Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The City that Once Was: Ruskay's on Columbus Avenue in New York

When I was studying at Juilliard, I had a job playing solo flute on a balcony at a restaurant on Columbus Avenue called Ruskay's. I played every Monday night from 6:00 to midnight (for the dinner hours), and I had a wonderful time. The restaurant was owned by Richard Ruskay, who also owned the downtown Empire Diner. The food was terrific (in addition to getting paid, I got dinner--I loved the chicken salad with walnuts and tarragon), and the bar area (where I ate) always seemed to attract the same very interesting and intelligent people, and they were always really nice to me. As far as I can recall, the restaurant only had live music, and it had a bohemian kind of energy that made it far more than a place of business.

I believe a friend (who played piano there) suggested I go into Ruskay's and ask if they were interested in having a flutist play. I only recently learned that Michael Parloff had been playing there before he got his job as the principal flutist of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, and that I must have walked in at the right time. It was 1978, they had been open for two years, and they were indeed looking for a flutist to play during dinner.

I stayed until I left New York in 1980, and learned that Ruskay's had closed in my absence. There are very few remnants of it (and no pictures) on line, so I thought I would post a bit about it, just in case some of my nostalgic friends from those glorious days might be searching.

8 comments:

untappednewyork.com said...

Thanks for the link to Untapped! I went to Juilliard too, for cello. If you have any other tidbits on Ruskay's, I'll do a write up on it and I can probably dig up some history that's not online. Let me know! :)

Elaine Fine said...

Were you around during the Ruskay's era?

untappednewyork.com said...

I think so, but I don't think I knew about it. I wasn't allowed to do very much exploring by my mom back then :)

George said...

I was just chatting about Ruskay's with a friend ... we remember the the place well...including the constant windexing of the mirrored tables. :) Do you remember who the pianist was? Many thanks for this post. George

Elaine Fine said...

Ah yes, the mirrored tables! There were lots of pianists. As I recall there was usually a different musician for every night of the week, and sometimes there were two per evening. Unfortunately I can't remember any names!

Anonymous said...

I loved Ruskay's for a hearty late night breakfast and super-sized slices of cake. I am sad there are no photos of the place.

Howard Hoffman said...

I was thinking about Ruskay's today and tried to look it up. This post and the New York Magazine blurb are about the only things of substance that came up, but I'm happy to see at least some people keeping he name alive here...even if it is a four year old blog post! Early one Sunday morning - I'm talking around 1:30 - I was having late night coffee and a sandwich with a woman pal also in my business. I looked over her shoulder to see a pretty psyched up group of people pour in and instantly recognized them as the cast and crew of Saturday Night Live. This would have been the last season of the original cast. They made a beeline to the back room of Ruskay's for whatever unspeakable post-show party they had. I regret not trying to crash it. But I'll never forget the vibe that place had.

Toni Silver said...

I adored Ruskay's. Everything about it was right; it was unique, cozy, cool, there were art deco wooden booths and tables, yes, with cobalt blue mirrors. If memory serves, the food was good and they had 1 3-course menu a night which cost $10. I do remember the live music and the vibe and the giant slabs of delicious cake and punky wait staff. Oh, how I long for the days when the UWS was cool and full of artists, musicians, dancers, singers, great old shops and restaurants, old european Jews, Puerto Rican families and us gays. Wish I could find photos. Thanks for writing about it.