Oak Bluffs moves up last call, starting Oct. 1

Local business owners fear the town will become ‘Edgartown 2.’

Year-round business owners urged the select board to re-evaluate potential impacts the new policy could have on the town's ethos. —Jeremy Driesen

Despite pleas from a number of Oak Bluffs business owners, the town’s select board will be moving forward with the implementation of a new alcohol policy, requiring that bars move up last call and close half an hour earlier.

The policy, which mirrors that of Edgartown establishments, will be going into effect on Sunday. Both towns will now have a 12:30 am last call and 1 pm closing time. 

Discussed in length by the Oak Bluffs Select Board earlier this year, the time changes came about as part of the town’s effort to update its alcohol policy, which town officials said had some pre-existing discrepancies. 

But the major driving force of an earlier closing time has been concerns over police staffing, and whether the Oak Bluffs police department would be able to adequately ensure safety during closing time — shortly before the officer’s 2 am shift change. 

On Tuesday, the Oak Bluffs Select Board heard from the town’s police chief Jon Searle, who highlighted the department’s issues with staffing. Searle has said the shortage has been brought on by an increasing unavailability of housing for officers. Searle reiterated his recommendation that the town ought to align its alcohol policy with that of Edgartown. 

The board ultimately agreed, sticking with its proposal from earlier this year — an approval of the new changes, but a delay in enacting them. 

Back in April, the select board voted 3-2 in favor of establishing an earlier last call and closing time, to begin in October, after the busy summer months. 

At the time, former select board members Brian Packish and Ryan Ruley had advocated for immediate implementation, suggesting that the board heed the advice of local law enforcement, who had, for a while, been expressing concerns about staffing.

In what was their last meeting on the Oak Bluffs select board back in April, the two outgoing board members were the only two who voted in opposition to putting off the policy change, calling it “a cowardice move to delay it to the fall.” 

Select board members Gail Barmakian, Emma Green-Beach, and Jason Balboni all agreed on waiting, in order to discuss the proposal with the two newly elected board members, and to give business owners enough notice. 

Now, at the end of what local business owners called an overall “positive” summer, concerns reemerged, as the new policy is set to go into effect in less than a week. 

On Tuesday, Oak Bluffs restaurant and bar owners urged the board to reconsider the new restrictions, claiming that moving up last call and closing even just 30 minutes earlier would be detrimental to business, and the town as a whole. 

Larkin Stallings, owner of the popular Circuit Ave bar, the Ritz, explained he’d likely see a loss of 10 to 15 percent to his business as a result of the new times, and the consequences would be even more far reaching. 

“It has serious impacts for both me, my staff, entertainers I hire, and the folks that frequent our establishment,” he said at Tuesday’s select board meeting. 

The earlier closing time will also disrupt some bar events, like private parties, he said, noting that particularly in the summer months, patrons often show up around midnight, which would now leave virtually no time for staff to earn lucrative late-night tips. 

Since first discussing the policy earlier this year, Stallings said that he’s made a significant effort to mitigate certain disruptions like late night rowdiness, specifically during this past summer, in order to prove to the board that incidents involving police were few and far between. 

JB Blau, owner of a handful of year-round establishments, agreed, saying that he’s also made changes to reduce incidents, which had, in part, led to an overall “positive” peak season. 

Both owners emphasized the importance of keeping summer visitors in Oak Bluffs, which is when the most cash is made, and added that the extra half hour of business is crucial, as it essentially helps keep the lights on during the off-season. 

“There’s a lot of ramifications that aren’t being thought about,” Blau told board members; including the effect the change would have on not just the business owners, but year-round staff and the “hundreds of thousands of guests who come to this town because it’s Oak Bluffs.”

Without the draw of a later nightlife, visitors may be less likely to choose Oak Bluffs for their Island stay, he argued, noting that owners of other nearby businesses could ultimately be seeing a loss in their sales too. 

“People shop in Oak Bluffs and eat in Oak Bluffs because [their nights] end in Oak Bluffs,” he said. 

