A fairly inconspicuous storefront on Fayetteville Street, the staff, owner and regulars of Ruby Deluxe have made it their mission to create a space where all people of the LGBTQ+ community can come together and be themselves.
According to the owner, Tim Lemuel, Ruby Deluxe is one of three venues, along with the Night Rider and the Wicked Witch, that make up Raleigh’s Queer Venue Initiative. These venues recognize the intersection of what it means to be a part of the LGBTQ+ community and work to create a space that is welcoming and affirming to all identities within the community as opposed to a select few.
“We are the only places in Raleigh that have our formatting dedicated to the queer community as opposed to gay men,” Lemuel said. “We format for trans people, people of color, the lesbian community, the whole spectrum of queer folks.”
Laura Mooney, a bartender at Ruby Deluxe, discussed the importance of having spaces dedicated to LGBTQ+ people for the broader Raleigh community.
“I think queer spaces are important everywhere, because queer people exist everywhere and in all forms,” Mooney said. “Particularly because Raleigh is one of the biggest cities in the state and the capital city, queerness operating in close proximity to a government that doesn’t always support us or, when they do, not to the extent that they should is really important because we are here and deserve to be seen and validated outside of our community.”
Formerly an artist cooperative known as Ruby Red, Ruby Deluxe continues to be committed to artists of all types throughout Raleigh, including musicians, visual artists, graphic artists, drag artists and more. Arrow Diaz, a former bartender who helps with booking at Ruby Deluxe, said this commitment is reflected in their cover policies.
“On the weekends, we have a $3 cover and that helps pay our queer Black DJs or our performers which is really important to us: that people get paid and people are adequately paid and taken care of and feel like the things they are bringing to the community and the vibe are being compensated for,” Diaz said.
Lemuel said the venue’s commitment to the broader queer community is reflected in its programming. Throughout the month, there are nights dedicated to femmes, Latine people, nonbinary people, plus-size people and more with drag performances for drag kings, Latine drag perfomers, Black and brown femme drag performers and horror and oddity drag.
“All of our events and promotion are geared toward queer bodies and real bodies as opposed to hard bodies and go-go dancers,” Lemuel said. “A lot of times the gay community is led by oversexualized white gay men formatting, so the formatting we have is rarely, if ever, dedicated to this.”
Mooney expanded on this and the LGBTQ+ community’s connection with sex, alcohol and nightlife, and how Ruby Deluxe is working to break that cycle.
“So often queerness is associated just with that party and play perspective of queer kids getting drunk to cope, and that’s not true,” Mooney said. “There’s also beauty and vibrancy to the queer community, and although a bar happens to be where a lot of these things happen, it’s just a stepping stone to the community expanding and taking control of more spaces. That’s what I think sets us apart, because we want to be more than just a bar, and we also want an exchange relationship beyond just money.”
This aspect of community is the foundation of Ruby Deluxe. Diaz discussed the conversations they have had with patrons where patrons are so happy to have a space where they can just truly be themselves and be accepted and uplifted for it.
“We are a community space, and if you enter the space, you’re a part of the community, like it or not,” Lemuel said. “Our community places a big emphasis on consent. That’s our biggest deal. By walking inside, you agree to behave yourself in a way that you’re listening to and respecting everyone.”
In creating a space for the community, Ruby Deluxe has found a group of regulars and supporters that will throw their support behind the venue when it needs it, as seen throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. As we work through a time where many businesses and venues in the service industry have either closed or are trying to recover from the loss of business, Ruby Deluxe’s community came out in figurative droves to keep it afloat.
“We nearly went out of business about four or five times during the pandemic,” Lemuel said. “We had to do a callout to the community and let them know, and our community came together and raised money to help keep us afloat. We’re still reeling from the pandemic, but we’re also still reeling from how beautiful and generous the community around us was to keep us alive. We’re very grateful.”
It’s Ruby Deluxe’s commitment to the community that has kept it fighting throughout the pandemic.
Ruby Deluxe is currently 21 and up due to short staffing, but looks forward to the day that it can reopen to ages 18 to 21 in the future. The venue also encourages people to donate to organizations that benefit the LGBTQ+ community, especially LGBTQ+ people of color, as this community has been hit hard by the pandemic.