Lola’s has been an institution for 17 years or so. The establishment is located on Martha’s Vineyard in Oak Bluffs, not that far away from a stretch of oceanfront called “The Inkwell”. Well known as the spot where slaves and then the free African American Community were relegated to enjoy the sea and beach ‘The Inkwell’ is that stretch at the bottom of Waban Park on Beach Road. The irony is that the name may have lost some of its stigma, but long after segregation – the tradition of African Americans using the Inkwell as a swimming hole still remains. In fact, there is a group of middle-aged women (the Polar Bears) whose ritual is to swim early in the morning throughout the season that typically runs from June through September.. They patrol the beach and act as a defacto welcoming committee to all who step on that hallowed shore.
Last year, the management at Lola’s decided to lease their space to another restaurant “The Mediterranean”. The idea was that the goodwill generated by Lola’s would transfer to the new establishment. Noble intentions indeed, unfortunately the owners of the Mediterranean wanted to completely change the clientele which had previously been largely African-American, so much so, that a whispering campaign was launched with the sole purpose of discouraging patronage from black MV residents and vacationers.
Kathy and Paul Domitrovich, long time summer residents and owners of Lola’s were perterbed by that and the fact that the terms of the lease were not being adhered to. They decided to wrest control of the premises back from the owners of the Mediterranean. Despite opposition and a refusal to transfer the liquor license (what some would see as a death knell to any music and dining establishment) Lola’s reopened to much acclaim and support from its regular customers on Friday July 23. It’s definitely business as usual with the traditional southern style of cooking and live music; key components that built the Lola’s brand. Husband and wife team, Kathy and Paul were very much in evidence, playing the ever attentive hosts, greeting their customers like long lost family. The night I went to Lola’s with my travel buddies, the soul explosion were in fine fettle with the lead singer belting out classic Motown cuts. Even though a dry club right back then, the liquor license was renewed so all those who like to drink while they dine and dance are back in seventh heaven.
This leads me to address a larger problem affecting Martha’s Vineyard, again in the spotlight as President Obama has recently returned from his second 10 day vacation on the island. The issue that seems to be quietly swept under the rug is a premise that I’ve discussed with friends and colleagues - racism on Martha’s Vineyard. I’m recalling the case blazed across news channels and splashed in media print of the 2009 arrest of Professor Chip Gates in his Cambridge, Massachusetts home. Now I know Martha’s Vineyard is in the same region so why would it not be affected by the same prejudices of its predominantly Waspish residents. People I spoke with poo-pooed the idea, until I came across the best evidence to support my claim, which I reprint here…….
“I just wanted to point out to Dr. Gates one comment he made during his essay. He referred to Martha’s Vineyard as (let me paraphrase) a mulch-racial society. I must draw an exception to his view. Though I respect Dr. Gates I must call him what he is-a summer person. As a year round resident of the island for 14 years I am more acquainted with the social structure here. The island during the 8 months out of the year that it reverts to a small New England community is not a representative of the US socially. It i s overwhelmingly white. Coming from Brooklyn NY it was something I found I had to adjust to. Though many different people live here most of them come from small suburban white communities and that’s what they have created here. During the summer months the population swells seven fold and becomes much more representative of America at large. However, the races for the most part do not interact. Both professionally and socially I have had much more interracial interaction in Brooklyn than here. Truth be told I come from area of Brooklyn where that was more often the case. (Passive?) Racism is alive and well on Martha’s Vineyard if only because of the lack of interaction. It is something I am constantly aware of.” (Christopher Mara, Vineyard Haven, Ma, [email protected])
When the band packs up and the doors close for the night and the last patron gets into their car and the taillights fade in the distance, will the spirit of love, unity and camaraderie that reigns supreme at Lola’s remain on the rest of the islands that are called Martha’s Vineyard.