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A tank away

Walkable Vineyard Haven just perfect for two

Main Street is a short walk from the ferry terminal. Main Street is a short walk from the ferry terminal. (Ron Driscoll/Globe Staff)
By Ron Driscoll
Globe Staff / July 15, 2009

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VINEYARD HAVEN - The man at the wheel of the idling sedan was delivering a play-by-play of the traffic tie-up to a friend standing nearby.

“They’re trying to back out for the third time now,’’ he said of the driver of a car with New Jersey plates grappling with the logistics of Main Street, a one-way, angled-parking affair.

It was a Saturday in late June, and the invasion of the ferry people was in full swing. The guy in the sedan was now riffing on his capacity for patience, which is tested when Martha’s Vineyard’s population of roughly 15,000 for most of the year balloons to as much as 75,000 on a summer weekend. If, as rumored, the first family vacations here in August, island capacity and boiling points may get stretched to the limit.

Absent a visit by the Obamas, Vineyard Haven makes an ideal couples getaway. You don’t need a car; hence no traffic snarls or directional challenges. Restaurants, galleries, shops, theaters, and beaches are all a short walk from the dock.

Vineyard Haven is a 45-minute ferry ride from the Steamship Authority’s Woods Hole terminal, and there are nine daily trips each way ($15 round-trip, www.steamshipauthority.com).

Stay
The Hanover House and Clark House are abutting properties, a 10-minute uphill walk from the ferry (20 and 28 Edgartown Road, www.twinoaksinn.net, 800-696-8633). Their combined 20 rooms start at $175 a night in season and top out at $265 for a suite, all including a cooked breakfast. The Hanover House feels more secluded behind high hedges, farther from an intersection. Bikes are available free first-come, first-served.

Dine
Don’t miss breakfast at the Art Cliff Diner (39 Beach Road, 508-693-1224, entrees $4-$13), where locals such as Carly Simon join the daily queue. We chose a large, airy stack of peach and almond pancakes - with fresh peaches - and crepes, filled with your choice of ingredients. This bustling 12-table eatery that dates to 1943 also offers frittatas, breakfast tacos, and panini.

Vineyard Haven is part of the town of Tisbury, which never got around to repealing Prohibition. We packed a small cooler for our visit to Zephrus (9 Main St., 508-693-3416, www.zephrus.com, entrees $14-$30), the restaurant at Mansion House, an inn in the center of town. The island catch ($30) was a nice presentation of steamers, mussels, shrimp, swordfish, and a lobster claw in a tomato-fennel broth. Zephrus also recently began offering a daily $25 prix fixe option. Be warned: BYOBers will pay $7 corkage per table.

During the day
Bunch of Grapes Bookstore (44 Main St., 508-693-2291, www.bunchofgrapes.com) was rebuilt and opened less than a year after a devastating fire, and 24 island authors came to the opening celebration on July 4, including David McCullough, Jules Feiffer, Ward Just, and Rose Styron (who brought house guest Carlos Fuentes along).

To get the flavor of another island town, take the clean, reliable bus service (www.vineyardtransit.com) to Edgartown for $3 one-way (a taxi will cost at least $20), and drop in on the Martha’s Vineyard Decorator Show House & Gardens (508-939-4114, www.marthasvineyardshowhouse.com, through Oct. 18) at 105 Main St. About three dozen designers, artists, and landscapers have turned an 1840 sea captain’s home into a dramatic summer house. Tickets are $25 (discount coupons are available), and proceeds will help the local Habitat for Humanity branch build its eighth house.

After dark
Night life in this dry town can be found at Che’s Lounge (38C Main St., 508-693-8555, www.chesloungemv.com), down an alley with an inviting fountain. “Our lights are the only ones on after about 10 o’clock,’’ says manager Noah Rubin. The coffeehouse offers live music and open mike nights, with instruments available for guests. There are also poetry readings (“Come snap your fingers,’’ says the website), chess boards, and lots of chatter.

The historic Vineyard Playhouse (24 Church St., 508-696-6300, www.vineyardplayhouse.org, tickets $20-$37.50) keeps the footlights on just outside of downtown, and is the only year-round professional theater on the island.

Ron Driscoll can be reached at rdriscoll@globe.com.