Ruby Tuesday

Not to be confused with the (overpriced) (semi-nasty) national restaurant chain, the Ruby Tuesday at 1978 Summit Street is an OSU campus institution. A mellow dive, Ruby’s is basically your proper English pub, outfitted almost entirely with wood and a dark, smoky atmosphere that grows incrementally warmer the foggier it becomes. A creaky wooden beer stained floor and matching bar, matching tables and chairs and stage further accentuate this idyll, not to mention the mostly killer jukebox. Above it a chalkboard calendar charts the musical acts due up this month, horrendous though most of them are. Two pool tables near the front door and real darts, an elaborately stained glass window on the other half of the bar and the kind of chattering hippie clientele that unites the thread of conversation, on quiet nights like these, from one end of the building to the other.

When we first become aware of the joint, we’re living within stumbling distance at 1990 1/2 Summit Street, and are regular patrons soon enough. We walk two doors down to Ruby’s, where the rustic ambience blasts away our cabin fever. Here the sun slants through the stained glass of their elaborate front window, in warm shades reminiscent of a roaring campfire. More than anything, Ruby’s is a western saloon from the end of the 19th century, and if they’d only replace the jukebox with a beer soaked piano, the illusion would stand complete. Sometimes I imagine that I’ll glance through a pane of that multicolored window and feast my eyes upon a rutted dirt road with horse drawn carriages, a few stray tumbleweeds.

Were this the case, then our favorite Ruby’s regular would assuredly hold the post of town marshal. Unfailingly attired in cowboy boots and faded jeans, a thick salt and pepper mustache and button down shirt, he occasionally adopts a brown leather vest and ten gallon hat as well. Roaring down Summit Street in his enormous yellow 1970s auto, its muffler painfully ineffective, he parks in front of Ruby’s, breezes through the door arm in arm with his gloriously middle aged wife. Smiling in benign abstraction at everyone she encounters, the lady I peg as our mining boomtown’s lone seamstress, or perhaps the proprietor of its thriving whorehouse. A coy flapper girl perhaps, should she dress the part, were she twenty years younger.

As the sun sinks into purple twilight, this bluesy hillbilly outfit takes the stage. Pitchers of beer abound, and the air is alive with a dozen disparate conversations, audible alongside the band without drowning it out. On this side of the bar, they dim the lights down to accommodate a flickering candle atop each table, and we’re reclined here absorbing the group’s twangy wares. Though quite competent at what they do, this isn’t exactly our cup of tea, and we await the moment our quarters come up on one of the two pool tables.

The band finishes its first set, yet this ungodly feedback fills the air, leaving the guitarist onstage to investigate its source YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE and as Alan descends a flight of stairs to the basement restroom, the guitarist inspects his axe EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE he inspects his amplifier. He stands there literally scratching his head, but this voluminous, continuous squeal divides the atmosphere like a bandsaw EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE and the din grinds down to absolute standstill, pin drop quiet if not for the banshee shriek. Miffed by this mysterious malfunction, the guitarist begins unplugging their equipment, walking off with a shrug.

It is only when our mustachioed town marshal spins around from his bar stool to face the crowd do we divine the genesis of this marathon wail. Drawing deep within his powerhouse lungs for one last triumphant hurrah, he concludes this raucous endorsement HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAWWWWWWWWW!  and grins with obvious delight, knocking off the dregs of his beer mug. He stands and grabs a pool stick as the bar explodes with laughter, and the conversation eventually swells back to life.

“What the fuck was that?”  Alan asks, returning from below.

“It was him!” I cheer, pointing at our friend.

Christ that was loud,” Alan declares.

His wife showering smiles from her own barstool, our hillbilly friend rustles up a redneck partner and in tandem, they own the table. Our quarters come up and we meet them head on, but they eat up an hour draining our pockets, reigning triumphant. And yet within this window of fierce struggle, while the first band wraps up its show and a second nearly identical group begins, we manage just three games.

In shooting the breeze with his fellow patrons, pausing for giant gulps of draft beer, the average time elapsed between the arrival of his turn and that which he actually shoots approaches five minutes.  With every female entering the saloon, regardless of age or appearance, our goodwill ambassador slings an eardrum puncturing whistle in her direction. He lines up to take a shot, then straightens, turns to somebody at the bar behind him in resurrecting a prior conversation.

