More than a mere watering hole, Ruby’s is a neighborhood institution and makeshift museum, its blue walls covered with old photos of Coney Island’s glory days. Somewhere in the middle hangs a Robert Leach painting of the bar’s legendary original proprietor, Rubin “Ruby” Jacobs, sporting his trademark Toronto Blue Jays cap.
A Coney Island native and noted beachcomber, whose name now adorns a nearby street sign, Mr. Jacobs famously went from hawking candy bars on the boardwalk to operating four bathhouses, before opening his eponymous bar in 1985.
Mr. Jacobs died in 2000 at age 77. But his legacy lives on. His family still runs the joint. Daughters Cindy Jacobs-Allman and Melody Sarrel hold the liquor license. His son-in-law, Michael Sarrel, manages. His grandsons, Matt and Steve, tend bar. The future of the family business, however, remains as cloudy as a Mermaid Day hangover.
Their landlord, Mr. Sitt, who acquired the Ruby’s building in 2006 alongside nearly 80 percent of the surrounding amusement district, has been anxiously awaiting zoning changes in order to redevelop the whole area into a glimmering Las Vegas-style resort, complete with new hotels and restaurants.
And waiting. And waiting.
His controversial plan drew a stern rebuke this past November from city officials, who questioned whether a veteran shopping mall developer had the necessary experience to oversee such a storied amusement park; in recent months, though, officials from both sides have been working on a compromise.
Mr. Sitt had reportedly offered Ruby’s a new space within his proposed development, though the iconic bar’s standard-bearer, Mr. Sarrel, has seemed rather nonplussed by the idea of bringing a breezy, open-air bar indoors for year-round service.
In the meantime, Saturday’s bizarre incident seemed an apt metaphor for the state of Coney Island at present: With a viable plan for revitalization still stuck in committee, what’s left of the ancient seaside attractions continues to rot—and yet somehow clings to life.
Sure enough, on Sunday afternoon, one day after the bizarre bathroom collapse, Ruby’s reopened for business, its venerable jukebox blaring Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.” as faithful patrons sipped $6 plastic cups of the house brew, Ruby’s Amber—albeit without adequate facilities to relieve themselves afterward.
A makeshift barricade of stacked tables and chairs blocked passage to the ill-fated restroom, now under repair. When a group of customers whined about the lack of toilets, the good-humored proprietor, Mr. Sarrel, simply replied, “What, you wanna go through the floor?”