After a hiatus for renovations, Vineyard Haven’s ArtCliff diner is slated to reopen Thursday, Sept. 21.
One day after securing her victualler’s license from the Tisbury Select Board on Sept. 13, owner Gina Stanley is anxious to open. “It feels good. I mean, it doesn’t feel like it’s been two years.”
Vineyarders familiar with the 80-year-old restaurant will notice that its dining area is the same size, and also that ArtCliff’s original barstools, from its days as a diner car, occupy their same location. Also returning, displayed in a corner of the dining area, is a colorful assortment of old soda and other glass bottles.
Behind the bar is also a new display case. “[T]hat’s kind of what I always envisioned I wanted, so I bought that on MV Stuff 4 Sale,” says Stanley. “I didn’t want to get away from the diner vibe. I did speckled tile, for the old diner feel.”
New construction upstairs has also provided Stanley with an office, and employees with their own bathroom.
Other changes include a takeout window, and ArtCliff is now all handicap-accessible. Stanley also hopes to run her food truck.
Of the paintings, photographs, and signage hung on ArtCliff’s walls, Stanley says, “I tried to hang as much of the original art that I collected over 23 years [as possible].” This includes work by local artists, including Stanley’s friend Basia Jaworska, a Jerry West puzzle by Stanley’s father — who played basketball with West in grammar school — and menu item signage from the diner car days.
The menu signs at ArtCliff, along with an oil painting of a street scene, are by Pete Ortiz, a prolific artist for Island businesses. “He used to hold court at the counter with [blues musician, sign painter, and Jaworska’s husband] Maynard Silva. People would come in here and, I guess, ask him to make signs, so this was kind of like their office back in the day.”
A sign for ArtCliff by Silva will hang outside the restaurant when open.
Though ArtCliff has been closed for two years, Stanley says strong public attention remained. “I couldn’t go anywhere without somebody asking ‘When are you opening? What are you doing?'”
Stanley also says the renovation period was not always smooth, and was at times particularly taxing. “There were months where it was upsetting, there were months where I was happy, and months where I was ready to get the next boat off…It was nice to see people and know that they cared, but some people were under the impression that I’ve been on vacation for two years, which wasn’t the case.”
One well-wisher leading up to the opening was Joe Costa, a 93-year-old regular of the restaurant’s round table who brought Stanley an old photo of the diner. “There was a group of gentlemen that used to come and open up the diner for Pat [Luce] who used to own it…and start the home fries and make the coffee, so I made sure I kept the round table,” says Stanley.
“I’m looking forward to seeing the customers again,” says Stanley. After COVID and renovations, she says “I haven’t seen a lot of them for more than two years.”