“Anyway, as I was saying……”

Maddening, if not so hysterical.

In lieu of a good woman, or for that matter any woman at all, we turn to Ruby Tuesday instead. Drink, pool, music: not the least bit novel by way of escapism, but solace plenty in times such as these. She’s always here for us, welcoming us into her womb, no matter how varied and strange the occasion. Walking in one drowsy weeknight unawares, A Clockwork Orange is flickering on the giant screen behind the stage, and we laugh our asses off watching Damon squirm in his seat.

“What the fuck!?” he bellows, “I don’t get it!”

Super Bowl Sunday Alan and I wander in to watch the Packers trounce the Patriots upon the same rolled down backdrop, shocked at the enormous food buffet provided to patrons gratis. Pizzas and meatballs and wings of every imaginable variety, it’s a far cry from the bland, dry popcorn secreted by that machine in the corner, typically our only sustenance here. But they likely banked enough dough that night selling booze and beer to the massed throng of screaming savages to pay rent for a year, justifying the banquet’s expense.

Aside from bartender Randy’s scowl, our sole entertainment most evenings is the more familiar standby, live music. Yet even such a tried and true commodity is never formulaic, despite their apparent intent to book an endless succession of jam hearty hippie bands. Somehow, be it opening act or otherwise, wild cards slip through the ranks, chaotically diverse in style as well as quality. An enchanting neo-psychedelic band named Sugar Pill, for instance, with a lead singer in granny glasses and a paisley shirt, tall and white with a huge jet black afro. A bad by-the-numbers metal band called Chaos Theory. The worst band of all time, Weave, comprised of four overly earnest dorks playing generic college rock, a torturous affair redeemed only by their cover of Duran Duran’s Rio.

Far more typical is a jam band Damon and I catch here one night, four older gentlemen known as Men of Leisure. Arriving during the final notes of one set, we endure a forty five minute break before they take the stage again for their last – no band was ever more fittingly named. Though now nearly two in the morning, a point where most attendees have either left or no longer care, their first tune alone clocks in at eight minutes, and the rest stray not far from this mark.

From the outset, we’re convinced they suck mightily. The chops heavy quartet – drummer, guitarist, bass player, and saxophonist – proffer a loose vibe a la Local Color, but lack both the style and the grace of that band, playing the part of Southern rock and roll vagrant to the other group’s west coast acid hippie. Bored to the point of nearly weeping, we endure three such meandering epics, and are too lazy to relocate ourselves before they begin a fourth.

Yet this particular song begins with a captivating James Brown style groove, before flying off, halfway through, into a Neil Young-ian feedback tangent. This singular feat alone is enough to win us over, and we’re rooted to our chairs for the duration of their performance, which extends well beyond two thirty. Men of Leisure ultimately win a thumbs up, but for every one of them there are four or five Weave around town, a half dozen Chaos Theory. Ruby’s embodies this basic musical pie chart as well as any campus bar, and still we can’t refrain from coming here, drawn by the lopsided uncertainty of what we might find.

You might expect that with a live music palette this diverse, the clientele might be hip to diverse tuneage on the jukebox as well. Yet there are apparently limits to this theory. I dare play the half hour Pink Floyd epic Echoes, which is fine and dandy until the music breaks away to that long section where there’s nothing but chirping seagulls or whatever for a solid two or three minutes. Randy preempts by storming over to the jukebox and skipping the rest of the song entirely, advancing to the next selection I’d picked with the press of a button. Applause breaks out in disparate corners of the bar, as three or four individuals clap their hands, shout their thanks to him.

An opening act now mounts the stage, Johnny Smoke. Hailing an hour west, from the eclectic rock and roll city of Dayton, Johnny Smoke hurl themselves into a breakneck set of punky pop.  But while the songs are unfailingly catchy, not to mention a far sight better than the standard fare here, an air of mediocrity pervades the performance, the musicianship itself. Their lone ace lies in the hand of a lanky, disheveled lead singer, who, while not vocally gifted, is nonetheless a ham actor born to be hogging the stage somewhere.

“If it weren’t for beer and pot, I’d be dead,” he announces, straight faced, between songs.

