It was with some trepidation that I approached the lunch counter of the Steamship Authority ferry Martha’s Vineyard, at lunchtime, alone, on a weekday, intent on ordering two alcoholic beverages. I was ready for a sideways look of disapproval, and perhaps even a one-drink-per-person rule.
I was ready with an explanation. I am duty-bound to taste the offerings in my official capacity as an official columnist for this fine publication.
Like anyone would believe that.
Anything less than voluminous research would be an abdication of my responsibilities, however, so on we go. It was quite a pleasant surprise that the cashier greeted my order, a pre-mixed mimosa, and a pre-mixed Dark ’n’ Stormy, with a hint of excitement. She filled two cups with ice, and carefully poured each from the can. Then she asked her assistant to toss her an orange out of the refrigerator case. She cut a big, juicy slice, and garnished the mimosa with fresh orange. It’s the little things, you know.
Unfortunately, the garnish was the best part of the mimosa. Let’s be real with expectations. It is too much to ask to get a little bubbly all the way from the Champagne region of France, into a can with some orange juice, then get it all the way to a boat off the coast of America, and have it resemble a mimosa. I suspect those bubbles never got a whiff of the Champagne region anyway.
The Dark ’n’ Stormy, however, did meet reasonable expectations. It was a product of Gosling’s, which claims to be the official arbiter of the popular dark rum and ginger beer concoction from Bermuda. It came in a handy America’s Cup commemorative plastic cup, which was a bonus. I would collect them for viewing parties of America’s Cup sailing competition from Bermuda this year, if I ever drank a Dark ’n’ Stormy other than out of a sense of duty to this column. Which, by the way, I have done twice in the very near past. Hold your applause until the end of the column, please. Sacrifice is my middle name.
The rest of the offerings were not all that outstanding, except for the fact that you can get them on the ferry, which is … outstanding. The Steamship Authority now stocks a reasonably thorough variety of nips to make rum and Coke, scotch and soda, as well as gin and tonic quick and easy.
For local flavor, there is usually a Bad Martha beer selection, while Bud Light and Coors are available in cans.
The earliest reference to booze on the Steamship ferries dredged out of the Vineyard Gazette archives is in 1946, but it’s clear that beer had been available for some time before that. In 1946 and again in 1966, attempts to add hard liquor to the menu were beaten back, at least in part on moral grounds.
In October of 1985, all alcoholic beverages disappeared from the boats, when the Steamship Authority found its liability policy cancelled ($5.5 million worth of insurance) and couldn’t find another at any price. The populace was not pleased, according to Gazette accounts.
That dire situation lasted until June of 1986 when the insurance problems got straightened out.
It might have been the first time in history ferry patrons raised a glass to an insurance agent.