Martha's Vineyard Attracts the Upwardly Mobile

Kreisberg is a Somerville, Mass., free-lance writer.

For every yuppie there is a season, and when that season is summer, yuppies in the know turn, turn, turn to Martha's Vineyard.

Because Martha's Vineyard is an island city, and everything a yuppie loves about the hard-driving, upwardly mobile, dual-career urban life style is here in sea-changed summer form. Including:

--An uptown: residential, celebrity-studded and gloriously scenic (quaintly called up-island by the natives); and three working downtowns--each with enough silk-screened clothing boutiques, exotic plant stores, soap and notion shops and antique porcelain purveyors to send your gold credit card into overdrive.

--Restaurants: butcher-block and plant restaurants, picture-post card restaurants, country restaurants and restaurants off the beaten path.

--Beaches: public, private, clothed, nude, and one where you dip yourself into clay pits.

--The right people: Jackie O, Art B, Walter C and an alphabet of other media, political and corporate stars.

--Real estate: for sale, rent and development.

In short: Status, charm, upward mobility, celebrities and shopping.

Up and Down

The Island (preferred nomenclature), a triangle about 20 miles long and nine miles wide, five miles south of Cape Cod, is unofficially divided into up-island--the sparsely populated, country-roaded, expensive acreage of Chilmark, West Tisbury, Menemsha and Gay Head--and down-island--the busy main streets of Edgartown, Oak Bluffs and Vineyard Haven. All three down-island towns are along the eastern side of the triangle.

The way to do the Vineyard is to rent a house up-island for one or two weeks.

The way to arrive is by ferry from Woods Hole on Cape Cod with car and bike rack, Steamship Authority to the natives: phone (617) 540-2022. Upper-yups can fly in and rent the cars and bikes. Reserve ferry space just as soon as you nail down the house. For two and the BMW it's $62.

Super yuppie ferry status is a four-wheel-drive Land Rover with Off-Road Vehicle Permit on the windshield, surfcasting gear in the front, Lucy Vincent Beach permit on the side window, bikes on the roof and a horse trailer behind.

You can, and should, check out Edgartown, Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs attractions and restaurants. Edgartown, the county seat, is a preppy Disneyland, old money, old houses (including Emily Post's), new crowds, and gentrified streets.

Island Funk

Oak Bluffs is island funk, quaintly cramped and computer-chip packed with its famous cookie-cutter housing. Vineyard Haven is charming, older and literary.

The down-island restaurant for the moment is the Ocean Club, a celebrity, fish-and-pasta place. Friendly, fans on the ceiling, wood on the floor. The food is good. Dress sharp. No reservations except for parties over five. Beach Street, Vineyard Haven, 693-4763.

The Black Dog Tavern, also Beach Street in Vineyard Haven, 693-9223. Well-known weekend brunch hangout. Ramshackle, hearty, nice ocean view if you're lucky. Expect to wait.

The Hot Tin Roof, famous disco-restaurant. Eat elsewhere, but this is for hassle-free hip fun, live and great deejay-played music, and dancing. Plenty of honey-limbed youngsters. If you're a couple and stay away from discos, give this one a try. If you're single and looking, a must. At the airport.

Chez Pierre at the Charlotte Inn on South Summer Street, Edgartown, 627-8947. Called by the Boston Globe's reliable food critic the best and most expensive French restaurant on the island.

Places to Seek Out

The biggest mistake first-timers make is staying down-island. The following up-island restaurants all require reservations and a good map, but seeking them out is what separates the yups from the nopes.

The Beach Plus Inn and Restaurant, off North Road, Menemsha, 645-9454: Eatery of choice for the Chilmark and Menemsha Fortune 500 crowd. Wonderful, unhurried atmosphere, nouvelle cuisine of distinction, heavenly desserts and homemade ice cream. Reservations a little hard to come by; call as early as you can--before you arrive on the island. Not snobby, just in demand.

Lambert's Cove Country Inn, off Lambert's Cove Road, West Tisbury, 693-2298. The vine-covered, stone-walled farmhouse, picture-book inn of your fantasies. Sunday brunch for the full Technicolor effect; dinner also a treat. The rooms are also out of a movie set, if you're interested in lodging ($80-$95, double). Reservations a must, especially for brunch.

The Home Port, at Dutcher Dock, Menemsha, famous seafood platter restaurant. If you're not looking for quiet charm and are hungry, this is the place.

Wine and liquor note: Edgartown and Oak Bluffs are wet, the rest of the island is dry. So it's a BYOB to any restaurant in Vineyard Haven or up-island. The restaurants will provide set-ups.

Bike ride in the cool morning to continental breakfast at the Patisserie Francaise, Main Street, Vineyard Haven (French coffee and homemade croissants), followed by a quick jaunt up West Chop (north on Main Street) for a fast look at Buchwald-Styron territory.

Back home for self-made lunch and wine, sobering up in time to get to the beach for the last half of peak tanning time. Home for delirious post-beach feeling and pre-dinner drinking on the deck; late dinner reservation at the Ocean Club, capped off with dancing at the Hot Tin Roof.

Outdoor Pursuits

Fair weather day: morning shopping/schlepping/spending tour of downtown Edgartown, Oak Bluffs or Vineyard Haven; pleasant lunch in town; then a scenic drive or bike ride up-island to Gay Head Cliffs or Dutcher Dock, or the winery tour at Chicama (worth it if you've never done a vineyard tour), State Road, West Tisbury, 693-0309. Or a walk through one of the five island wildlife sanctuaries. Home--jog, relax, read--think about making dinner. Drink a bottle of wine, make love, call it a day.

