One last drink at Ruby’s on the Boardwalk

One last drink at Ruby’s on the Boardwalk
Photo by Tom Callan

Hundreds of fans of the “old” Coney Island gathered for one last drink at the Ruby’s Bar on Saturday to protest a landlord’s decision last week to shut down the beloved Depression-era dive and eight other Boardwalk businesses in a bid to sweep away some of amusement zone’s carny feel.

The landlord, Central Amusement International, ordered the kitschy shops to vacate by Nov. 15. The businesses, including the Shoot the Freak booth, will be replaced for the summer.

“It’s a very sad day for Coney Island,” said owner Cindy Jacobs Allman, whose father Rubin Jacobs took over the 76-year-old bar in 1975. “The city needs to recognize that there’s a place for iconic spots like Ruby’s in the new Coney Island.”

As she spoke, she pointed out the irony of the city’s role in allowing Central Amusement to close the businesses: West 12th Street next to the bar is actually co-named “Ruby Jacobs’s Way.”

“How can they have a street named ‘Ruby Jacobs’ Way, but take away Ruby’s Bar?” Allman lamented.

Owner Michael Sarrel thanked the crowd for its support at the last drink at the 76-year-old Ruby’s bar on the Coney Island Boardwalk.
Photo by Tom Callan

City officials were absent from the rally, but it was the Bloomberg Administration that set in motion the process that ended with last week’s closure of Ruby’s, Shoot the Freak, Cha Cha’s, Coney Island Souvenirs, Gyro Corner and four others.

Last November, the city bought a vast portion of the Coney amusement zone for $100 million from developer Joe Sitt and then gave Central Amusement International a 10-year lease to operate a temporary theme park as part of a remaking of the entire neighborhood.

That lease included the Boardwalk properties shuttered last week — and mourned on Saturday.

Most at the boozy rally were just longtime customers, many of whom circulated petitions, held signs that called to save Ruby’s and sported T-shirts. And almost everybody sipped brews, chowed down on burgers and reminisced about their favorite times at the legendary watering hole.

“I had my first beer with my dad here,” said Maya Haddad, whose family owns Coney Island Beach Shop on Stillwell Avenue. “I get this nostalgic feeling whenever I’m in the bar. It’s terrible that it may have to leave.”

Photo by Tom Callan

Others agreed that Ruby’s has an old-time charm that is rare these days.

“It’s the best place in the world,” said Brian Dillon, who plans to write a protest letter to the city. “It never changes, that’s why it’s so great. Shame on those developers for taking it away.”

The Riegelmann Boardwalk institution opened as a bar in 1934, but really boomed after Jacobs took it over. It developed a carny-kitsch appeal that retained the old guard, yet brought int new retro-hip trendsetters, becoming the spot for the Mermaid Parade after-party — the same mix that made Shoot the Freak so popular.

“I’ve been coming here since I was a kid,” said Frank Collorio, who started a “Save Ruby’s!” chant. “Mr. Jacobs was a wonderful man.”

Jacobs’s family said that he loved the customers as much as they loved him.

Orestis Plaitis, owner of Gyro Corner on the Boardwalk, has also been evicted.
Photo by Paul Martinka

“That bar was his whole life,” Allman said. “He knew all the customers by name.”