The Portuguese-American Club on Vineyard Avenue in Oak Bluffs is a benevolent society dedicated to helping Islanders. It’s also a private club, and a venue for many social events and fundraisers.
“Six old Portuguese men started this in the 1930s,” says Tricia Bergeron. Her grandfather was one of the founders, and she has been on the club’s board of directors since 1975. “We’ve been referred to as the soul of Oak Bluffs, because we do a lot of good things for people,” Bergeron says.
Every year, the P.A. Club hosts fundraisers for Islanders in need, gives away about $30,000 in college scholarships to graduating seniors from the high school, and much more. It’s also a place to go out at night to enjoy live music, play pool, or just sit around the bar with friends.
The P.A. Club’s official name is the Holy Ghost Society. It continues an Azorean tradition inspired by Queen Santa Isabel, queen of Portugal from 1282 to 1325. The legend holds that she defied the orders of her husband, King Diniz, by going out to feed the poor. She hid gifts of bread in the folds of her dress, and when the king confronted her, the bread miraculously turned into beautiful roses. Besides feeding the poor, Isabel let peasants and children wear her crown, which became an important symbol in the Holy Ghost feasts celebrated at Portuguese-American clubs. The Vineyard Holy Ghost Society’s crowns are on display in the new hall of the P.A. Club. The crown plays a central role in the annual parade and Feast of the Holy Ghost in July, when the club distributes free soup to carry on the tradition of feeding the community.
When the original bar at the P.A. Club was built in the 1930s, the neighborhood around Vineyard Avenue was home to a large part of the Island’s Portuguese-American community, families who had their roots in Madeira, the Azores, Cape Verde, and even a few from mainland Portugal. The club’s members were all male, Portuguese, and Catholic. “Now you can be whatever,” Bergeron says. The club has about a thousand members on the books, and its membership is now open to the entire Island community. The club is busy year-round, with a big New Year’s Eve party and the Chili Festival in the winter, a scholarship auction and golf tournament in the spring, fish fries throughout the summer and in the off-season, and the feast in July.
The new hall, which opened about 15 years ago, is a big, bright space with a bar and plenty of space for bands and dancing. In between the two bars is the soup hall, originally an open-sided shed that was closed in the 1990s. When one of the bars is being used for a function, the other one is open for members and their guests. Members and others can volunteer to help the Holy Ghost Association by working in the kitchen at funerals, helping to organize events, and more. Rent from functions, membership dues, and revenues from some events go toward covering the society’s costs. While much of the work is done by volunteers, the bar managers and bartenders are paid, and covering these and other costs is necessary to keep the lights on.
Joining is straightforward, especially at the open enrollment held this Friday, Nov. 22, from 6 to 8 pm.
“You don’t need a sponsor, just bring a check,” Bergeron says. Membership dues are $75 per calendar year, plus a $30 onetime processing fee. Hors d’oeuvres will be served at the open enrollment, and the band BlueSwitch will play later in the evening. It’s much more than a place to play a game of pool or get an affordable drink, and Portuguese heritage is not required (though of course it is always welcome). Outside of the open enrollment time, people who want to join need to find two sponsors who are already members, but that can be accomplished just by coming to one of the regular monthly meetings, because Bergeron says that there are always sponsors ready to sponsor new members at the meetings. The meetings are currently held at 11 am on the third Sunday of the month, but there is talk of moving them to Tuesday evenings instead.
The P.A. Club is part bar, part community center, and an event venue, as well as an old-fashioned benevolent society.
“We encourage people to come and check us out,” Bergeron says. “Also, we’re the vessel for other people to do good things.”
The P.A. Club is a thriving part of the Oak Bluffs community and the Island; it’s a great place to become more involved with helping neighbors in need.
For more information about the P.A. Club, call 508-693-9875 or visit holyghostassociation.com.