Zoot-suit riot

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 20, 2006

By Adam Hammer, staff writer

NORTHWOOD, Iowa &045; Donning a top hat, and an umbrella when it’s raining, doorman Ricky Olson motions guests to the front door of Ruby Jo’s where they are met with a speakeasy welcome &045; checked through a hinged four-bar peephole in the door and greeted by a zoot-suit wearing gangster manager.

Ruby Jo’s has all the class and atmosphere of a 1920s speakeasy, without the prohibition.

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&8220;It’s so cool for this town, because there’s nothing like it around,&8221; Matt Borcherding, general manager and resident gangster at Ruby Jo’s, said.

You won’t find a television or beer signs cluttering the walls at Ruby Jo’s &045; it’s not your average small-town bar.

It’s all about class for Tucker and his wife and co-owner Joanne, which seems to be something that is lacking in northern Iowa and southern Minnesota, Tucker said.

&8220;One thing we pride ourselves on is it smells nice and looks nice,&8221; Dan Tucker, co-owner, said.

It took the Tuckers and Borcherding eight months to complete the transformation from the old Blue Moon bar to Ruby Jo’s.

&8220;We took out 6 tons of radiators and that was just the start,&8221; Tucker said.

They didn’t clear everything out; however, they left the original mosaic tiling from the early 1900s. The 60-some-foot Blue Moon bar was cut into four sections and used for a U-shaped bar on the main floor and an 8-foot bar in the upper level.

The upper level is being converted into a dinner theater that will feature vaudeville, burlesque and musical entertainment. The dinner theater is tentatively scheduled to open in July, Tucker said.

The paneling on the walls was peeled back to reveal hardwood. &8220;It was under there screaming, &8216;Let me out!’&8221; Tucker said.

The baseboards came from an area barn and one of the tables was made from a butcher block that once belonged to Joanne’s family from when they operated a meat locker in Northwood.

The dance floor and stage are brand new.

A marquee that will fit five lines of 6-inch letters will be installed soon, as will the high-wattage Ruby Jo’s sign.

&8220;We’d like them to see it at Diamond Jo’s,&8221; Tucker said.

With the building fitting the part of a speakeasy, the staff also needs to fit the scene.

The wait staff all reflect &8216;20s style with flapper dresses or pinstriped pants with suspenders and a red tie for the ladies and zoot suits for the guys.

&8220;It’s pretty much a guys and dolls kind of thing,&8221; Tucker said.

Heather Ewalt, a waitress at Ruby Jo’s, said she enjoys getting into character night after night.

As general manager, Borcherding is the kingpin in a zoot suit.

&8220;It’s a fun way to get out of the ordinary,&8221; Borcherding said. &8220;Everyone likes to dress up.&8221;

Ruby Jo’s grand opening is slated for May 6. The doors first opened for business on St. Patrick’s Day.

Following the grand opening, there will be live local and national entertainment every Friday and Saturday in May. Entertainment will range from music to magicians to comedians.

&8220;If there is ever a cover charge, it will be well worth the money,&8221; Tucker said.

Borcherding and the Tuckers are also looking for future acts with one main requirement &045; &8220;We’re looking for uniqueness,&8221; Tucker said.

About the name

Ruby Jo’s, Diamond Jo’s, Danjo’s &045; there are a lot of Jo’s in Northwood, however, only two of them are related.

Danjo’s is an eatery at 846 Central Ave. that is owned by Dan and Joanne Tucker, Dan and Jo, hence the name Danjo’s.

The Jo in Ruby Jo’s is also for Joanne. The Ruby part of the name is because it is Dan’s favorite gem and he refers to Joanne as &8220;my ruby.&8221;

Diamond Jo’s, a casino that recently opened near I-35 in Northwood, is affiliated with a like establishment in Dubuque. It has no direct connection to the Tuckers and Ruby Jo’s.