The Nightcap is a series that features a favorite Oakland drinking establishment every Friday afternoon.
It’s dark and loud inside the Ruby Room, a dive bar on 14th Street directly across the street from the downtown Oakland library. The only window is boarded up, and just about all of the lighting in the bar filters through red bulbs. Hard rock music constantly blares from the speaker system.
And that’s exactly how Trevor Latham, one of the bar’s owners, likes it.
“Of all the bars I’ve ever been to, I am the most comfortable at this bar,” Latham says. He’s seated at the bar drinking a pint glass of iced tonic water on a Tuesday night. “The fact that it’s dark, the fact that it’s a little bit loud and you can’t really hear what someone is saying—there’s just something about this place. It’s just a good place to sit down and drink.”
Latham is 39 years old and a big guy: 6-foot-2 and more than 200 pounds, including the leather jacket. He has close-cropped brown hair and a goatee. He owns both the Ruby Room and the nearby Radio Bar with Tim Tolle and Alfredo Botello, and he is also the president of the East Bay Rats, a motorcycle-and-fight club based in West Oakland. “Mostly we ride motorcycles,” he says.
On this night, Latham had just returned from a security meeting at the Occupy Oakland encampment a few blocks away at Frank Ogawa Plaza. Latham said he has been occasionally working late night security at the camp since the protesters set it up in early October, even though he says he doesn’t necessarily agree with the protesters’ stance. “I see a lot of friends up there,” he said.
Latham has worked at the Ruby Room for 11 years, about as long as it’s been open as the Ruby Room. Before that, under previous owners, the bar had been called The Court Lounge, and Chico Chimes before that.
When Alfredo Botello and Iiad Mawikunich bought the place and named it the Ruby Room in 1999, they didn’t change much. They basically just darkened the place and cranked up the music. The Ruby is L-shaped: The main room is a long hallway with mirrors on one side and a rock wall on the other that has probably been there since the 1950s, Latham estimates. At the corner of the bar is what appears to be a dance floor, but a sign warns “dancing prohibited” because the Ruby doesn’t have a cabaret license. There is a pretty standard but wide array of bottles behind the bar, and beer available in bottles or on tap.
A native New Yorker who has been living in the Bay Area for 20 years, Latham spent the first 15 here working the door at bars like The Mallard Club in Albany and George Kaye’s in North Oakland. He spent 11 of those working in some capacity at the Ruby Room—including as bartender and bar manager—and bought into the bar four years ago. He took to the Ruby immediately. “I knew the business, so I figured I’d be good at it and could make some money,” Latham says. “And I liked it, it suited me. I like the hours, I like the people.”
He hated bartending (“too stressful” he says) but kept his job working the door from Monday to Friday, even after buying into the bar. He loves the chance to meet people as they come in and he catches up on reading when it’s slow. He says he pretty much only reads non-fiction and is currently reading a book about Steve Jobs.
Working the door also allows him to watch over the Ruby. “I think it gives me a good perspective, and I can keep an eye on the bar,” Latham says. “Setting the tone for the bar, in a way.”
The Ruby has been known as an East Bay Rats hangout, but Latham says many of his fellow bikers don’t make it out to the bar as often these days. “Guys are getting older, having kids, all that good stuff,” Latham says.
Latham says he’s not going anywhere. Neither is his bike, a Suzuki GSXR-1000 that is parked out front. He loves working the door, and can remember some good fights he’s had to break up over the years. Most of the time when someone is causing a problem, though, he said he just has to ask them to leave. “Then they want to talk to you for an hour about why they shouldn’t have been thrown out,” he said. “I’ll always sit and listen to them. I’m patient enough.”