The Ritz Cafe has a new name and new menu, but promises to keep the old vibes. The Ritz SoulKitchen and Barbecue opens Thursday night after being closed since the beginning of March for refurbishing. For owner Larkin Stallings, it was an opportunity to take the food up a notch. For managing partner Benjamin deForest, it was a chance to explore a new concept and evolve the classic dive bar.

Mr. Stallings and Mr. deForest, chef-owner of the Red Cat Kitchen, began a loose partnership in 2015 when Mr. deForest brought the Red Cat Kitchen to the Ritz for the off-season. After last summer, the two decided to formalize the partnership.

Over the last month, a new menu was created, a craft cocktail program developed and the interior of the bar decked out with murals, new floors and a ceiling full of stars.

As executive chef for the Ritz, Donnie Glass will debut a new menu on Monday focusing on Oak Bluffs-style barbecue. It’s a style they are developing as they go along.

Ben deForest, chef-owner at the Red Cat Kitchen, is also a managing partner of the Ritz. — Mark Lovewell

“It draws from the heritage here of Martha’s Vineyard and of Oak Bluffs,” said Mr. deForest. “We’re in a seaport, we’ve got beautiful fresh fish that a lot of traditional barbecues don’t have an opportunity to get. We’ve got the bounty of all the amazing Island farmers, so we incorporate that into it as well. It’s also a soul kitchen too, which takes some of the background of Donnie Glass, our executive chef here, and my own take on food for the soul.”

The first few nights will feature guest chef mash-ups. And all day brunch will be served Saturday and Sunday.

Mr. deForest said he will continue as chef at the Red Cat Kitchen, which opens April 1.

Behind the bar has also received an upgrade. TJ Lynch, a New York city bartender and a foremost authority of the craft cocktail movement, helped develop the Ritz’s new drink program. Not only will there be new drinks behind the bar, including two wines and one cocktail on tap, even the ice is going top shelf.

“The only, I mean only, true ice machine for a cocktail bar on Martha’s Vineyard that has one inch by one inch by one inch actual ice cubes...we’re gong to have true ice cubes for every drink that’s made here,” Mr. deForest said. “It’s the difference between a good bar and a great bar.”

Citrus juices from grapefruit to orange, lemon and lime, will all be hand squeezed. But at the end of the day, “You can still come here and have a great choice of beers,” Mr. deForest said.

The updated menu and bar will accompany the familiar music scene.

“We need to always remember that the music is a great piece of what our heart is,” said Mr. Stallings.

Mr. deForest said most nights will feature early and late shows, with sets from bands like Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish, Willy Mason, Mike Benjamin, Evan Hall and Crooked Coast.

As with any change on the Vineyard, there has been backlash and rumors.

“There’s some people that are not happy about it,” said Mr. deForest. “There are Ritz purist who think I’ve destroyed the Ritz. But you know what, I just don’t buy it...everything evolves and it’s time the Ritz did.”

Mr. deForest sees the stagnation of the bar scene reflecting a stagnation in the town.

“I think that Oak Bluffs right now needs a serious shot in the arm,” he said. “I think that if we don’t do something here in this town, we’re going to lose our relevancy and we’re going to be playing catch up for the rest of our lives to Edgartown.”

He wants to see Circuit avenue packed with a vibrant night life. Giving the Ritz a shake-up is a start. But a new coat of paint, an upgraded menu or more imaginative drinks won’t change the soul of the Ritz.

“The Ritz has been a dive bar since 1945 and it’s not going to stop being a dive bar no matter what we’ve done to it,” said Mr. deForest.

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