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.