Fourteen years ago, Frank Gluska was kicking back at Coney Island institution Rubys, our Best Throwback Bar of 2006, when the manager (whose sister Frank had been dating for twelve years) told him, Cant you see were 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 Jacobss favorite saying, Once you get the sand of Coney Island between your toes, youll never leave. Because well probably spend the Siren Festival at Rubys 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 Rubys, 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, Thats 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. Its 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.
Whats the wildest thing youve ever seen on the boardwalk?
[In 2005] a plane crashed on the beach right in front of Rubys. 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 Chas?
Cha Chas is more Williamsburg, Lower East Side, where Rubys is the real hard people the people thatll give you an argument for their beer. If people come up and ask for a Sex on the Beach or a Fuzzy Navel, we dont 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 cant even sell the place. I go, Why cant you sell it? He tells me, If I sell the place, theyll start digging, and you know how many bodies theyre 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 Rubys with your other jobs as a taxi driver and real-estate owner?
I cant concentrate on my other jobs. Tuesday through Thursday, Im 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 cant wait to come back. Its an addiction.
Whats 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. Thats part of Coney Island you never know what youll 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 theyll give us a little piece of a place where we can make a bar. But itll never be the same. Right now its a million-dollar view. Its a poor mans Hamptons. The corner stool that Norm always sits in, thats priceless.