The Ruby Owl, a Gastropub

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We left Big B’s with Gary, our designated driver, behind the wheel of the white van. All six of us told him how to find The Ruby Owl. The 400 block of N. Main Street is one of the large downtown blocks. The easiest parking is in a lot on the west side behind the stores. That’s where Gary parked, but then we couldn’t figure out where, or if, The Ruby Owl had a back entrance. So we fooled around behind the 2 Blondes shop sticking our heads through a display. 2 Blondes is a cool shop owned by two blonde (of course) sisters. According to their Facebook page “they developed a business in which they embellish uniforms, tshirts, sweatshirts or any clothing with bling and fun designs.”

Still not finding an entrance to The Ruby Owl, we walked up to Church street, turned the corner onto Main and headed south until we found The Ruby Owl. Marv and I usually get to the farm market each Saturday morning on Main street. We noticed the plywood covering the tavern’s front. But in June the plywood was gone, windows and a door were in place and the cool Ruby Owl sign arched over the front.

The Ruby Owl is not a remake of an existing bar, but a brand new bar in an old building on Main Street. The Ruby Owl, at 421 N. Main Street, occupies a two-story building dating from the late 1800s. It was a ladies dress shop back in the day and most recently Soiree, an upscale shop selling all sorts of cool stuff: jewelry, photographs, bric á brac. But alas, it closed. Then the owners of Gardina’s restaurant and wine store at 488N. Main Street bought the building. Their intent was to open a bar specializing in beer and also serving food−a bistro, if you will. They call it a Gastropub, which is a word my Microsoft Word dictionary doesn’t know about.

The Ruby Owl opened for business on June 27, which was several months later than they had planned on opening. But like most old buildings downtown the infrastructure was in bad shape and more serious work then they expected needed to be done. The wait was worth it. The place looks great. We especially liked the entrance sign that arches over the front of the building.

Like Bar 430 across the street, the walls are the original light colored brick (Around here we call that Cream City brick.) The front half of the place is filled with black tables and chairs. The bar runs about 30 feet beyond that along the north wall. The back “bar” has glass shelves holding hard liquor−the best stuff on the top shelf. The 30 taps are arranged in clusters.

Usually on our visits on Wednesday, the tavern crowd is sparse, but here all the tables were taken. We wedged into an opening at the middle of the bar and placed our order. Marv and I had Bell’s Amber Ale, Elaine chose Revolution Anti-Hero IPA (We think Elaine chooses a beer with the coolest name.) Don’t know what Don chose, but Judy chose Spotted Cow, as she said, “30 beers and I have a Spotted Cow.” Well, it’s a good beer and if you like it, why not? Gary, our designated driver had nothing.

All the tables were full so where we were going to sit to eat a meal was a problem. Judy spied a table for five with four guys sitting at it. They weren’t eating anything, so Don made a deal with them. “Exchange your table for our seats at the bar and we’ll buy you your next beer.” Deal made! Don mentioned later that except for one guy who drank a Gran Belt ($2.50) the rest chose the higher priced beers at $5 and $6 each.

We pulled another chair to the table and made it work for the six of us. This table like others closer to the bar was tall with bar stools type chairs. The tables in the front half are more conventional in height.

A few hours before we set out on this Ride, I had read the Ruby Owl’s menu and pretty much knew what I wanted: the roasted Brussel sprout salad with pears and almonds. I’ve always liked Brussel sprouts; my mom grew them in her victory Gardens during World War II so my sister and I had happily eaten all the vegetables that kids are not supposed to like. There were a few exceptions: Zucchini squash and eggplants. Mom didn’t like growing them. There was one time she breaded and fried zucchini slices that were about 3 inches in diameter. It was a failure. I’m guessing the squash was a gift, maybe from one of my dad’s patients.

Judy and I ordered the salad, Gary a hamburger, Marv and Don had the meatloaf sandwich and Elaine chose grilled chicken gyro. Interesting and pretty good was her comment. Holly was our waitress and she took the time to explain all the different dishes to us. That was nice.

It’s not unusual for us to run into someone we know when we are visiting these taverns. And tonight was no exception. For at the end of the bar sat the pianist from our church having a beer and supper with her son. We visited with her and told her how much we enjoyed her mini-concerts before services began.

We noticed a decoration that seems to be coming more and more popular−Edison lights. They are oblong bulbs with a point on one end. The glass is clear, sometimes amber colored, and the filament is visible. Marv bought a string of red and green ones a couple of years ago to drape over the doorway to our house at Christmas time. We saw these bulbs at Chester V’s as well as The Ruby Owl where they are in chandeliers over the bar.

We had exhausted talk about college basketball and football, so tonight the subject of voting came up. For just around the corner was the Primary Election on August 9. Marv, Tom and I usually vote early. This stems from the fact that for 15 years I was a poll worker for the City of Oshkosh and never served at my own polling place. Even though I don’t work anymore at the polls, the habit has stuck and we vote early. Don and Judy are often in Florida during election time, so Don wanted to check with us to see if they still used the same polling place. I assured them that they did. I mentioned how easy it is to vote early, but Judy said she thinks it is important to vote on Election Day. She likes the feeling of standing in line and taking part on such an important day. Early or on the day itself, eligible voters should vote. That was our bottom line.

And with that we left The Ruby Owl. This time we found the back door and checked out the rest rooms which we passed on the way out. They were clean and modern, lacking some of the “charm” of restrooms in the old bars.

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About Author

Frankie Mengeling

Frankie Mengeling taught English at Oshkosh North High School and Lourdes High School and was co-director of the Fox Valley Writing Project at UWO. She lives on the Oshkosh’s only hill, with her husband Marvin, son Tom and cat Katrina. The blog www.ridingthebeertrail.wordpress.com began in the summer of 2009 after the three couple beer trail began.

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