This Bar on Martha’s Vineyard Knows Its Audience

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Turkish lamps | The Bittahbung at Beetlebung

So much about being a successful bar turns on knowing your audience. Beetlebung, in Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts, on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, has solved that quandary by providing a little bit of everything for a little bit of everyone.

Beetlebung has three distinct personalities: coffee house, retail shop and swank nighttime restaurant. It opened three months ago and the true test of its success is around the corner, as the island shifts from high-summer tourist season to the quieter, locals-heavy autumn. Cocktail pro Jonathan Pogash is primed for the challenge—until Beetlebung goes into hibernation in late November.

THE PAST, PRESENT

The 64-seat bar was built from a 110-year-old grocery store. A high-tech music and lighting system interfaces with 14-foot, pressed tin ceilings and a steely silver-painted color. Beetlebung, a Martha’s Vineyard folk word, refers to a “beetle,” or mallet and a “bung,” which was used as a stopper. In the island’s whaling days beetlebungs were used to seal casks of whale oil that was shipped as far abroad as London to light street lamps.

HOW IT WORKS

A serpentine 50-foot zinc bar has a customized back bar with fixtures such as multiple drip wells for spoons. Four different types of ice are also used, according to Pogash, including one-and-a-quarter inch cubes for Collins drinks and two-inch rounds for rocks drinks. Will the locals flock for envelope-pushing cocktails such as the Phuket Punch—made with honey vodka, watermelon and ginger—and the Flying Dutchman, which is a blend of Bols Genever, lavender bitters and blueberry-thyme syrup? The coming months will tell.

WAKE ME UP BEFORE I GO, GO

Two big La Marzocco coffee machines anchor the bar, so getting a great coffee at the end of the evening is simple. Pogash has even integrated a coffee-based syrup into a handful of cocktails, such as the Espresso Martini, made with Van Gogh Double Espresso vodka, Van Gogh Dutch Chocolate vodka, coffee syrup, Borghetti coffee liqueur and orange peel.

CELEBS, RIGHT THIS WAY

Co-owner John Molinari notes that while both Hillary Clinton and President Obama are currently vacationing on the island, neither has yet to come in. Beetlebung is ready for a sighting nonetheless: The “President Suite” is a pairing of grilled scallops served with a ginger-infused and kaffir lime-flavored Tom Kha Martini.

Each dish is served on a custom-designed plate. POTUS and FLOTUS have dined next door. At least the secret service has been enjoying the scallops at Beetlebung, says Molinari.

 

(Photos courtesy Randi Baird)

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