They launch into a tune concerning old Def Leppard and ZZ Top shows witnessed at the Hare Arena back home, in a jaunty vein akin to all that’s come before. Yet their set soon draws to a close, and the bar is swelling with an odorous flock intent upon catching tonight’s headliners. Judging from the crowd, we speculate another hippie jam band awaits us, an assumption soon proven correct.

Mary Adam 12 is the moniker this outfit operates under, but they just as easily could call themselves Local Color II or Men of Leisure Lite, a watered down version of what we’ve already seen done better. Sure, with a half dozen musicians who clearly know their instruments backwards as well as forwards, and a short, chubby chick doing a credible job on lead vocals, they stop short of outright hackdom. But every song they crank out sounds identical to the one before, and each is at least two minutes too long, a frightening cocktail for any group. Not to mention one that sounds like half the other bands we’ve heard around town, considering themselves a modern day Dead and cultivating a mob of would-be flower children wherever they wander. The music, accordingly, is an unrelenting, unwavering hippie shuffle – chick, chick chick; chick, chick chick; chick, chick chick – tedious as hell three cuts into the set.

Adhering to this vibe, the crowd seems also a strip mall version of the Local Color following. The swirly, elbows bent hands raised dance prevails here, predictably, but the girls are generally less hairy and the guys more inclined to shower, with both sexes dressing sharper, as a rule, than their Not Al’s brethren. A number of the same individuals assuredly populate both crowds, true, and yet whatever their particulars neither party has a problem displaying its affection for the meandering kaleidoscope of sound. Maybe if Alan or I are on drugs, like everyone else appears to be, then we might enjoy this grand spectacle better. We aren’t, however, and we don’t.

As much as we frequent this place, however, it’s only natural that we begin recommending it to others. Among the first such beneficiaries of our kindness are Mandy, Melissa, and K.C., a trio down visiting from our hometown area of Mansfield. Mandy especially falls in love the instant she sets foot inside the place.

She gapes at the bare wooden floors, scuffed, unvarnished, she marvels at the modest unoccupied stage. K.C. digs our favorite neighborhood haunt, too, mostly because this is one of the last establishments around still featuring actual cork dartboards. Everywhere else we encounter computerized plastic monstrosities, which tally the score, though offering nothing for aesthetics, the weight and feel of an actual steel tipped dart in hand, the joyous jolt of a successful toss.

Beer pours heavy from tap into pitcher, as we coalesce around a thrown together table on the other half of the bar. Setting up camp between the dartboards and the stage, pushing together three small square tables into a larger conglomeration. In teams of two we wage war upon the cork, each game an attempt to dethrone the previous winners. Adamant but the notable exception of Damon, who’s half crocked before we leave the house and spends his time trying to worm down September’s pants.

In the tavern’s cobwebbed basement, dust gathers on the ghosts of a bygone era. Robust years where a second bar, buried underground, thrives in autonomous glory and the booths, now dry rotted, cater to capacity. I look at these stained cement walls, barely visible in the lone light hanging at the foot of these stairs, and think of decade old conversations that died and dried against them, buried in spots by the handwritten, magic marker graffiti. I like to believe that the redolent swirl of voices and smoke and throaty barfly laughter never dissipated, but gradually morphed, through some mysterious alchemic process, into the mildewy stench that saturates the stillbirth air down here.

Gone beyond reclamation, the basement serves no purpose at present other than he and she restrooms that were never relocated. Upstairs beside the first pool table, a fist sized hole in the floor peers directly into the ladies’ facilities, but this piece of information amounts to no more than a useless, well known curiosity. Voices occasionally float skyward from below, and nothing else, for not even we are perverted or depraved enough to risk sneaking a peek. Collapsing face first in a crowded room, cheeks flush against the floorboard as eyeballs strain and rotate in their sockets for one meager illicit glance, yeah, this might ruffle more than a few feathers.

Below are some of my original notes on shows glimpsed inside Ruby Tuesday – and I should warn you, particularly if you or a loved one has graced that creaky old stage, a few of these reviews are not for the faint of heart…

Heavy Weather:  

Most of the acts gracing the stage at Ruby’s generally fall into the category of half-baked hippie jam bands. Terrible as a general rule, at least to anyone not blazed out of his mind on weed or psychedelics, but even so we can’t seem to stay away from Ruby’s entirely. Something to do with the warm atmosphere and its proximity to our home enables us to tolerate these nine piece cannabis laced outfits, even at their most droning monotonous extreme. For every Local Color, a tasteful, competent middle aged cover band specializing in cuts from the halcyon 60s, there’s a Heavy Weather plugging in and firing away here. It’s not so much that Heavy Weather’s bad – in fact they’re quite good at what they do – it’s that there are a hundred other bands around town proliferating the same material, the same vibe, a musical equivalent of the peace sign.

