When Larkin and Jaqueline Stallings took over the Ritz Cafe last summer they agreed not to make any drastic changes for a full year. The beloved dive bar at the foot of Circuit avenue in Oak Bluffs had a dark, intriguing past, a loyal clientele and was a hot spot for live, local music in both the summer and off-season.

“Our end game has always been to have a business here on the Island,” said Mr. Stallings, who first visited the Island about 25 years ago and now lives part time in both Houston and Vineyard Haven. His businesses in Houston include a multiplex night club, a honky tonk joint called Whiskey River and a sports bar, Diablo Loco. The Ritz is a change of pace for the Stallingses, but all of their ventures have featured live music.

Mike Benjamin Band keeps the blues alive in dead of winter. — Timothy Johnson

“Music is the key,” said Jimmy Theobald, the new manager, who began working with Mr. Stallings in 1987 before moving to Las Vegas, and now lives in an apartment above the Ritz. He said two things they would never change about the Ritz are its name and musical focus. “That’s the whole reason we wanted it,” he said, adding:

“It’s been so much fun. I would take this venue over any club I opened in Vegas.”

On most nights, you can expect to find live music greeting you at the door, a friendly bartender filling your drink and a wide sampling of the Vineyard population. On Tuesday, Mike Benjamin and friends were engrossed in their regular acoustic blues set. On Wednesday there were salsa lessons. Thursdays are the regular Spaghetti Sessions, an open mic hosted by Rob Myers and David Soltz, where performers play for their dinner. Every weekend features live music from the Island and the Cape.

“The soul of the Ritz we don’t want to change a bit,” Mr. Stallings said. “It’s been a place for people on the Island in the dead of winter and the height of summer, a place to go and get some reprieve.” The Stallingses have, however, focused on bringing in new and younger bands, which have drawn a more diverse crowd.

For decades the Ritz was a local haunt for off-duty fishermen and rough-and-tumble types, where fights were expected and smoke could be seen billowing out the door. “In the old days, in the 1980s, that was a scary place to go,” said Mr. Benjamin, who rented an apartment from the owner’s family as a teenager. He began performing at the Ritz around 1990, and witnessed the bar’s transition to a year-round music venue.

Longtime owner Janet King loved the blues, he said, and by the late 1990s, she had transformed the Ritz into a venue for rising musicians like Johnny Hoy, Maynard Silva and Susan Tedeschi. “Music is what changed the place from being a collection of drunks to so much vibrancy,” Mr. Benjamin said.

Natasha Taylor and Julia Celeste enjoy expanded menu. — Timothy Johnson

The bar’s seedy past became dimmer and dimmer, but still deterred some visitors, said Jeremy Berlin, an Island keyboardist who plays with local jazz and blues bands. Mr. Berlin began playing at the Ritz around 1985 and now performs there regularly with Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish.

“There are people who are just denying themselves a good time by being afraid of the old shadow that the Ritz cast,” he said this week. “Then there are plenty of people that just know it’s a good place to hear music.” The Ritz is among his favorite Island venues. “Where a band is in a corner and everybody is kind of right up in your face, that has a quality — it can be heaven and it can be hell. But when it’s good, it’s perfect.”

The Ritz was on the market for about four years, and deals with potential owners had surfaced and fallen through. The Stallingses had shown an interest about four years ago, but a deal was never reached. By the time they took over, there were plenty of rumors about what might happen to the Ritz. Some people worried it would end up as a mixology bar. Others were afraid it would become T-shirt shop.

“Everyone was skeptical about anything new but those guys have done everything to render people’s skepticism completely moot,” said Mr. Berlin. “They are doing a fantastic job.” A new five-dollar cover charge was also met with some skepticism, but has given performers a well-needed boost.

Still a local haunt, but seedy past grows dimmer. — Timothy Johnson

New touches include an expanded menu, with wings, burgers and Tex-Mex items like tacos and quesadillas. The bar’s chili won third place in this year’s Big Chili Contest sponsored by mvyradio. New televisions were installed, along with an underground tap system for the bar. The bar was restocked with higher-end products and a bigger selection. Last drinks are served at 1 a.m.

The new owners and Mr. Theobald have recognized the bar’s gritty ambiance as an asset and have kept it pretty much the same. Mr. Benjamin said the Ritz was one of the few roadhouse bars left in the Northeast. “Down south there are some places like that but it really is one of the holdouts,” he said. And the subtle changes over the last year have made a big difference, he added. “It’s a much friendlier vibe in there.”

Mr. Stallings said the last few months have been something of a testing ground for future programming, and he expected the summer schedule to be “off the hook” with live entertainment. Upcoming events this month include a Valentines Day party with Johnny Hoy and a Mardi Gras party with Mike Benjamin.

“If there is one thing we can do, we can throw a party,” Mr. Stallings said.