One of downtown Oakland's most hallowed dive bars — and, at points in the last two decades, one of the only things going on in downtown Oakland after dark — the Ruby Room is now set to close for good after the new year.
The Ruby Room opened in 1999, several years before a wave of change and fresh energy would come to downtown and the Uptown area next door. It stood alone at night on a quiet block of 14th Street a block from Lake Merritt, across from the public library, in a space that looked like it had been a dive bar for decades.
The early crowds were hip and young, coming in for cheap drinks while being bathed in a lot of red lights — and a place where you could still smoke indoors. It soon spawned a spinoff, Radio, which also still exists and is another anchor of the downtown Oakland nightlife scene, and is also bathed in red light. (Ruby Room and Radio share owners, Alfredo Botello, Trevor Latham, and Tim Tolle, and Radio is staying open.)
As Oaklandside reports, Botello and his partners have decided to let go of Ruby Room because business has been slow since the pandemic, and just because they're all getting too old to run two bars.
"We’re aged out," Botello tells Oaklandside. "We’re north of 50."
Also, while other parts of Oakland, like Uptown and Temescal, have gained a critical mass of businesses and foot traffic at night since the days when Ruby Room opened, this part of town remains a ghost town at night.
"Ruby Room has always been a destination bar, meaning it’s not in the middle of Lakeshore Avenue, Telegraph, or Broadway. You have to want to go there," Botello tells Oaklandside.
Still, given its proximity to downtown, Ruby Room has long been a pit stop during times of protest, and it's a well known hang for a couple of generations of Oaklanders. It's also more recently been the ersatz clubhouse of the East Bay Rats Motorcycle Club, as Oaklandside notes, which owner Latham was formerly the president of.
Fans and boozehounds have another few weeks to say goodbye to the place, and some are already telling stories of blurry nights past on Reddit. (One mentions a "contest where you can drink for free until someone pisses themselves.") The final bash for the bar will be New Year's Eve.