Johnson Brothers: 

Then again for every Heavy Weather there’s a dozen Johnson Brothers, groups even further down the food chain. A massive tribe of black guys who specialize in jittery funk, the Johnson Brothers command a sizable following wherever they go but to our overexposed ears nothing about them stands out as noteworthy. At first you’re enthralled with their musicality alongside everyone else, until three songs into the set when you realize whichever tune they play is going to sound exactly like all the others preceding it.

Thirteen O’Clock:  

Not expecting much, Alan and I grab drinks and a pool table on the other side of the bar, as far away from the stage as we can arrange ourselves. Friday night means paying a cover charge, but damned if we’re going to listen to this stuff, at least in any capacity greater than incidental background music. Imagine our surprise, then, when Thirteen O’Clock graces the stage, a ragtag rockabilly combo who effortlessly manage to blow away our lessened, jaded expectations.

Thirteen O’ Clock, man are they ever the real deal. These cats are just it. The nimble fingered bass player employs only an upright, while the drummer spends their whole show standing, his energy and ebullient smile radiating enough warmth to flatten the entire room. Rounding out the threesome is a singer/guitarist who nails the whole thing perfectly, sneering and grinning as the moment demands, their sound reminiscent of the Stray Cats but only to a degree. With a style independent of anyone else we’ve seen around town, they’re far away the best band either of us have seen down here, even more so than Local Color. To compare the faceless mobs following those Johnson Brothers around against the relative obscurity Thirteen O’Clock toils in underscores the crapshoot nature of this music business, catering to a public that values hype over substance and likes their entertainment nothing if not spoonfed. For two hours, Thirteen O’ Clock sails full throttle through their frenzied set, and we’re held rapt in their sway.

Welfare Gypsys: 

Later this same night, an odd collection of souls by the name of Welfare Gypsys inherits the stage, squashing all momentum their opening act has created. Sure, they’ve got their own unique sound, too, but not in a good way, not in any positive way at all. The word eclectic springs to mind although in its truest sense that term is used complimentary, which means that here it doesn’t apply.

They have some long hair Joe Satriani wannabe on lead guitar, a guy who looks and plays as though he’s bounced from one musical equipment store to the next for the past ten or fifteen years. This old hippie left over from a Vietnam protest in the sixties plays acoustic, while the lead vocals are handled by a soulful black chick with a deep, resonant voice far too powerful to be slumming amidst these hacks. Meanwhile, two clean cut kids straight out of some frathouse hold down the bass and rhythm guitar, respectively, with the spiked haired blonde kid from Thirteen O’ Clock manning the drums.

Fittingly, the music they play is also a total hodgepodge of styles. The first song they launch into is a cover of Christopher Cross’s Sailing and while opening with such a pisspoor choice is debatable, it is true that by doing so these Welfare Gypsys almost ensure that they will improve as the night progresses. Simply put, there’s nowhere to go but up. After this abominable leadoff track a number of like candidates follow, none of it holding together very well until midway through the first set. By now they’re at last able to lock into a steady groove, but the unfortunate repercussions are that we’ve already heard too much dreck to care.

Gravy: 

When darkness falls, we saunter next door to either drown sorrows or celebrate, depending on which end of today’s burning powder keg wick we choose to focus upon. Another cover charge and another series of stoner hippie bands await Alan and me, but we’re too worn out to wander much further from the house.

Gravy’s playing when we arrive, a bunch of good old boys specializing in hillbilly rock, a welcome respite from the endless parade of sunny 60s jams we’re accustomed to hearing here. Beers in hand, we grab a table near the back of the bar, finding comfort in the deepest, darkest corner, away from the prying eyes that a well lit room makes possible. Upon sitting down, the first song we witness Gravy rip into is a cover of Willie Nelson’s Whiskey River, which they stomp and shred to pieces, a romp so majestic that ol’ Willie’s probably hearing them, too, in whatever corner of the world he’s withering away in at this very instant.

