Ruby’s Bar and Grill celebrates 80 years as Coney Island staple

Ruby Jacobs at Ruby's Bar & Grill at Coney Island, circa 1975.
Ruby Jacobs at Ruby’s Bar & Grill at Coney Island, circa 1975. Photo Credit: Flickr / mtaphotos

One of the oldest institutions on the Coney Island boardwalk will celebrate its 80th anniversary Saturday with a big party and longtime beachgoers and community leaders say it serves as cornerstone to the neighborhood.

Ruby’s Bar and Grill had to weather financial uncertainty, the total transformation of the surrounding amusement park and a superstorm, but owners say they have always pulled through with the help of their patrons. Michael Sarrel, a proprietor at the bar and husband of co-owner Melody Sarrel, said the eatery, which is lined with original boardwalk wood. reflects Coney Island’s sense of nostalgia that brings together old and new visitors.

“You come to Ruby’s and you can see pictures on the walls. People like to see the progression of the community and the old times,” he said.

Ruby’s is one of the oldest venues on the boardwalk, next to Nathan’s Famous, the Wonder Wheel, and the Aquarium.

It opened in 1934 as Hebrew National Deli, and served beachgoers tasty sandwiches, and 20 years later, a bar was added. The owners at the time replaced the cold cuts with burgers, clams, fries and other specialties on the menu.

In 1975, longtime Coney resident and restaurant owner Ruby Jacobs bought the bar, renamed it and today his daughters, Melody Sarrel and Cindy Jacobs Allman are in charge.

Stephanie Gutarra, who’s been a Ruby’s bartender for three years, said the joint has always had a great relationship with the customers who relish its longevity and mom and pop feel.

“It’s a family. That’s the best way to put it,” she said.

Johnny Corona, 56, who has been coming to Ruby’s since he was a kid agreed and said it’s been ingrained with the beach’s one-of a-kind Brooklyn culture.

“The people, the atmosphere, the sun … the circus atmosphere; you never know what you’re gonna see,” he said. “It’s a gathering place for old and new friends.”

Ruby’s however wasn’t fully immune to the changing atmosphere and financial difficulties that closed Astroland, Denny’s Ice Cream Shop and other mom and pops.

From 2000 to 2012, a time when the area saw a new baseball stadium, a revamped Luna Park and other venues, the bar lived off one-year leases, which scared customers into thinking they may have had their last burger.

“It was difficult because it was like the boy who cried wolf. Every year the wolf never came,” Michael Sarrel said.

Things got really serious in 2011 when it looked like it wasn’t getting a new lease. Sarrel said the staff started to sell equipment and memorabilia but they were able to strike a deal with the owner for an 8-year lease.

The deal came in handy for the boardwalk the next year when Superstorm Sandy struck and devastated the beach. Aside from a lack of electricity, the bar wasn’t damaged and the staff was up and about helping volunteers with food and water.

City Councilman Mark Treyger said their presence also gave Coney Island residents a sense of calm after the storm.

“You can think of a number of establishments that became makeshift emergency centers [after the storm],” he said. “Ruby’s certainly played a huge role helping the boardwalk bounce back.”

Saturday’s celebration, which will include a DJ who will play tunes from the last 80 years, is a way for the bar to give back to its customers.

Melody Sarrel said she will continue her father’s legacy and make sure that Coney Island visitors will always have their familiar spot.

“I’d like to have another 80 years here so that my children, and future generations, can take over,” she said.

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