Where We Belong: Ruba Club

With our Isolation Drills series, MAGNET has been checking in with Philadelphia-area musicians to see how and what they’re doing during the pandemic. Now, we’re also shining a light on our beloved local venues, hoping their stages will be saved. Photos by Chris Sikich.

MAGNET: How is the Ruba Club currently holding up?
Rich Goldberg (owner):
It’s been pretty much closed other than some photo and video shoots. Also some unique private meetings we afforded to members. People still show up late night and hang around the gate, but we have not been open. There was a rumor the building was sold and that caused almost every booking from 2020 all the way to 2022 to cancel. People were posting about how they will miss Ruba. And the more they did that, the more it fed into the closing myth, and ironically, we lost all our bookings. What can ya do, social media: Can’t live with it, can’t live without. I’m just gonna leave it at can’t live with it. These days.

What was the last show featured at the Ruba Club?
It was a music theater production: A Very Awesome Purim. A parody tribute to pop music that tells the story of the Jewish holiday Purim. It sells out many shows, every year. When they said they were cancelling the remaining shows due to a virus, I felt bad for them. I thought it was an excuse for poor ticket sales. The idea of canceling all those shows for a virus seemed implausible. Over the next few days, it not only became plausible, it became the law.

What does the future look like for the Ruba Club?
It looks good. Financially, we’ve been devastated. But we’ll start back up at some point. Not before reigning in the risk. Ruba has a devoted following, membership and board—even our vendors are ready to help out. After 107 years, we can’t quit now.

How can the public support the Ruba Club right now? 
Support Philly’s local venues and hospitality workers. We’ve gotten a lot of help from PIVOT and NIVA, the venue organizations. I’m not sure how to answer this. I feel a need to have Ruba take care of itself, but they could support our employees? Or just book Ruba for shows, concerts, parties, weddings? We have never had zero bookings for the next few years. Not sure how that will play out, but I hope the schedule fills in once the industry reopens.

Drew Nugent (Midnight Society) on the Ruba Club and life during the pandemic

Like just about everyone else in the music and entertainment industry, my bandmates of the Midnight Society as well as myself have definitely been struggling to say the least. 2020 started out as a year with tremendous potential. A full docket of gigs. Starting out with our New Year’s Eve party of epic proportion over at the Arts Ballroom, each month was looking better than the last. April alone would’ve paid my rent for almost the entire year. However, that all disappeared around the third week of March when the excrement struck the exhaust system, as it were. 

That said, the year wasn’t a complete wash. Initially I took to doing livestream concerts at my piano in my living room. Having all your whole year of work just vanish into thin air before you is almost indescribable. At a loss, I put up a tip link, and it really took off. It helped keep me from going completely broke. With that came offers for virtual performances using Zoom.

My manager Adam Iezzi and I began hosting my Vaudeville show, Nugent’s Follies, via Zoom as well. It has connected us with all sorts of acts and performers that we otherwise would have never met. The coolest part about these virtual shows, as well as performers we were hiring for the Follies, was that they were from all over the world, let alone from all over the country. And I’m still getting offers to do them, and the Follies online series, Where’s Vaudeville?, is still going strong every other Friday night from 8 to 9 p.m. EST.

My team and I are eager to try to plan a “worldwide tour” of sorts, linking up with venues, clients, performers, entertainers and musicians along the way, putting on shows. In the meantime, you can catch yours truly manning the one-man band as it were, every Saturday night for the Kater Street Sessions. From 8 to 9:30 p.m. EST, I go live on Facebook, playing classic “hot jazz,” ragtime and other obscure syncopated rarities. Lots of songs, lots of stories!

You hear correct, a one-man band. Since I can’t get the whole Midnight Society together, I’ll be swinging out on the piano, cornet, teapot, melodic and some vocalizing. And often times, all at once! These Saturday-night live broadcasts have been a godsend in helping keep some money coming in to pay bills. 

2020 into 2021 has been a whirlwind for sure. It hasn’t been a complete and utter loss. Gigs still trickled through, and they continue to do so. Plans are being made for all sorts of public and private events, and gigs in general. During the warmer, more clement months (or when it just happens to be mild enough), my Midnight Society Trio or Quartet takes to busking at either Rittenhouse Square, near Parc restaurant, or outside of Khyber Pass Pub in Old City.

The Trio was playing at Khyber every Saturday night from August into December. After that, it just wasn’t feasible. Now we are playing the waiting game again. Like I said, big plans lay ahead, but we have to see our way through this pandemic. These upcoming events will adhere to all safety precautions concerning the virus. 

Interviews with publications like MAGNET have been crucial in keeping my band and me relevant, by keeping our name and our music out there. Helping us spread the word about what we are doing, where we are playing. It seems somehow fitting that a cast of characters so notoriously colorful as my band and me be called upon to comment on a venue of bearing the same qualities, such as the Ruba.

Love it or hate it, the Ruba is one of the historical venues of our fair city of Philadelphia. If I am not mistaken the acronym stands for Russian United Beneficial Association. Now just known as the Ruba Club. It began as a social club whose mission was to help the families of immigrants from Russia and Ukraine and their local community.

For the most part, the place is still very much in original condition. As a nerd for history, this and the fact that the Ruba was a speakeasy during the 1920s was right up my alley as a bandleader for a band that plays only old jazz and pop tunes from the 1900s to the 1930s. Just to be in the building and feel its energy and spirits always got me in the mood to “play some of those good old good ones,” as Louis Armstrong would say.

Over the last decade, my band and troupe of entertainers has done countless shows at the Ruba, including a weekly speakeasy party, USO shows, benefits/fundraisers and many more. Its quirky intrinsic charm really makes it a backbone in the chain of Philly’s famous—and infamous—venues.