The Ritz has a long and, shall we say, colorful history on the small island of Martha's Vineyard. The bar was established in 1944, after it had been a fish market owned by the Pease family.
In 1967, the King family took over The Ritz Café and it became the local year-round venue to hear the island's best live music. What it lacked in space, it made up for in substance as the local bar, where you could enjoy a few cocktails, dance like nobody was watching, yet everyone knew everybody.
It did gain a clouded reputation as it kept its doors open through the long winters and cabin fever would set in for a few islanders. In Music on Martha's Vineyard: A History of Harmony by Thomas Dresser and Jerold Muskin, they quote Gene Baer recalling a story about Leonard Bernstein and Nat King Cole visiting Circuit Avenue.
"The Ritz always had a bad name, but it wasn't a bad place. Basically, it was the working man's bar. Men and women would get dressed up and go upstairs and dance on the upper deck. We would play (dance) music and swing," he recalls. "There were people in there, unbelievable characters, people from all walks of life. It was wild but never really any trouble."
Many a Ritz patron has sidled up to us, swung a friendly arm over our shoulder to share a story, rich with detail and awe. We have heard tales of James Cagney, Burl Ives, Frank Sinatra, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Diana Ross, Carly Simon, James Taylor, Livingston Taylor and, even Elvis. Apparently spotted again, last summer having a cocktail with a Mr. Mojo Rising.
In July of 2014, Larkin & Jacqueline Stallings purchased the iconic bar from the King Family. Being Texans, they had big plans for big changes for the small bar but quickly realized that the islanders wouldn't take too kindly to the "city Texas folks" changing their local bar.
Within their first few months of ownership, they were bowled over by the sheer volume of musical talent that populated such a small island. Local musical legends, Johnny Hoy & the Bluefish, Mike Benjamin Band, Kate Taylor, Jemima James played alongside the next wave of local talent. Artists such as Good Night Louise, Willy Mason, Sophie Hiller, Ben Taylor and The Chandler Blues Band prove that the local music scene is a deeply rooted island tradition
The Stallings' embraced their iconic treasure, siding with that tradition and history. They decided to preserve the best of The Ritz, maintaining "the best little live dive on Martha's Vineyard".
And, the music plays on...
We want to add your stories to theritzmv.com History page. Most of the information we have gathered has been from our patrons; we welcome corrections and additions. Please share your pictures, legend and lore, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. We will be updating this page with your stories and your memories.
After all, The Ritz is your local bar.
Larkin & Jackie