By Susan Payne
Eszett, the natural wine bar off Silver Lake’s strip mall, is now closed, but a lesbian Wine Bar called The Ruby Fruit will take its place.
“There is no denying that this is a hard task — a really tough act to follow,” Mara Herbkersman, the former general manager of Eszett and one half of the Ruby Fruit’s ownership, told the LA Times. “It’s been highly emotional.”
Herbkersman was approached by a coworker at Eszett, Emily Bielagus, and asked if she wants to open to a lesbian bar with her. The duo hopes to open The Ruby Fruit in February.
“We know what we’re stepping into,” said Bielagus. “We are taking over a very beloved space [and] we’re very grateful to them, and we know that they’re big shoes to fill. We’re also very aware of the history of the lesbian bar, as a concept, honoring the lineage of the people who’ve come before us.”
Herbkersman, a longtime friend and general manager of the former owners of Eszett, said she knows the operations intimately, and she’s hoping to employ that knowledge in the new venture.
Eszett had only three months of operation before the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, the owners told the Times they felt they never had a chance to get their business off the ground. In late 2022, they decided to close the bar.
“We’ve had some slow weeks and slow months, and with just the cost of everything going up, and the whole restaurant and food landscape changing, we just couldn’t make the numbers work when it came down to it,” Spencer Bezaire told the Times. “We’re so happy for Mara and Emily to be able to do their own thing that I honestly feel that if all this was to get them to this point, it makes me feel like it was all worth it.”
“My first reaction was I was just devastated,” Herbkersman said. “I offered any solution I could possibly think of: I offered to quit. I said take my salary out of the equation, put me back hourly. I just wanted to do anything to keep them in it, and they said, ‘Thank you. But no.’”
The Ruby Fruit is meant to be a neighborhood bar and a home base, “like a Cheers, but for lesbians,” Bielagus said.
Ruby Fruit’s kitchen will comprise women. The wine, although natural, will take an Austrian and Eastern European focus. Movie screenings, tasting nights, DJ appearances and book clubs, will also be a part of the Ruby Fruit. Employees will cross train and have a well-rounded experience that teaches business management, should they ever choose to start their own business, the Times reported.
“Having a space for women to work and to feel comfortable is one of my biggest goals,” she said. “I really want women to feel good at work. I want them to feel confident, to ask questions, to voice opinions, to share when they don’t feel well because they have their period and not be afraid of being looked down upon. That’s not to say that that occurred at Eszett, but it’s something that is pervasive in the world.”
Nurturing of staff, and nurturing the community is equally as important to the new Ruby Fruit owners. The Ruby Fruit offers a gathering place for all, not just lesbians, to feel safe on a date, find and foster conversation, and hold hands in public without fear.
“We want to honor that history and also recognize the ways in which women and nonbinary people and gender-nonconforming and trans people fit into the lesbian umbrella,” Bielagus said. “We’re very conscious of wanting to honor the past, and also be very aware of what’s happening now and our role in that journey.”