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Closing Out The Summer in Martha’s Vineyard

Labor Day weekend has always been such a love-hate time of year for me. On one hand I usually get to travel which is great. If I end up hanging back in NYC there are loads of BBQ’s and of course the infamous West Indian day parade. On the other hand, Labor Day marks the end of summer and the dreaded weather we would all love to avoid. And sure after decades of living in this city, I’ve grown accustomed to the dirty snow and ridiculous outfits we have to wear to stay warm. But let’s be honest I really hate that sh*t. So until I can afford that dream winter home in the Caribbean I’ll just focus on the positives for now.

Waiting for the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard.

To help ease myself into end of Summer  this year I decided to take a getaway to Martha’s Vineyard. Every year my family and friends rent houses for the week leading up to Labor Day. A very small island off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Martha’s Vineyard is the perfect place to kick back and relax. The people are very friendly. The beaches are gorgeous and very well kept. There’s a lot of really good restaurants. All over the island you can find cool shops and boutiques if you’re looking to pick up souvenirs or if you just need to stock up during your stay. Biking seems to be a preferred mode of transportation for many visitors. Day trips to the national parks and historical sites are pretty awesome as well.

Martha’s Vineyard ferry

To many African Americans, summering in Martha’s Vineyard holds historical a lot of value. In the 1800s many freed slaves and laborers settled in Oaks Bluff to work in the fishing industry. This later attracted African Americans from Massachusetts who purchased land and established businesses on the island. By the 1960s Oaks Bluff on of the nation’s most popular vacation destinations for middle class black without the rampant discrimination they faced on the mainland. Now let’s not get it twisted, Martha’s Vineyard wasn’t exactly a utopia for blacks. Even when influential people like Adam Clayton Powell and Dorothy West faced  they still weren’t allowed to stay in the hotels. So those that could afford it bought their own properties,  welcoming other black tourists. A small strip of beach given to black community became known as the “Inkwell”. Fast forward to present day Oaks Bluff is known to be the liveliest town in Martha’s Vineyard. Visited by everyone from President Obama to yours truly.

Aquinnah Cliffs

My plan wasn’t to stay for the full week but since it had been many years since my last trip, I wanted to make sure I got a real feel of what MV has to offer. The drive from NYC to MV is about 5 hrs so we left just before sunrise to get a jump on the traffic. There aren’t any bridges that connect MV to Massachusetts so you have to put your car on a ferry to get to the island. The house we stayed in was less than 10 minutes from the ferry which was great cause I got tired of sitting in that car. To get from the ferry to our house we had to drive down Circuit Ave which is the busiest section of Oaks Bluff. It’s also where a lot of the popular shops and restaurants are located. There’s so many great spots to choose from and each of them have their own signature items.

Fisherman’s platter from Nancy’s Restaurant in Oaks Bluff.

Our first stop was Nancy’s, a seafood restaurant that features all the New England essentials from lobster rolls to clam chowder and my favorite the fried fisherman’s platter. Clam strips, shrimp, calamari, scallops and cod all battered deep fried and piled on top of fresh cut fries served with tartar and cocktail sauce. Attached to Nancy’s is “Donovan’s Reef”. A frozen drink shack that serves up delicious cocktails like the popular Dirty Banana and Bahama Mama.

Larsen’s Fish Market in Menemsha.
Whole steamed lobster with clarified butter.

One of the day trips I was really looking forward to was to Menemsha Beach located on the west side of the island. Known for it’s spectacular sunset visitors drive from all over just to witness this natural marvel. Menemsha is also home to two of the most popular fish markets in Martha’s Vineyard: The Menemsha Fish Market and Larsen’s Fish Market. Both are great but this time I had my eyes set on Larsen’s. Although it’s a fish market they sell whole lobsters, clams and mussels along with their raw bar of oyster and cherrystones.

Freshly caught oysters shucked at the counter.
Steamer clams and oysters.

It’s the perfect meal to eat on the beach and wait for the sunset. And that’s just what we did. The funny part of the trip is that immediately after the sun sets everybody grabs their stuff and leaves cause there’s barely any lights on the beach if you don’t have everything packed up you’ll be out there in the dark looking for sandals and sunglasses.

Colorful rocks on the shoreline of Menemsha Beach
Menemsha beach sunset.

As far as nightlife goes, aside from the private house parties its kinda hit or miss with the bar scene. Most nights is seems like everyone on the island choses one place to hang out leaving all the other spots pretty much empty. Best bet is to pull up a stool at the bar of a busy restaurant. A great place to get drinks and grub in the evening is The Atlantic Fish & Chophouse. They have really good cocktails and an awesome food menu. I recommend the roasted Alaskan king crab leg. It comes with an herbed butter and crispy basil leaves.

Alaskan crab leg at Atlantic Fish & Chophouse

If the bars aren’t poppin by the time you leave Atlantic head over to Backdoor Donuts grab some of their famous giant apple fritters and call it a night. Most nights after hanging at the beach all day that’s the only thing I wanted to do anyway.

Apple fritter at Backdoor Donuts

On some days few days we just visited friends, chilled by the pool and lit the grill. If you’re lucky enough to rent a house that has a backyard with a grill, it’s only right that you spend a few afternoons creating your know BBQ feast. So we stopped by the supermarket to pick up some meat and veggies to throw on the grill. Keep in mind the markets out there aren’t that big so there’s a good chance they might not ave all the ingredients you need to complete your dish. With that said I recommend bringing your specialty groceries. 

Spicy shish kebabs.

The one time I hit the grill during this trip a made chicken shish kebabs marinated in a spicy yogurt with a dill sauce served on nann bread. It was a hit to say the least. I’ve added this dish to my recipe list so it will be up on the site soon.

Gingerbread houses in Cottage City.

My last day before heading back to New York I went to photograph the Gingerbread Houses in Cottage City. These are the colorful Victorian-style houses you see on all the MV postcards and travel brochures. It’s like standing in a life-sized Barbie doll house neighborhood. It’s beautiful and pretty weird at the same time.

Cottage City.

This was a much needed trip. I got to spend some quality time with family and friends. Met a lot of amazing people. A great change of pace from my big city life. Next time I visit I’m definitely going to stay longer. Now that I’ve got all the tourist attractions out my system. I’ll focus more on finding some cool parties and maybe even throw a few of my own.

Inside the ferry heading to the dock.

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