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5.1.17

Thirsty: Bye-Bye BYO?

One evening I was having dinner with my family at The Black Dog when a pack of frat-boy types stumbled, and I do mean stumbled, into the waterfront restaurant. They got a table by the front windows and proceeded to blow up the acronym BYOB by Bringing Your Own Blender. It was a battery-operated contraption, cheap, noisy, and hilarious. Before a waiter could even approach their table, they were churning out frothy umbrella drinks to the delight of most of the diners.

Alas, those days are almost gone. This spring, Chilmark becomes the last of the six Vineyard towns where town meeting voters will decide whether to allow restaurants to serve beer and wine with meals. Edgartown and Oak Bluffs, of course, have been rollicking party towns for some time. It is perhaps no coincidence that they seem to have the most vibrant micro-economies. Vineyard Haven, West Tisbury, and Aquinnah have all, in recent years, allowed restaurants to begin serving beer and wine. And Vineyard Haven is now considering allowing the sale of spirits in restaurants as well. While it’s not likely to trigger the collapse of Island civilization, it is one more quirky custom that is disappearing, and disappearing along with it is a little bit of our uniqueness.

BYOB did not go without a fight. Most famously, Vineyard Haven’s first referendum on beer and wine in restaurants, accompanied by a set of silly rules right down to the kind of plate you can put your wine glass next to, sparked a full-scale political donnybrook pitting neighbor against neighbor for most of a dark, dreary winter. The final vote was 690 to 690, until a recount flipped two votes to the “against side.” Another referendum question two years later passed by a substantial margin, and BYOB in Tisbury was history.

Steve Myrick

Most change on the Vineyard is not a black and white issue, and this is no exception. Personally, I love bringing my own reasonably priced wine to a meal instead of paying an exorbitant price for a limited selection. But restaurant owners have a tough time making a profit, and alcohol is their number one profit center, so BYOB isn’t much of a pleasure if the restaurant is out of business.

On my mind one August day, during an idyllic sail from Block Island to Vineyard Haven, was the prospect of a great meal at The Black Dog, complete with a BYOB of good champagne stored in a hold below the water line. Those prospects suddenly dimmed substantially when a gorgeous sunset faded over the Elizabeth Islands and everything turned a moonless pitch black. The running lights tested that morning refused to even flicker. The current started ripping around West Chop. Landmarks on the harbor I had sailed into many times were suddenly incomprehensible.

The only thing that saved us – it was Oak Bluffs Fireworks night. Sailing by the occasional quarter-second burst of light spilling over East Chop is an experience I’ll never forget. When my hands were pried off the wheel, we tumbled into the dinghy, champagne in hand, and rowed like mad toward the restaurant.

They were closing the door when we arrived a few minutes before 10 p.m. I stuck my foot in the door and begged.

“Come on in, we’ll feed ya,” they said.

The champagne didn’t last long.