The changing face of Coney Island

Ruby’s Bar will be decked in Boardwalk lumber

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Coney Island’s oldest watering hole is in the middle of a brand planking new makeover.

The owner of Ruby’s Bar is using discarded Boardwalk wood to spruce up the Great Depression-era dive’s honky-tonk interior — ensuring that the beach-front saloon will retain some of its old-school charm when its glitzy renovation is completed.

Michael Sarrel, who owns the beloved 78-year-old beer-and-burger joint on the Boardwalk near Stillwell Avenue, said he hopes the addition of the planks, which are slowly being removed from the Boardwalk as the Parks Department begins replacing sections of the famed esplanade with concrete and plastic boards, will make longtime Coney Island beachgoers feel right at home.

“We want to make sure that we keep all of our loyal customers,” Sarrel said. “Using the Boardwalk wood was the perfect way to do that.”

Sarrel is spending $10,000 to rebuild Ruby’s bar with wood from the walkway. The taproom’s wainscoting, bathroom and parts of its ceiling will also feature pieces of repurposed timber from the iconic Boardwalk, which opened in 1923.

Sarrel said he got the wood for free from the Parks Department, which ripped up sections of the Boardwalk as part of its $30-million renovation of the aging, 2.3-mile span, which stretches from Brighton Beach to Sea Gate.

Bringing the Boardwalk to Ruby’s is just one phase of an expensive face-lift that Sarrel said is costing him more than $100,000 — but the bar would likely have been torn down altogether had it not been for a last-second agreement to keep it intact.

Ruby’s was one of the so-called “Boardwalk Eight” — longtime Coney businesses that fought to stay alive after Central Amusement International was given control of their leases by the city in 2009 with a mandate to transform the People’s Playground into an upscale, year-round tourist destination full of hotels, restaurants and new attractions.

In 2010, a court ordered Central Amusement to let seven of the businesses remain open for one more season, after the amusement giant tried to replace them with fancier shops.

Last year, Ruby’s and Paul’s Daughter signed deals to stay on the Boardwalk, provided they get costly makeovers. But the rest of the shops — including Cha-Cha’s Bar and Beer Island — were forced to close.

Sarrel said Ruby’s will feature new floors, lighting, and bathrooms in addition to the decorative strips of Boardwalk lumber.

Boardwalk lovers cheered Ruby’s decision to preserve a piece of the promenade.

“It keeps a historic part of Coney Island alive,” said Todd Dobrin, the president of Friends of the Boardwalk.

Last month a city panel approved the Parks Department’s plan to replace a section of the Boardwalk in Brighton Beach with concrete and recycled plastic lumber — angering residents who fear the project will pave the way for the city to turn the rest of the walkway into an ordinary sidewalk.

Reach reporter Daniel Bush at or by calling (718) 260-8310. Follow him at
Updated 5:31 pm, July 9, 2018
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