“Because it’s open later, it’s where people book [to stay],” Blau said. “If we get rid of that in Oak Bluffs, we’ll just be Edgartown 2.”

Where often Island visitors would leave Edgartown for Oak Bluffs to enjoy the later closing times, guests may now lose the incentive, and opt to spend their time — and money — in Edgartown, he said. 

Despite attempts made by chair Green-Beach to invite additional conversation and reconsideration of enacting the new policy, the other four board members made no motions to reverse April’s decision. 

The new policy, which restricts alcohol sales past 12:30 am, and calls for a closing time of 1 am, goes into effect Sunday, October 1.



  1. Hm…OB, the very pinnacle of black opulence, is targeted for regulations due to…gasp…policing concerns…why exactly? Very progressive, OB, might as well have asked Ron DeSantis to write your policy for you. SMH!

    • This has nothing to do with the race of anyone who visits, or lives, in OB. There is a history of rowdy behavior when the bars close and the Oak Bluffs PD has a valid concern about being able to have a presence on Circuit Ave at closing time.
      I can cite a long list of incidents over at least four decades where the police had to intervene in scuffles and altercations. It’s about a deterrent to unruly behavior by alcohol fueled bar patrons, regardless of race.

    • Ridiculous. All they’re doing is matching edgartown so that people don’t come from edgartown to ob to throw back a couple more drinks then jump in their cars. It’s a public safety issue. That’s it.

      • We’re so lucky to have heroes like you deciding what’s best for everyone. Bless your heart!

        In all seriousness, while it’s a somewhat minimal change (just a half hour shaved off doesn’t seem like a big deal) this has serious consequences for the folks who work (including performers, as Mr. Stallings noted in the article). While the fervor over this is mostly about its symbolism, that symbolism has very real consequences for this Island. The Hot Tin Roof days are long gone, this is no artist colony and hasn’t been for decades. Let’s not pretend that this is what’s going to kill the arts and entertainment on the Island, because it’s been dead for ages. But decisionmaking like this is what gives people like Adam Epstein the hell the pay to try to resurrect it — the dude runs a non-profit! What a thankless job. Hell, the Tucker boy couldn’t even have his own farm stand, this isn’t about entertainment, it’s about livelihood. People whine and moan about the housing crisis, and then continue to cripple the economy with town hall. It’s pathetic.

      • Why don’t they just enforce the laws that are on the books? How frequent is this occurrence and not just a straw man argument? In the age of Uber/Lift and available cabs I think this is an exaggerated occurrence. This change isn’t backed by data. Its backed by old people on the select board that don’t patron these establishments.

  2. Perhaps this new regulation will allow Oak Bluffs to reduce their police staffing level, possibly even as part of a merger with Tisbury Police, as recommended in the consultant firm’s report.

    After all, if bar owners have to take a hit, and the streets are safer at night, maybe they can get by with fewer cops, right?


  3. When I have stayed on the Vinyard we always brought beer/wine/liquor with us. We would have a few then go out to the bars for music etc. Crowds being rowdy or loud after closing is a normal occurance. After all they are not selling milk shakes. Earlier closings and last calls are not going to change that. Customers will just get intoxicated earlier. Lets not forget there iis also,like all over the country, OPIOD issues.Affordable housing for workers is an issue. I think the Select Board and the Police Chief should realize chsanging Bar Hours is a Band Aid on what is a malignant problem.

  4. Telling businesses they need to change their existing operating hours so as to better align with the police shift change is an awful example of local government overreach. Why not simply adjust the timing of the shift changes to better align with the needs of the community for police services?

  5. I don’t really have a dog in the fight. I don’t really go out at night in OB. Can someone explain to me why the OB police shift change has to be t 2 am? Is it a law or in their contract?

  6. I’ve aged out of the demographic that would be out that late, but my anecdotal observation from a few years ago is that closing time is a lot mellower than it used to be back in the day when the police would barricade Circuit Ave at closing time and the street would have a mardi-gras feel for the 25 minutes it took to disperse the crowds and get them on their way. Does anyone else notice this, or am I off base here? I remember some nights a few years ago when it felt like you could see tumbleweeds going down the street.

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