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What's Coney Island Without Ruby's?

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Father and son regulars Jim (left) and Jason Shannon comfort Melody Sarrel

Father and son regulars Jim (left) and  Jason Shannon comfort Ruby's co-owner Melody Sarrel. Kathleen Horan/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Kathleen Horan/NPR

After 76 years on the Coney Island boardwalk, Ruby's Bar and Grill is serving its last pints. The landmark's landlord is giving his part of the boardwalk a face-lift, and Ruby's is among the funky concessions that don't fit the new image.

At Ruby's last weekend, patrons filled the outdoor tables for a final opportunity to swill a pint at their beloved spot.

Chanting erupted periodically, and regulars who haven't seen each other in awhile embraced or treated each other to a shot of whatever dark booze was still available in the fast dwindling inventory.

Cindy Jacobs Alman and her sister took over operations from their father, Ruby Jacobs, who died 10 years ago.

"My father was a poor boy who grew up in Coney Island and always said, 'Once you get the sand between your toes, it never comes out,' " Cindy says.

"He used to take the people to the boardwalk, and when people would say, 'What's your best item on the menu?' he would say, 'Look out at that ocean.' "

He was also fond of saying, "Coney Island is the elixir of life." "That is actually carved on his monument," Cindy says.

Ruby's Bar & Grill

Ruby's Bar & Grill was one of the spots that wasn't granted new leases by landlord Central Amusement International. Kathleen Horan/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Kathleen Horan/NPR

When History Closes Up Shop

Ruby Jacobs gave the bar his name when he took the place over in the 1970s. Pictures of him still hang behind the bar. Fading snapshots also plaster the walls, and customers  point to black-and-white images of long-ago dismantled amusement park rides and seaside parades from decades past.

Andrea Cambridge is a blond burlesque dancer who goes by the name "Bambi the Mermaid." She walks past a motorcycle built into a table to show off pictures of her wedding reception, held at Ruby's in the 1990s. Even then, she says, they suspected the funky "Ellis Island" of bars might be on borrowed time.

"We always — even back then — felt like the end is near, because it's Manhattan's Riviera right on the ocean," she says. "I felt like we were really lucky to have all the time we had out here."

Coney Island is full of history, she says. "You can't preserve this one thing?"

Landlord Plans For New Clientele

Jim Shannon from Brooklyn would agree. He sits in his preferred corner spot at the bar wearing a straw hat that covers his gray hair. He's been coming to Ruby's for about half a century.

"I've seen people come and go, good friends and everything. Be like a sin to lose it," he says. "I mean, you give this place up, where the people going to go for the summer? Ruby's is gone; who the hell wants to go to Coney Island?"

The landlord, Central Amusement International, has said that it wants to modernize and invest millions in updating the boardwalk and bring in tenants who will attract visitors to the area year-round.

Plans include sit-down restaurants and sports bars instead of casual watering holes like Ruby's, which permits bathing suit attire.

Ruby's and seven of the other tenants who are also getting kicked out are trying to fight their evictions in court.  Meanwhile, they're supposed to be packed and moved by Monday.



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