Circuit Avenue that laid claim to the hip crowd, closed its doors after seven years of seasonal business. The only other nightclub on the Island, the Hot Tin Roof, is currently under agreement to be sold to new owners, brothers Barry and Arthur Rosenthal.
While the Island will lose one of its two nightclubs when the Atlantic Connection closes, it will also lose a business that has supported a number of community events and organizations over the years. The nightclub has been used for many functions, including the annual Chili Contest, which benefits for the Red Stocking Fund, the awards ceremony for the Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby, and other fundraisers.
Mr. Santoro said that he is confident that whether it is a nightclub or an arcade, or any other business, the owners will continue to reach out to the community. "My partners and myself, we have always wanted to give back to the community," he said. "Even with the change, people will still be able to have parties in there, it is just going to be for a different audience. It will be a great place for families to come and host birthday parties. It will be different, but it will still be a community-oriented business."
Greg Coogan, chairman of the Oak Bluffs selectmen, said he is opened-minded about a new business on Circuit Avenue. "This would bring a different type of business in, maybe with more families up in that part of town, and I have an open mind about it," he said. "It may change the landscape a little bit, but that might not be for the worse."
Yesterday, Barry Rosenthal said the Hot Tin Roof will be ready to fill the void left by the Atlantic Connection. "Assuming our deal goes through with the Hot Tin Roof, we will absolutely, with a capital 'a,' work to pick up any slack," he said. "We're not happy that the AC is closing. We like competition, but the musicians and the organizations on the Island should have no fear. We don't want them to lose their venue. Anybody who knows my background knows this is going to be largely about the community."