Fourteen years ago, Frank Gluska was kicking back at Coney Island institution Ruby’s, our Best Throwback Bar of 2006, when the manager (whose sister Frank had been dating for twelve years) told him, “Can’t you see we’re busy? Get behind the bar.” “I got behind the bar,” says Gluska, “and that was the beginning of the end.” Since then, he has learned the truth of late owner Ruby Jacobs’s favorite saying, “Once you get the sand of Coney Island between your toes, you’ll never leave.” Because we’ll probably spend the Siren Festival at Ruby’s on Saturday, we asked Gluska to explain his self-described addiction to the place.
Ruby Jacobs was a Coney Island legend who went from peddling on the beach to owning bathhouses to owning the bar. Did you get to work with him?
By the time I got there, he just “supervised.” Even when he had Ruby’s, Ruby still got up with his metal detector and came to the beach for coins, change, and rings. He was a real Coney Island boy. Sometimes a bird comes in and I say, “That’s Ruby checking things out.”
His bar used to be under the boardwalk.
If you go to the basement, it looks exactly the same as in eighties. It’s wet and smelly, and there are rats down there bigger than dogs, but you go down there and you feel like spirits are still there drinking.
What’s the wildest thing you’ve ever seen on the boardwalk?
[In 2005] a plane crashed on the beach right in front of Ruby’s. It was a small Cessna that lost power — one of the old-timers, Bobby, ran to the beach and pulled the pilot out.
Is there a competition between you and the other boardwalk bar, your neighbor Cha Cha’s?
Cha Cha’s is more Williamsburg, Lower East Side, where Ruby’s is the real hard people — the people that’ll give you an argument for their beer. If people come up and ask for a Sex on the Beach or a Fuzzy Navel, we don’t make them. Ruby was very adamant about that.
What sort of things do you hear from the old-timers?
We had a guy, he was getting very old. He was an “associate” or something. One night he was drinking and drinking. He says, “You know, Frank, I got a house upstate and I can’t even sell the place.” I go, “Why can’t you sell it?” He tells me, “If I sell the place, they’ll start digging, and you know how many bodies they’re going to find?”
Your bathroom is going to be a destination during the Siren Festival this weekend.
The women put enough toilet paper in the toilet to blow the thing up. At one time ten guys could go to the bathroom, but we just got rid of the trough. It was leaking from everywhere. The customers were very, very upset.
How do you balance your work at Ruby’s with your other jobs as a taxi driver and real-estate owner?
I can’t concentrate on my other jobs. Tuesday through Thursday, I’m getting ready for the weekend. We work the weekend, and we come home in pain and we say, “What do we do this for?” By the next weekend, we can’t wait to come back. It’s an addiction.
What’s it like working on days like the Mermaid Parade?
We live for that. The season is made on a couple of days. We start praying in April for good weather on Mermaid Day. Friday night I was so looking forward to going home. I get a phone call telling me there are 25,000 people on the subway, coming down for fireworks. We were there till 4 a.m. That’s part of Coney Island — you never know what you’ll get.
What does the future hold for the bar? Do you talk about it?
We hope we still have another season. When Thor does build, hopefully they’ll give us a little piece of a place where we can make a bar. But it’ll never be the same. Right now it’s a million-dollar view. It’s a poor man’s Hamptons. The corner stool that Norm always sits in, that’s priceless.