Bad weather research day: long read of island newspapers in the a.m. Lunch in town before meeting real estate agent. Stop into Bunch of Grapes bookstore, Main Street, Vineyard Haven, for best selection of island guides (geology, history, bike and walking tours, wildlife) after lunch.

Look at a house for sale. Sound interested. Treat agent to raw bar at Beach Plum Inn in late afternoon while in Chilmark. Dinner in Edgartown before movie (always four current hits playing down-island).

Other options: sailing, golf, windsurfing, Nautilus workouts, horseback riding, roller skating, summer stock theater, antiquing and sailplane rides. All heavily advertised in the two island broadsheets, Vineyard Gazette and Martha's Vineyard Times (as well as several island shopping sheets).

Buy "Martha's Vineyard, A Detailed Road Map," published by J. Donovan, 1978, $2.15. The only map that shows all public and private beaches (and access roads), most private roads and much else. A must for cyclists.

Clean Sand, Rolling Surf

The best public beach is South Beach/Katama. Wide margins, clean sand and rolling Atlantic surf. Take Katama Road out of Edgartown 3.1 miles to South Beach Road.

Wasque Reservation and Cape Poge Refuge, Chappaquiddick. Barren, endless. Take the Chappy ferry (a 30-second ride, no reservations needed) from Edgartown, continue on Chappy Road 2.4 miles until you get to the stop sign and the road turns right. Go straight on the dirt road and park your car or bike at Dyke Bridge. A short walk to the beach.

Gay Head Beach. Private town beach off Moshup Trail. Staggering beauty where multicolored, finger-streaked Zach's Cliffs meet the Atlantic. You'll need a town permit to get into the parking lot (there's a copy at the door), but you can pay to park ($5-$10) at the small lot at the foot of the Gay Head Lighthouse and then walk the quarter-mile trail to the beach. It's a nude beach (clothing allowed) and site of the famous clay pits.

Lucy Vincent Beach. Off South Road, .7 miles before Chilmark Center. One of the great beaches in Eastern America and the best of the island. Rollers, Wequobsque Cliffs and smooth sand, the same beauty as Gay Head in a less gritty setting. Nude beach to the left, clothed to the right.

How to get on LV Beach: If you rent in Chilmark (or stay in a Chilmark or Menemsha inn), get a temporary pass from your innkeeper or by presenting your lease and paying a small fee at Chilmark Town Hall.

Lambert's Cove, off Lambert's Cove Road, West Tisbury. Private, but sometimes bike accessible. Lock up at the entry, on your right about three miles after picking up Lambert's Cove Road going down-island, and walk to the beach. Pleasant, on Vineyard Sound.

Get List of Agents

How to rent a house in a hurry: The right way. Write to the chamber of commerce (Beach Road, Vineyard Haven, Mass. 02568) in November and ask for a list of real estate agents. You call a few, get prices, photographs, maybe visit the island for a day to look over the properties, and along about Christmas nail down your summer house.

Your way: Assuming it is now almost summer and you want a house for one month from now, call the chamber of commerce at (617) 693-0085 and have them mail or tell you over the phone the names and numbers of four or five agents who handle rentals.

Also, two central reservation services can give you immediate phone confirmations for houses, hotels and inns. Martha's Vineyard Reservations, (617) 693-4111; Island Reservations Service, (617) 693-5300.

There's always an opening, cancellation or special deal. Be persistent. Plan to pay $400-$1,700 a week for something suitable. $1,700 will get you a three-bedroom, modern, self-standing house on Katama Beach; $400 will get you a Chilmark cottage--no cooking facilities, one bedroom.

Ask your real estate agents the following questions. Be nice. Be suspicious:

Location: How far off a public road is this house? The good ones are on private dirt roads off private dirt roads. What town is it in? Beach privileges? How far away is the nearest other house?

Type: age, condo cluster, winterized, Cape, modern, ranch or split level?

Rooms: Is there a kitchen? Is it stocked with plates, pots, pans and silverware? (Should be, including a coffee pot.) Is there a dishwasher? Is there a washer/dryer? (Should be, if big bucks are involved.) Living room size, fireplace, type of heat (you may need it), TV and good antenna (otherwise reception is fuzzy).

Bedrooms: How many? Are linens and towels provided? (Often not, even with good deals.) Bathrooms: How many? Is there a bath as well as a shower? Is there a deck? Raised? Railed? Sliding glass door access to house? How many doors are there?

Try to Get Photos

Are pictures of the house available? Even if you are in a hurry, pictures could be express-mailed in 24 hours (offer to pay the postage; what's another $10?) and can tell a lot.

Does the house have a phone? Get the number, say you need it for your parents, call up the people there now. Also, a phone is mighty handy, anyway.

The standard deal is a Saturday-to-Saturday rental, check in at 3, check out at 10--so Saturday is a kind of lost day. That's why renting for two weeks is more than twice as good as one.

Allocate $50 in phone and mail bills just to find the place. It's money well spent. Don't bite for the first one, either. Where you stay is very important. Bring a radio. Houses that rent for $2,000 a week do not have radios.

The Season: High season is variously defined. It often extends through mid-September. The island is mighty beautiful through October, and more--and does not close down on Labor Day. After the first two weeks in September, though, barring unusual weather, swimming in the ocean is out.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World