The Ritz Café has been cooking up lunches for the last month. At The Rare Duck, the focus this summer will be on martinis, comfy couches and a new brand of music.

In Oak Bluffs - home to the Island's only bar scene - tavern keepers and nightclub owners are taking extra measures to bring in customers and keep the drinks flowing.

But even they concede that bars in Oak Bluffs may be a dying breed, a victim of changing demographics and a more competitive Island economy where the emphasis is shifting to the upscale market.

Just consider this simple fact: Two of the three bars in Oak Bluffs are for sale, and the owners of the third - The Ritz - have been mulling that option as well.

"People don't drink the way they used to. They stay home where the drinking's cheaper, then they come out," said Janet King-Stead, co-owner of The Ritz. "I've been doing this for 24 years."

Indeed, bar owners in this town have each logged decades of late nights in the Vineyard liquor trade. Up the street, Peter Martell has run the Rare Duck and the Lamppost for 35 years. Across Circuit avenue, the owners of Season's Pub and the Atlantic Connection have been at it for 19 years.

The asking price for the AC and Season's is $4 million, said Michael Santoro, managing partner of the side-by-side establishments that function as restaurant, bar and nightclub.

Mr. Martell would not disclose how much money it would take for him to hand over the keys to his two bars.

"My main motivation is that after 35 years, I'm getting tired," he said.

Like his counterparts up and down the main drag in Oak Bluffs, he has also borne witness to a fall-off of business, a condition he blames largely on the loss of what was once a staple in his bars.

"You don't get the college kids here anymore. They're out of school too late, and the cost of housing is enormous," he said.

The college kids, Ms. King-Stead agreed wistfully, "They were your big drinkers that would come out at night."

To Mr. Santoro, the problem isn't just the dearth of young people in the summer months. "What everybody is seeing is a major downturn of business in the off-season," he said. "I attribute it to the demographics, the changing Island, the 21 to 28-year-old age group you rely on - they aren't here."

While Census data doesn't track that exact bracket, the 20-to-34-year-olds on the Island have remained relatively steady over the ten-year period between 1990 and 2000. In 1990, U.S. Census counted 2,194 people in that age range, or roughly 18 per cent of the Vineyard population.

By 2000, that number reached 2,303, accounting for about 15 per cent of the Island's total population. The median age on the Island grayed a bit, going from 38 to 40.

But what the sheer numbers don't tell are a more complicated story of economic and social behaviors. Renee Balter, executive director of the Oak Bluffs Association and a close observer of downtown business activity, said, "The drinking scene is just not here like it was ten, 15, 20 years ago. It's more sober here."

Either that, or people just don't go out as much as they used to. It might be that they can't afford to, suggested Mr. Santoro.

Dwindling clientele in the bars can also be traced to a crowded marketplace. In the last few years alone, selectmen in Oak Bluffs have approved new liquor licenses and expanded old ones for downtown restaurants including Menemsha Blues, Nancy's Snack Bar, Park Corner Bistro and 67 Circuit Avenue.

"Selectmen have been very pro-business," said Mr. Santoro. "There are a lot more restaurants in Oak Bluffs, and everybody's fighting for that piece of the pie."

Both Mr. Martell and Ms. King-Stead also pointed to another competitor, the Portuguese-American (PA) Club, located a few miles from downtown on Vineyard avenue. The private club, which now has a membership roll of around 800 people, built a new clubhouse and bar which opened in January.

Last week on Tuesday at 5:30 p.m., the after-work crowd at the PA Club numbered about 35 people, compared to just 15 at The Ritz Café.

"The worker construction guys are going to the PA," said Mr. Martell.

Carl van Rooyen, bar manager at the private club, said, "In no way are we trying to take away business or compete with bars downtown."

But he said that membership has increased since they opened the new bar. "The old building was much smaller. The new building's attractive and has drawn a number of people back," he said.

They have two pool tables, allow smoking and a domestic beer sells for $2.75.

Back downtown, the attractions can't include ashtrays. Smoking is banned in all restaurants and bars. State legislators are crafting a new anti-smoking law, but it's unclear whether a ban on smoking in the workplace would extend to private clubs, thereby ending the party for smokers at the PA Club.

At the Ritz, Ms. King-Stead said the smoking ban hurt her business, but she prefers the bar smoke-free anyway.

To stir up business in the daylight hours, she opened the kitchen for lunch a month ago. "We were doing no business in the day," she said.

Over at the Rare Duck, a subterranean bar sandwiched between the Ritz and Lamppost, Mr. Martell is hoping that a martini injection will boost sales.

"We'll just change the format. People are into the martinis," he said.

Music is another tactic for drawing customers into the bars. Reggae groups have been popular, said Mr. Santoro, but the cost of bringing musicians from the mainland can be huge, especially if the band is a 12-piece set.

"The ferry's gone up, $12 a person. That's $144 plus $250 for the truck with equipment," he said. "I'm into rooms for almost $1,600."

Mr. Santoro seems to embody the ambivalence as another tourist season dawns on the Island. "It could be time for some fresh blood and ideas," he said. "But who knows what this summer's going to bring. Everybody's hopeful."