Behind the Bar Snap Shot

This Bar on Martha's Vineyard Knows Its Audience

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 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.


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.


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.


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 makrut 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)