Ritz to be sold to Conn. developer
The Ritz, a colorful Island establishment on Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs, is under agreement to be sold to a local businessman.
The buyer is John Reveruzzi, who is also involved in ownership of David Ryan's, an upscale Edgartown bar and restaurant, as well as the Sugar Shack, a new establishment on the Oak Bluffs harborfront. Mr. Reveruzzi is a real estate developer involved with a number of large projects in Connecticut.
"We have a contract," said Mr. Reveruzzi yesterday. "We're working through the process. It will be quite a while."
A public hearing before the Oak Bluffs selectmen on an application to transfer the liquor license is scheduled for Jan. 22.
Mr. Reveruzzi said that his plans for the Ritz are not finalized, but he does not expect major changes. Preliminary plans include re-opening the kitchen, and expanding the food menu.
The decision to sell was difficult for Janet King, who along with her sister Christine Arenburg, with help from their brother Steve Pachico, managed the Ritz for the past 28 years. Before that, it was the domain of Arthur "Lanky" Pachico, and their mother Shirley, who purchased the establishment in 1967.
Taking care of family is taking more and more time, so Janet and Christine have decided it's time to move on.
"I'm heartbroken, I don't think I'm going to survive this," said Ms. King. "I've had a lot of fun, I've grown up in this place."
The Ritz hasn't changed much since a remodeling in 1987, but the times certainly have. The days of keeping the night's receipts in a cigar box, and accounts receivable (better known as bar tabs) on the back of a cigarette carton are long gone. Ms. King says anti-smoking laws, changing social customs, and aggressive enforcement of drunk driving laws have cut down on the crowds.
But the Ritz remains a haven for many who would rather have a Miller Lite than a watermelon martini. Far from being a trendy "in" spot, as its name implies, the Ritz has always had a rough-and-tumble reputation.
"When they had the fish dock in Vineyard Haven. That's when it was like the wild west in here," recalls one regular.
While both the fish dock, and the wild west days are history, the Ritz has endured as a place where, like that famous TV establishment, "everybody knows your name."
"I've always tried to make people feel comfortable, no matter what kind of person they are," said Ms. King. "I was worried about somebody coming in here and shutting down the bar and making it something else. I'm happy that's not going to happen."
A million stories
Ms. King thinks of the 1990s as the heyday of the Ritz. In those days, she would order 100 cases of Budweiser beer during summer weeks. Now she orders 25.
"When the Ritz was slamming in the summer time, there was a line at the door, there was a hundred people here, that was probably the best times of all."
The bar has been around so long that nearly everyone has a story about it. Many of them will remain untold, especially to a newspaper reporter, but even the ones that can be told are pretty good.
There was the artist and the local guy who became fast friends over afternoon beers. At the end of the evening they would station themselves at opposite ends of the room, run toward each other and bang heads. "That kind of thing would not be tolerated now, because I'd be liable if one of them cracked their head open," said Ms. King.
Then there was the regular who got locked in one night when the bartender closed up and forgot the patron's habit of climbing up on the piano and falling asleep.
Another patron was famous for falling asleep sitting in a chair beside the jukebox. When someone put a quarter in, he would wake with a snap and start singing along.
"The thing I most remember is it's always been here," said one regular, nursing a beer on New Year's Day. "The first time I came in here was 1967. I came off the boat, and walked down here, and came in here, and asked anybody if they knew where my brother lived, and five people knew where he lived. If you're looking for someone, you can eventually find them here."
News about the Ritz changing hands got around fast. Mike Hochman heard it at his home in Caldwell, New Jersey. For the past 34 years, Mr. Hochman has spent a few summer weeks on the Vineyard, and when he's here, he's one of the regulars.
"The Ritz is a big part of how I have so many friends there," said Mr. Hochman by phone. "We don't want to turn it into a tee-shirt shop. There would be a lot of lost souls."
Among Mr. Hochman's favorite memories is a Sunday afternoon many years back, when blue laws restricting dancing and music were still on the books.
"We'd play the jukebox," said Mr. Hochman. "We were just having fun on a regular Sunday afternoon. Sometimes you'd play it loud and be dancing. I went out the door dancing with a girl."
At that moment, a local police officer happened by, grabbed the exuberant couple, and sent them back in the Ritz's front door. "It's the only time I was ever thrown into a bar," Mr. Hochman said.
Music is a large part of the atmosphere. Popular local musician Johnny Hoy has been a fixture there for the better part of two decades.
Others have stepped from their early days at the Ritz into a national spotlight. Recording artist Susan Tedeschi can be heard on radio stations and in concert venues around the nation these days, but she was once a regular at the Ritz.
While the agreement to sell the Ritz is not final, Ms. King is already planning a party to go out in style.
"People are telling me they want to be here. I'm thinking it's going to be a pretty big deal. I can only hold 99 people. I may have to do a two-day thing."
No doubt, when the regulars get together for her last call, they will tease her about one of the most interesting stories in the long and lively history of the Ritz.
The family sponsors a music scholarship each year, awarding $1,000 to a Martha's Vineyard Regional High School student who wants to continue their education in a musical field.
One year, Ms. King thought of a novel way to fund the scholarship. She decreed that anyone thrown out of the bar for fighting had to pay $100 to the scholarship fund in order to gain readmittance.
It wasn't working particularly well, but the whole funding scheme was called off one morning when someone involved in a tussle the night before refused to pay the fine.
"That was the big joke the next day," said Ms. King. "They wanted me to pay, but I didn't."