The Ruby Fruit Los Angeles owners.

The Lesbian Bar Makes a Comeback in LA with The Ruby Fruit

For the sapphically inclined, The Ruby Fruit was celebrated for being the first new lesbian bar to open in Los Angeles since 2017. The impact its owners have made in a neighborhood that was once called the “Swish Alps,” has surprised even them. 

Words by Marc Graser
Images courtesy of The Ruby Fruit

People have been talking about the lack of lesbian bars in the United States since they started closing in record numbers in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. “As a lesbian, of course it made me sad to think that the lesbian bar was some kind of dying breed of institution, and there was definitely a noticeable absence in Los Angeles,” says Emily Bielagus, a New Hampshire, who spent 15 years in New York City before moving to LA in 2020. 

“I was shocked when I came to LA and noticed that the city was truly swamped with lesbians, and there were a ton of really successful lesbian parties, but we had no specific, permanent space to call our own,” she adds.

The Ruby Fruit, which Bielagus opened in Los Angeles’ Silverlake neighborhood with Mara Herbkersman, originally from Baltimore but an LA native since 2004, was instantly heralded as the return of the lesbian bar. Technically, the two owners like to call it “a wine bar for the sapphically inclined.” 

“The queer community was very thirsty!” Bielaga says. “I don’t think Mara and I intended to make this level of impact—we just wanted to create a space that prioritized and centered the sapphic community, because that was the kind of place we craved.”

The queer community was very thirsty! We just wanted to create a space that prioritized and centered the sapphic community, because that was the kind of place we craved.
– Emily Bielagus

One of the signature items on the menu at The Ruby Fruit: A hot dog with remoulade, ketchup, mustard, sweet pickle and crispy shallots.

The Ruby Fruit interior

A classically trained actor, Herbkersman ran production companies, but quit to cook professionally in 2012. She had worked in restaurants since she was 16 years old. “Turns out running sets and running restaurants is the same job,” she says. “I’m a musician, which means I actually worked in restaurants,” Bielagus jokes. 

The two met while working at Eszett, the former restaurant that occupied The Ruby Fruit’s space. Together, they threw queer parties at Eszett dubbed LEszett, and sold hot dogs and natural wine from Herbkersman’s 1984 Volkswagen Westfalia van. The Ruby Fruit was a daydream. Eszett closed on January 31, 2023. The Ruby Fruit opened February 16. They flipped the restaurant in two weeks.

“Emily and I were both at the point in our lives where we needed to sink our teeth into something that was our own,” Herbkersman says. “While it was a huge risk, it felt like if we could keep it together, that we could pull it off.”

Pulling it off is Herbkersman’s proudest moment. “I feel really proud when my family comes to visit,” she says, “I always felt like I disappointed them by not pursuing the thing that I thought I was meant to do for a long time. When I told them I was finally opening my own restaurant, I don’t think they totally grasped what that meant until they came to visit. Owning The Ruby Fruit is the greatest accomplishment of my life so far.” 

The bar is known for its “iconic” hot dog, and The Martha, a sparkling wine spritzer, named after Herbkersman’s stepmother, who taught her how to spritz. “We sell so many we joke that we own a spritz bar not a wine bar,” she says.

Bielagus and Herbkersman never intended to make a statement with The Ruby Fruit, affectionately called The Roob. “We dreamed up the bar that we personally needed and its abundantly clear, we weren’t the only ones,” Bielagus says. “I feel really grateful for the opportunity to offer a younger generation a place where they can feel comfortable coming into themselves and maybe the chance to do it before I was able to.”

I feel really grateful for the opportunity to offer a younger generation a place where they can feel comfortable coming into themselves and maybe the chance to do it before I was able to.
– Emily Bielagus

How did you come up with the name? 

EB: The name is an homage to Rita Mae Brown’s 1973 Lesbian novel Rubyfruit Jungle. In addition to being an obvious nod to a very seminal work of lesbian fiction, our name has lots of double entendres. A ruby-colored fruit could be a red grape, which is used to make wine, and we are a wine bar after all. Gay people have been called “fruits” as an insult, but we wear the moniker proudly. It also evokes sensuality and a level of sophistication and sexiness, and that’s what we were going for.  

Why Silverlake? How would you describe the neighborhood to people who have never been there? 

EB: This is definitely one of those instances where opportunity and preparedness intersected. Mara and I were preparing to open a Sapphic bar, and actively looking for spaces, when this one sort of fell into our laps. It’s perfect. I love telling people that Silverlake used to be called The Swish Alps (in the 70’s), because it’s a very hilly neighborhood that was known for its artsy, queer inhabitants. 

MH: Opening The Ruby Fruit in Silverlake was by chance and because of opportunity, but selfishly, I always wanted to own my business in Silverlake because this is where I live. Living where I work is a privilege. Silverlake has always been the hub of art and cool and queer in my mind. It felt diverse both racially and socioeconomically and a lot of my social life tended toward this part of town. Things have changed, and Silverlake has become really expensive, commercial, and much whiter. But we hope to hang on as a small business in a neighborhood that has changed and will continue to. 

The Ruby Fruit interior

The Ruby Fruit interior

How would you describe the vibe in LA right now?

EB: LA right now feels young, artsy, edgy, and very, very, VERY gay. Everyone’s queer and poly. I love it. 

How do you want people to feel when they come to The Ruby Fruit?

EB: We want our guests to feel sexy, to feel seen, and to feel safe. We also hope to provide a moment for a little luxury, a little “treat yourself”, a little celebration, and a big respite from the absolute hell of what’s happening at work, on our phones, and in the news. 

MH: We are dedicated to giving folks a ‘home’. We want a place they always feel comfortable stumbling in at any time of day. We joke it’s like Cheers but it couldn’t be more true. The Ruby Fruit is the place where everyone knows your name and everybody knows your ex!

What inspires you?

MH: I am constantly inspired by the guests who come into the restaurant who tell us they’ve traveled from other parts of the country or even from other parts of the world. If I’m ever having a bad day, meeting someone who made such a huge effort to come visit, reminds me of why this place is so important.

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