The Portuguese American Club in Oak Bluffs has more and more become a place to gather, hang out, shoot pool, listen to music, grab a bite to eat from Mo’s Lunch, and sit with friends at the long bar. It has a sort of “Cheers” vibe going on, with the bartenders remembering what you had to drink the last time you were in. And they usually remember your name too.
The place begins with its history, though. The annual Feast of the Holy Ghost, usually held in July, features a procession of adults and children dressed as saints, and others in traditional Azorean garb, as they march to band tunes, carrying a crown held high and the red Holy Ghost flag. The celebration is one of the major feasts in Azorean culture, and it goes back centuries. But besides the annual feast and parade, the Island’s P.A. Club hosts all kinds of events year-round, including live music every week, seasonal parties, fundraisers, memorial services, birthday and anniversary celebrations and more.
We talked with the P.A. Club’s secretary, Cheryl King, and board member (and bartender) Emily Freeman-Miller about an upcoming event, and to get a feel for what the club is all about.
What is the Holy Ghost society? Is it the same as the Portuguese American Club?
Cheryl: Essentially, yes. It goes back to the relationship of the Portuguese people to the Catholic Church. The Holy Ghost, or Holy Spirit, is a part of the Holy Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Ghost/Spirit), and the faithful personify that spirit through their good deeds. Our organization reflects that through our benevolent and charitable work. That said, you do not have to be Portuguese or Catholic to be a member and a part of the P.A. Club. We don’t discriminate — it’s more about supporting our community.
When was the club first formed?
Cheryl: We are coming up on 100 years! It was 1930 for the original club building (now occupied by the Island Food Pantry). However, the first feasts here began in the 1920s on a farm in Oak Bluffs. The Feast of the Holy Ghost is a tradition that goes back centuries in Portuguese culture and has a storied history based on the charity of Queen Isabel. (You can find more information on the history at holyghostassociation.com/history-of-the-feast/.)
What is it like today? What does the club offer?
Cheryl: We have come a long way. Many of these organizations (in the “old days”) had very strict rules: you had to be this or that — some of them not just Portuguese, but specifically Azorean or Madeiran — and most of the boards were governed strictly by men. After this election cycle, by January 2023, this club and organization will be run 100 percent by women for the first time ever — from the board members to the managers and the bartenders. We offer a welcoming space here where people can feel comfortable to relax or participate in any of our many events and community fundraisers. We pride ourselves in our benevolence and encourage our members to let us know of someone ill or in need — that is the heart and soul of who we are.
You’ve got a fundraiser coming up on Friday, Nov. 25, from 5 to 11 pm. What is that about?
Emily: Our mission is to outfit the P.A. Club with a new stage and sound system, along with some much-needed sound engineering to the room. Overall we think the cost will be about $20,000. The brunt of that goes towards the electronics: speakers, monitors, sound board, lighting, etc. A huge shout out to Phil daRosa and TPS Audio for their amazing expertise, John Stanwood for his design layout, and Rose Guerin for being the driving force and making this dream closer to reality.
On Friday, we are hosting a night of music to kick off our fundraising. Rose Guerin featuring Jemima James and Kate Taylor, will open the night and then we have Phil daRosa and the Jelly Roll Horns, Brad Tucker, DJ Ricky Prime, The Jaywalkers, and Dock Dance Band playing. (There may be more … we’re still waiting to hear back from a couple of people.)
We want to improve on the overall listening experience in the club, whether it’s hosting a benefit for someone in need, providing a space for friends and family to gather after the death of a loved one, or just a good, old-fashioned dance party. While these are things the club is able to do now, we feel that it would benefit the community if we invested in helping the acoustics of the room. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to an event at the club, but the room is tough. As beautiful as the tall wood ceilings are, they’re not doing us any favors with the noise level. We hope that by improving the entire system we can make the space much more comfortable for our members, guests, and neighbors.
What types of things does the P.A. Club do for the community?
Cheryl: We are known to be a place of endless goodwill to the Island community. This year alone we gave out $41,000 in scholarships to graduating Island seniors, and we even managed to provide scholarships when we were shut down for the pandemic. In addition to our own fundraisers, we host many more throughout the year such as Fluke for Luke, and most recently Habitat for Humanity had a fundraiser/Halloween party here. We are also a venue for countless memorial services where family and friends can celebrate the life of loved ones they have lost. The club is known for the Feast, which has been tabled since COVID began, but we have other annual events open to the community, including a Christmas party where kids get to see Santa, an Easter candy hunt, and a Family Day just held Oct. 30. On another level, we are a social club where our members can come and enjoy time with friends, celebrate birthdays and anniversaries, and so much more. It is a “neighborhood bar” and it feels like it.
Do you have to be a member to go to the club?
Cheryl: Officially, yes, it is a member’s club and members can sign in a few guests. Our bylaws indicate that after a certain number of visits, a guest needs to become a member. Most people coming to the club frequently want to become a member. We have occasions and events, like those fundraisers and memorials, as well as live music and entertainment where all are welcome to attend. Membership is very affordable — $75 each calendar year, with a one-time initial processing fee of $25, and $5 to cover the cost of your door card.
Why is it good to become a member?
Cheryl: Membership supports our organization! The upkeep and maintenance of the club, as well as all that we do in the community. We currently have a wish list of projects and maintenance that will take continued membership, donations, and a lot of fundraising to tackle. Plus, this is just a great association that anyone can be proud to be a part of.
How long has Mo’s Lunch been at the club, and what does it add?
Cheryl: Mo’s came in at the height of the pandemic with a pop-up kitchen. At this point, restaurants could be open with limitations. The food is simply amazing! Austin, Maura, and their whole crew are incredibly talented and creative — they put in a lot of time and it shows. They are a huge hit here at the P.A. Club and they have quite a following that continues to grow. Besides the regular menu, people are always looking forward to the daily specials, sinful desserts, and the winter theme nights. This has been a mutually beneficial relationship for all involved!
What other events do you have planned? Do you host any regular events in the off-season?
Cheryl: We typically have some live entertainment here at least a couple nights a week throughout the year. We always have a Halloween party and, coming up, repeat performers in the band Serendipity who will play after Thanksgiving so everyone can come “dance your turkey off.” We are trying to get back to more events like we had before COVID, like our Christmas brunch for members, followed by Santa and the kids party and Easter egg hunts. We also ring in the New Year with some live music and will be working hard to get the Feast back on track. Get our email notifications of upcoming events by becoming a member!
What do you enjoy about working there?
Emily: The managers and bartenders appreciate being a part of our benevolent organization and supporting our neighbors and members. We are truly unique! The close-knit feeling of our Island community abounds at the P.A. Club! All 11 of our board members volunteer their time because we all love this club and believe in all that we can do to help our community.
I decided to run for the board because there were places open and older board members passed the torch. The main reason I became a board member is to build a stage. I’ve now been on the board for a year, and this idea has been on my mind for at least four years. I started working here in May of 2016, and mostly it’s an amazing job to have where I get to be with my community at work. I enjoy knowing what time someone’s going to come, what their grandkids’ names are, and knowing what they’re going to drink. There’s comfort in that. It’s like “Cheers.”
To donate to the P.A. Club, visit donorbox.org/stage-for-the-pa-club, use the QR code, or call 508-693-9875 for more information. Or just stop by and join.