Just before Tim Lemuel and Van Alston pose for a picture amid the construction debris of their new Fayetteville Street bar and part-time music room, Ruby Deluxe, Lemuel slips out of one T-shirt and into another: “BOSS,” the new black sleeveless T reads across the front, in capital white letters. Alston simply shakes his head and laughs.
“It’s just that he’s been my boss for so long,” explains Lemuel, “I’ve got to let people know who will be running this place.”
Lemuel has worked for Alston for nearly a decade, first at the Glenwood South cigar bar Havana Deluxe and, for the last five years, at the downtown mainstay dive, Slim’s. But Lemuel will be the majority owner of Ruby Deluxe, while Alston will only serve as the place’s managing partner. They’ll have a few more minority partners, too, including longtime Slim’s employees Makenzie Lang and manager Mark Connor.
The subterranean bar runs parallel to Davie Street and stretches between Salisbury and Fayetteville, with entrances at street level on both ends. Lemuel intends to open the 2,800-square-foot space—“a step above Slim’s, but not as fancy or expensive as everywhere else downtown,” they agree—in late June. But Alston is hesitant to set a definite date.
“After opening 15 bars or restaurants,” he says, “I’ve learned that grand-opening days are mostly the first day places piss everybody off, because they don’t actually open.”
Alston celebrated his 15th anniversary in Slim’s last year, and he and a team of partners purchased Chapel Hill venue The Cave in 2012. Lemuel has played in Raleigh bands Deep Sleeper and Left Outlet for years and has run the art studio and show space Ruby Red for nearly a decade. Despite those musical connections, and though Ruby Deluxe will feature live music several times per month, performance won’t be its focus. In fact, the low ceilings of the underground space—located between the Sir Walter Raleigh Hotel and the Sheraton and beneath the cocktail bar Common 414—even prevent a permanent stage.
“We don’t ever want to have a cover,” says Lemuel. “We want to be more like a lounge.”
When Lemuel first moved to the Triangle in 2001, he liked the city’s plethora of cheap dive bars, places like The Jackpot, Slim’s and Alston’s Comet Lounge. Of those, only Slim’s now remains. The demand not only still exists but, as Lemuel reckons, has increased with the influx of new people and high-dollar spots in and around the city center. By carefully controlling the music, the personnel, the décor and the prices, he wants Ruby Deluxe to help fill that gap. They will forego draft beer, for instance, and Alston travelled to St. Louis and Louisville to buy two very specific decades-old Perlick coolers.
“These are the best coolers ever made,” he says. “It’s stuff like this that gives us an old-bar feel, like we’ve been around for a while.”
The entire room will be rigged with stage lights controlled from a single light board, so that the mood can be changed quickly and so that, when they happen, shows can be properly lit.
“We’re not a bar on Fayetteville Street,” he says. “We’re a bar underneath Fayetteville Street.”
Ruby Deluxe will be located at 414 Fayetteville Street.