“OWW!” Alan shouts.

“HOO-EEEEE!” I add.

“WHOOO-DOGGIE!” he enthuses.

“Whiskeeeeeeeyyy Riverrrrrrrrrrrr!” I call out for good measure, as the band begins its next song.

So impressed are we with this sizzling slab of Southern boogie that Alan and I shout out “WHISKEY RIVER!” at the end of every song Gravy plays, but they refuse to oblige us with an encore performance. The crowd surrounding us, tucked away in their isolated circles of candle lit tables, pays no mind to our overtures, though then again for drunken maniacs to hoot and holler song titles here at Ruby’s is nothing out of the ordinary.

     In between acts we’re hanging out by the bar, talking into some more coworkers from the restaurant, Jackie and Scott. Jackie’s a plump, short little hostess, always laughing at everything regardless of its humor content. She’s embarking tomorrow on a trip out west to visit some guys in Colorado who used to wait tables at our restaurant, in essence the same trip Tiffani just returned from. Scott, meanwhile, is a long haired dreadlocked kid who cooks in our kitchen part time, when he’s not busy playing with yet another local hippie jam band, Uncle Sam’s Dream Machine. He hasn’t been employed at our restaurant long, and I get the feeling he won’t stick around much longer, either.

Men Of Leisure: 

Next up on stage are those boring old bastards Men of Leisure, the most aptly named group in history. We reclaim our former table, Alan and I do, whereupon I immediately begin timing the band from the first note they play. A prior victim of theirs, I’m curious to examine not only how few songs they cram into a set, but how long each song stretches out, as well as what portion of the evening, exactly, these Men of Leisure spend on break.

A hybrid of sorts between Gravy’s hillbilly stomp and the meandering bongo-redolent noodling of everyone else who graces the stage here, this sums up the Men of Leisure in nutshell. These guys all look to be in their 40s and thus should not only know their way around a decent classic rock catalog but also how to crop their selections down to an acceptable length, but these overindulgent wankers have no concept of either. Their first song alone I clock at ten minutes, and it’s the shortest of their set. Four songs total lasting just short of an hour and they’re off the stage again, gone outside to smoke for half hour break number one. Alan and I are debating whether or not to stick around for set number two when a welcome face drifts past and plops down at our table, that of Jenny Hughes. Rare among my female coworkers, I feel a kinship with Hughes, that she can relate to my crazy lifestyle. She too has lost her license due to various infractions stemming from an insurance lapse, she too has a pair of roommates sharing an upstairs house on campus. One of these roommates, a meek, pale and skinny little blonde chick by the name of Jenny Kramer, has tagged along and dropped into the other remaining chair at our tiny corner table. Their spotting us back here is a minor miracle, though one I’m thankful has transpired.

Most groups are in the midst of a third set by this late hour but they’re just beginning their second, yet it’s difficult to fault these guys for the lackadaisical approach. Bands around here can get away with playing just about anything, for any length of time, so long as it has the appropriate trippy groove they can all shuffle to, one that enables them to spin around in circles while making animal mating calls.

The girls return this time with a half full pitcher of beer, laughing as they claim they’re too drunk to finish it. Alan and I have our own pitcher we’ve barely even made a dent in, but readily accept their offer, as Hughes gracefully sets hers next to ours. Then they bow out into the night, bidding us adieu, leaving us to smolder in their wake.

“Whew, she’s hot,” Alan gasps, his perspiration visibly intensified just from that brief interaction with the Jennys.

“Yeah, she is,” I agree. Kramer’s cute enough in her own right but I know he’s talking about Hughes, I don’t even have to ask.

      Later we’re standing by the bar, preparing to leave, when Seresa drifts in. Cafe Bourbon Street is dead tonight, she explains, and they decided to close up early. Alan and I are just finishing up our last cupfuls of beer as she grabs a bottle, slugging it down at a pace to rival ours while the three of us huddle in a loose semicircle. Gorgeous as she is, though, even a master conversationalist like Alan can only muster up so much small talk with her, a relative stranger, and after our beers are finished we’re the next ones out the door.

One Comment on “Ruby Tuesday

  1. Pingback: High Street | Love Letter To Columbus

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