OSTERVILLE- “Welcome to the neighborhood,” Joe Diggs said, as a Cape Cod Wave reporter arrived to take photos of the artist in his Osterville studio.
Diggs’ neighborhood, where he grew up among relatives and friends, is tucked away off the main road in a woodsy part of Osterville, just past the cemetery and the remnants of his family’s popular nightclub, Joe’s Twin Villa.
The former establishment, which closed in 2008, has been overtaken by the Cape’s aggressive foliage, but the iconic red doors are still visible.
Diggs captures the essence of what the place was and what it meant to him and his family in a one-man show, called Joe Diggs: A Tribute to Joe’s Twin Villa, currently exhibiting at Cotuit Center for the Arts.
The building becomes a character in the series of paintings, sometimes ringed with gold, saint-like, other times ghostly white—a memory vaguely recalled.
In audio available to download at the exhibit, Joe Diggs talks about the nightclub; about his grandfather Joe Gomes—the “Joe” of Joe’s Twin Villa; about the meaning of “Twin Villa”—turns out Joe Gomes was a twin; about the atmosphere and popularity of the place.
Begun as a speakeasy during the Prohibition era, it was distinct in the era, in the 1950s and 1960s, for being an integrated establishment. Members of the storied Kennedys of Hyannisport, sports stars and celebrities mixed with people from the neighborhood as bands and DJs provided the entertainment.
During the 9-hour “multi-sensory” opening of the exhibit on August 3, 2019, there were bands and food and Joe Diggs served as the master of ceremonies. Friends, family, regulars and those who visited the bar just once or twice, all turned out to remember and share memories of the establishment.
At the opening, Diggs said, the general reaction to seeing a room full of paintings of the nightclub and a room full of admirers, was “Wow.”
“It was a good tribute,” he said. Stories of the old times flowed freely. A lot conversations began with “I remember when. . .”
“A couple people showed up who I hadn’t seen in many, many years,’ he said.
What Joe Diggs remembers about Joe’s Twin Villa is that no matter who came in, whether a Kennedy, a professional sports star or a celebrity, “We treated everybody the same.”
Everyone waited outside to get in, just the same. And when they got inside, there seemed to be an unspoken rule that people would not ask for autographs. That’s just the way it was.
But once inside, he said, the VIPs tended to sort themselves in different parts of the bar. “There was a celebrity structure. Everybody had their place,” he said.
Even the pro athletes seemed to self-select their locations: the pro hockey players would be in a different area than the pro football players, he said.
One of the memories shared during the opening was the night Joe Diggs shut the bar early because some patrons “trashed the men’s room.”
“It may have been what you call a classic dive bar, but we really cared about the place and it was always clean,” he said, remembering how he felt affronted by the damage.
Just down the street from the old bar, over a bumpy dirt road is where Joe Diggs creates his artwork, in the artist’s studio on the second floor of his home.
Upstairs in the traditional farmhouse overlooking a pond that itself inspires much of Diggs’ work, there are stacks of large scale paintings lining the walls. There is a room for the finished works and those in process.
Currently he is working on a large canvas inspired by his recent trip to Cuba.
He hopes there will be a second tribute, Joe’s Twin Villa Tribute, Number Two. The works in the current show, he said, “portray pretty simple approaches to how I feel.” He has other works inspired by Joe’s Twin Villa with “a little more depth.”
Until then, there are these works and the memories.
For more of Cape Cod Wave’s articles about local arts and culture, click on Culture.
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