The owners of the Ruby Fruit, Silver Lake’s new natural wine bar, have more than just a new business on their hands. The pair have also begun a journey back to relevance for lesbian-owned queer bars, many of which were struggling and outright disappearing even before the pandemic further decimated the hospitality industry.
Former Eszett employees Emily Bielagus and Mara Herbkersman plotted a strategy to open their dream bar in the middle of Silver Lake, after that neighborhood restaurant announced its closure back in January. Together they turned around the Ruby Fruit in just one month, opening the front door on Tuesday, February 21 — a fast transformation for such a big idea. Though Los Angeles is filled with bars that cater to queer men, lesbian Angelenos have a more difficult time finding a place to call home. Of course, Herbkersman and Bielagus are quick to clarify that the Ruby Fruit is not just a lesbian bar, it also welcomes those who have yet to find a comforting and personal space of their own, including nonbinary, gender-nonconforming, and trans people. As for the name, the bar is an homage to Rita Mae Brown’s 1974 coming-of-age novel The Rubyfruit Jungle.
The wine bar’s timing is a fascinating one for Los Angeles, in part because a second woman/lesbian-owned bar called Honey’s at Star Love is also on the horizon, opening this weekend just a few miles away in East Hollywood. Similar to Silver Lake’s natural wine bar Jewell which opened in 2018, Both Honey’s and Ruby Fruit are the work of women who wanted to create safe spaces in Los Angeles.
Both Herbkersman and Bielagus were saddened when Eszett closed, and when the possibility of reopening a new business in the same space became tangible, they wondered how they could make it work. Eszett had struggled throughout much of the past few pandemic years but was a deeply personal space for many. Herbkersman — who brings management experience from Toluca Lake’s Cascabel and Highly Likely in West Adams — knew the only way to keep the business sustainable was to pack the room.
“People have to be standing, a lot of elbow-to-elbow, and squeezing into overflowing booths,” says Herbkersman. “People have to be huddled around a table, and it can’t be like two people [that] are having dinner for two hours.” They believe that reverting to an inclusive and even more wine-focused approach can get them there.
Collaboration is another element the owners believe will assist in the long run. “We could have our hands in every pot if we wanted to,” shares Bielagus. “We could definitely be in control of everything that goes on social media, every single dish that comes out of the kitchen — or let someone else take the reins for a little while. [We want to] trust staff to lend their voice and their vision.”
Those familiar with Eszett will notice some of the former touches, like staff members and menu items made on the Mibrasa charcoal oven. The standing area is still at the center of the room as well, but otherwise, the space feels newly fresh. Herbkersman and Bielagus put their personalities and styles into the room, brightening it up with warm layers of pink and peach paint. It’s now a playful space with whimsical art on display, along with an endless loop of Indigo Girls songs playing in the bathroom.
Everything is designed to make the Ruby Fruit an easy hangout. There are no reservations and standing-room-only nights are the hope, while the menu will boast bottles from small production wineries hailing from France, Italy, and Spain, along with a German pinot noir on tap and a white traminette from a vintner in Asheville, North Carolina. Beer, cider, house-crafted tonics, spritzes, plus sparkling and orange wines are also available, along with a non-alcohol cocktail menu.
If in need of food, the Ruby Fruit offers light bites like jumbo shrimp in ‘nduja butter, bread service with honey butter or olive oil, warm marinated olives, smoked bacalao, salads, a Danish street-style hot dog, and honey dates for dessert.
The Ruby Fruit hours are Tuesday through Thursday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday hours from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Lunch hours will follow in the coming months.
Correction: March 8, 2023, 12:58 p.m. This article was corrected to include Jewel, a queer-owned, natural wine bar that opened in Silver Lake in 2018.