Raising the bar at Beetlebung in Oak Bluffs

Mixologist C.J. Cohen makes a specialty drink created by Beetlebung staff this past winter. – Photo by Michael Cummo

Beetlebung is well known for its gourmet coffee beverages, featuring Barrington espresso carefully crafted with top-of-the-line La Marzocco equipment from Italy. What’s less known is its impressive list of wine, spirits, and cocktails with fresh local ingredients that yield some of the highest-quality beverages on the Island, at a surprisingly reasonable price.

Beetlebung owners John and Renee Molinari know their beverages. The duo have owned the Menemsha location for years, as well as the recently closed Vineyard Haven location, and just last year introduced Beetlebung to Circuit Avenue as a coffeehouse by day and a “speakeasy” by night.

This year they’re upping their game by opening the bar and making the lunch and dinner menu available starting at 11:30 am, versus 6 pm last year. “That’s a huge leap for us. And we’ve changed the menu by maintaining the best-selling things. Our drunken noodles were a grand-slam home run,” said Mr. Molinari during a recent visit with The Times.

The down-Island location welcomes a new executive chef this season with Danny Finger at the helm. Mr. Finger most recently served as the executive chef at Lucky Hank’s, and spent time at Chesca’s and the Harbor View before that. Fresh from a winter working in Sarasota, Mr. Finger returns to the Island to take over the Beetlebung kitchen.

“We learned that stuff we have a proven track record with [at other locations] really didn’t fly that well here. There’s a lot of noise in the signal in this town, and here we are being told other things we’re doing are amazing. Let’s double down on that, and let’s make lunch a subset of dinner, and let’s get the bar open at 11,” said Mr. Molinari.

This year’s food menu will feature a lot more green salads and local seafood. There’ll be some more kid-friendly options, including their popular flatbreads and truffle cheeseburger sliders. The menu boasts predominantly locally sourced ingredients, including poached Vineyard lobster ceviche, Morning Glory bok choy prepared in a wok, local black sea bass tacos, and more.

Where the restaurant is really focusing its energy this year is on the beverages. The Molinaris   had a busy off-season doing their homework and applying lessons from last year. To refine and optimize their list of 30-plus varieties of wine, the couple has been conducting blind taste tests with locals. “There’s no wine on our list that hasn’t been tested,” said Mr. Molinari during a recent visit with The Times: “It’s a version of what we’ve been doing all along … At night people want alcohol, and we didn’t want to just open up bottles of beer and mix gin and tonics. We wanted to take the type of sophistication that we were applying to our daytime business and build an entire evening business around that. No one is doing that on the Island.”

The cocktail menu is made up of eight signature cocktails that feature locally grown ingredients (some even harvested just feet away, in their backyard garden), housemade syrups, and house-infused spirits. They are even replacing several of the more popular brands, like Absolut vodka, with higher-quality options, like Hanson vodka, an organic, hand-crafted, gluten-free version made from grapes from Sonoma County that has garnered a lot of national attention for its high quality and smooth finish.

They’re especially excited about their new featured rum, Privateer, from a small-batch distillery in Ipswich. The rum will be used in their Raspberry Mojito Crush, along with fresh garden mint and fresh raspberries, and the Inkwell Bay cocktail,      along with St. Germain and housemade ginger syrup.

The owners are excited to get people comfortable with their new homemade cocktail recipes, and to introduce them to higher quality ingredients. A standout from last year’s drink list was the Trade Secret, their version of a margarita, with fresh lime, agave, and their signature trade-secret lime foam. “They’ve had a margarita, but they haven’t had Trade Secret, they haven’t had our margarita. And they certainly haven’t had something that is so physically beautiful.” Over the past few years, the couple has spent a great deal of time tracking trends across the restaurant industry, and taking notes at successful Boston bars, including Eastern Standard and Island Creek Oyster bar.

Last year they saw a lot of business from other service-industry professionals as well as visitors who were looking for more sophisticated cocktails. This year they have their eyes set on anyone looking for high-quality food and drink at an affordable price (cocktails average $14; wine is available by the glass from $7 to $12, and lunch and dinner menu items start at $5).

“I think when people come to Martha’s Vineyard, they come with an open mind … The Island has an exoticism, because it is an Island and you have to cross the water, and people are in a mode of discovery. They want to find out about new things, and they want to hear from the locals, and that gives us a special opportunity and a bit of a responsibility to really have our message clear.”

Beetlebung is located at 53 Circuit Avenue, Oak Bluffs. Beginning May 18, the restaurant will be open seven days a week from 7 am to 1 am.