Zephrus and Saltwater restaurants uncorked the first legal sales of beer and wine in Vineyard Haven last week, ending Tisbury’s 180-year history as a dry town.
Voters put change in motion at Tisbury’s town elections on April 27 by approving a ballot question 881-747, authorizing the selectmen to grant licenses to restaurants for the sale of beer and wine.
On July 6, the Tisbury selectmen signed licenses approved by the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission for the Black Dog Tavern, Blue Canoe Restaurant, Rocco’s Family Style Italian Restaurant, Saltwater Restaurant, and Zephrus Restaurant. This week, the selectmen also signed off on licenses for the Black Dog Café, Nicky’s Italian Café, and Waterside Market.
After hearing rumors that they might not get their licenses until August, the short wait time was welcome news for the restaurant owners, who only have a brief summer season to start recouping the costs of license fees, inventory, staff training, renovations, and equipment.
Although Zephrus owners Susan and Sherman Goldstein and Saltwater owner Sam Dunn were hoping to start serving beer and wine the day after the selectmen signed their licenses, it took some scrambling to pull it off.
Restaurants must purchase alcoholic beverages through a distributor and place orders a day ahead.
Although the licenses for Zephrus and Saltwater would be completed and ready for pickup at town hall on the morning of July 7, distributors would not take any orders until they received a faxed copy of the licenses. That would delay deliveries until July 8.
And in the meantime, once a restaurant has a license in possession, its patrons are no longer allowed to bring and consume their own alcoholic beverages.
“We were jumping through some hoops,” Mr. Dunn said. “We had the distributor here at 10 am Wednesday, I brought him the license, he faxed it to his office, and then he put in the order. His wife picked it up at the distributorship, brought it to the ferry and put it on a pallet, and he picked it up at the ferry and brought it to us.”
Ms. Goldstein said one distributor was willing to load up a van with the Zephrus order, drive it to Woods Hole, and to get onto the ferry on standby.
“And we were lucky, because he was able to get here but couldn’t get off the Island that night, so having an inn really helped because we were able to provide him with a room,” she added with a laugh.
On July 7, at 5:39 pm, Abby Fligor, formerly of Martha’s Vineyard and now living in San Francisco, made Tisbury history as the first person to order a glass of wine off the menu at Zephrus, located in the Mansion House Inn. Saltwater began serving beer and wine with dinner at 6:30 pm.
For most patrons, it was a non-event, Ms. Goldstein pointed out. “Keeping in mind that the people who love the Vineyard and come here frequently have followed this, it was already old news,” she said. “For the people who are experiencing the magic of Martha’s Vineyard for the first time, they expect to be able to get a glass of wine with a meal, so there’s no surprise at all.”
No one challenged the town’s rule about ordering wine or beer only with a meal, which is explained on the menu, Ms. Goldstein said. And with the average tabs running a little higher, hard-working servers are noticing a welcome increase in tips, she added.
Mr. Goldstein put together a wine list, which includes many regional beers, with the help of their son Josh. The main seller was a glass of white wine.
Mr. Dunn’s experience also proved positive. “It’s been great,” he said in a phone call Tuesday. “There have been no problems; there has been no resistance to any of the rules. People kind of roll their eyes a little bit when you tell them they have to order something before they can actually get a glass of wine, when they’re obviously going to eat, but they haven’t protested too much.”
One customer who wanted a glass of wine and no meal did leave, and a few customers had to be told to take their own alcoholic beverages back to their cars. Other than that, the transition went smoothly, Mr. Dunn said.
He found it interesting that Saltwater, located at the Tisbury Marketplace, sold about three bottles of wine for every beer sold.
The Black Dog Tavern began serving beer and wine with dinner at 5 pm last Thursday.
“We have very happy customers,” Rob Douglas, the Black Dog Tavern’s CEO, said in a phone call yesterday. “The servers who work in the tavern also are very happy and very excited that their tips have increased. And the shareholders are happy. So far, so good.”
Although he had figured beer would be the big seller, Mr. Douglas said he found it switches depending on the meal. “We’ve seen the wine outsell the beer at dinner, and the beer outsell the wine at lunch,” he explained.
The Blue Canoe on Beach Road started serving beer and wine with dinner at 5:30 pm last Friday, the day after co-owner Stephen Bowen picked up the restaurant’s license.
“It was a nightmare; everything was last minute,” Mr. Bowen said. “We didn’t get our beer delivery until 5 o’clock.”
“It was worth it, though,” he added. “It was fantastic that the licenses got here earlier than expected. We had really nice sales on Friday night from the beer and wine, especially the wine, which probably outpaced the beers sold at about ten to one.”
Mr. Bowen and his wife Susan also own the Waterside Market on Main Street, which will begin a new dinner service tonight, with beer and wine available. The restaurant will close at 4 pm and reopen at 5:30 pm for dinner with wait-service on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights year-round, Mr. Bowen said. Food also may be ordered for takeout.
In addition to special training for staff and managers, several restaurant owners said adding beer and wine service involved changes at their facilities.
Ms. Goldstein said a significant amount of retrofitting was done at Zephrus in order to properly cool and warehouse the beer and wine inventory. Mr. Dunn created a service bar and storage area in the back of Saltwater. The Black Dog Tavern’s manager’s office was moved upstairs and the space turned into a beverage room to accommodate new equipment for beer and wine operations, Mr. Douglas said.
At Rocco’s Family Style Italian Restaurant at the Tisbury Marketplace, co-owners Peter Sullo and Christopher Pantalone sacrified their gelato ice cream machine to gain space for a new cooler for draft beer. Mr. Sullo said they plan to start serving beer and wine tomorrow.
With Tisbury off the dry list, only 9 of 351 Massachusetts towns remain, including Alford, Chilmark, Dunstable, Gosnold, Hawley, Montgomery, Mt. Washington, Westhampton, and West Tisbury.