A PIECE OF HISTORY COMES HOME
In 1890, R. Rothschild’s Sons Co, a renowned Cincinnati-based manufacturer of furniture, saloon fixtures and billiard tables, manufactured what would become one of the most noteworthy antique bars of the present day. After more than 127 years and multiple owners, Jeff Ruby is now bringing the stunning, one of a kind LaFayette Mirror Bar home to hold forth in his flagship restaurant, Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse.
Originally, the bar was designed on spec and then commissioned to be built by the owner of the LaFayette Hotel in Utica, NY. As was the case with this grand piece, manufacturers like Rothschild would often design and then sell the fixture on paper prior to building it as its size, cost and intricacy made it very challenging to inventory and wait for a willing buyer.
After several decades of service in Utica it was sold in 1921 to a wealthy hotel owner 20 miles away in Oriskany Falls, NY. Dismantling and transporting the enormous piece was a process nearly as arduous as the manufacturing of it; the bar came apart in pegged sections that were carefully marked to aid in reassembly. Teams of laborers loaded each section into horse-drawn buggies and the bar was carefully relocated to its new home. So careful were the movers at that time, not one of the 250 half-inch thick beveled mirrors were damaged (despite tufts of hay being the only readily available packing material).
Fifty-six years passed and in 1977 two investors purchased the bar and moved it cross-country to Seattle, WA where, after a 13 year stint in storage, it was fully restored and placed in the Beach House at Shilshole Marina and then in the Drift-On-In Roadhouse Casino in 1998.
Nearly 20 years later and with the Casino closed, a new buyer was sought. In 2017, Michael Williams, owner of Wooden Nickel Antiques – a local firm specializing in the restoration of unique antique bars and fixtures – purchased the bar. On his return trip from Washington State where he dismantled and packed it up for its journey back across the country, Williams answered a phone call from Jeff Ruby, a restaurateur with a keen eye for items of historical significance who happened to be in the market for a landmark antique for one of his steakhouses.
The bar would be coming back home to Cincinnati.
Seeing the LaFayette Mirror Bar is just about the only way to fully appreciate it as its elaborate details are so numerous and unique. Nearly every element of the bar is original, restored to its initial luster and magnificence. It measures nearly 28 feet wide and the bar top is made of a single, solid piece of oak. Overhead, a stately canopy frames curved mirror ceiling surfaces; design elements uncommon to any other period than pre-turn of the century.
At the corners of the canopy, two lions – hand carved from single blocks of solid oak – stand watch and reveal the amazing artistry behind the bar’s overall design. There are still 250 mirrors lining the bar front and throughout, many reflecting detailed, hand etched patterns. Over the years, the mirrors have been so meticulously maintained that they retain sparkling clarity and brilliance.
Solid Italian marble pillars support the back of the canopy and provide contrast to twin terra cotta statues representing the natural elements air and water. A solid Italian marble rail extends the width of the bar and is supported by antique, ornate nickel brackets, a hallmark of a Rothschild’s Sons Co. manufactured fixture.
Jeff Ruby’s restaurants have always featured a treasure trove of antiques with remarkable histories. From Al Capone’s fireplace to turn of the century old-west saloon doors to artifacts owned by the biggest names in entertainment, nearly everywhere the eye wanders in a Ruby steakhouse, a piece from our collective American past is proudly in use and on display.
Williams describes the LaFayette Mirror Bar, though, as an antique unlike any other and possibly the most impressive bar he’s seen in over 40 years in the business. “The quality, construction, ornate design, condition, everything about this bar makes you want to just stop in your tracks and say wow…and then you stare at it for another minute and say WOW again.”
For Ruby, antiques provide a link to the past when the frontier, prohibition, art, politics, entertainment and more all converged to form the backdrop of significant periods in our history. As an innovator in the restaurant industry, the juxtaposition of his weaving the old into the fabric of the new has created a personal style as well as a corporate brand that is as unique and multidimensional as the LaFayette Mirror Bar itself.
This antique bar won’t be the first one that Ruby has purchased and returned to its birthplace. In 2011 at an auction in Boston, MA, he purchased a Brunswick Majestic Bar built by another storied, Cincinnati-based manufacturer of furniture, fixtures, pool tables and the like. Currently, the Majestic sits at Ruby’s first steakhouse, The Precinct.
As with each of his fine dining restaurants, this newest antique is about its story. Built in Cincinnati by a legendary family business, it has traveled the country and is now settling back in its hometown at another legendary family business where creating extraordinary memories and experiences are the order of the day.
“After almost 130 years, can you imagine the people that have sat around here at different points in history, at different times in their lives?” Ruby asks.
Indeed…the stories this bar could tell.
(For a complete history including photos, please click the link below)