Drinks with Ruby Fontaine (Cocktail bar owner)

Drinks with Ruby Fontaine (Cocktail bar owner)

Where 

Ruby’s bar, Fontaine’s
Stoke Newington


If you’re a lady hoping to open your own cocktail bar, take your inspiration from Ruby. Her bar, Fontaine’s, is like stepping into another world. Her menu is brimming with classic cocktails and the decor is so sophisticated (I still can’t believe how clean her cream sofas are).
We sat at a cosy table and discussed her journey from New York actress to Burlesque dancer and finally owning her own cocktail bar. Her story is unique (like many of us in the drinks trade) and you feel her passion for hospitality as she speaks.

Photography by Tigz Rice Studios

To kick off I guess tell us a bit about you and who you are?


I have been in the industry (but more restaurant than bar) for about 20 years now. I lived in New York as an actor and loved the bar scene over there. Old movies, cocktails, it’s been embedded in me from an early age. The whole 1940’s glamour, going to have cocktails, dancing, meeting people, that sort of cinema type vibe about it. Then I came back (I didn’t get much work as an actress) and became a burlesque performer. I was still doing bar work for friends, but primarily burlesque is what I was doing for 8 years.

What made you decide to open your own bar?


I always knew I wanted to be a hostess. I loved dive bars, loved hotel bars and what I’ve found is that there’s a lot of bartenders that open up bars, which is great. They primarily focus on the drinks and then everything else is sort of secondary to that. My focus is on the customer and the atmosphere. walking into a place where you felt like you were somewhere else. If I could, I’d be a 1950’s housewife, making sure there’s a martini ready for the guy that walks through the door. I am a bit more feminist than that, so I do this instead!

Why is the bar called Fontaine’s?


Fontaine is my burlesque name. I knew that’s what I’d call it when I opened. Luckily my mother (who’s my business partner) she was like, OK. It’s just the two of us. We don’t have any investors. It can be a struggle, but it means we have complete control of our business.

Photography by Tigz Rice Studios

Was there a defining moment where you knew you wanted to be in hospitality?


I remember me and my Mum wanting to have a business of our own. My Mum worked in the bar industry for years before she became a producer in animation. I think it was just embedded in me to become a host. I love throwing parties, especially if they’re themed. So did my Mum and her best friend, any excuse to have a party, to dress up and to theme it.
Growing up watching old movies, they always have a cocktail. It’s always in a glamorous bar.
Then living in New York, working in the bar industry, it was just a hub of how you meet people. A lot of my friends are from the bar industry, it’s a world that I’ve always been in and I knew it was something I could do and probably do well.

What is your day to day like, what does your job actually entail?


Mine entails a lot. I don’t have cleaners, I don’t have a PA, I don’t have a receptionist, I don’t have bar backs. I keep my team small so that I can pay them better. My average day would probably start at around 2 o’clock in the afternoon and finishes around 3 or 4 in the morning. I think it’s about not relinquishing control. It really does depend on whether or not we have events going on, what time of the year it is.
I create all of our menus, I do all of our posters and illustrations. I do paint the bar every other week to make sure it looks good. I’m obsessed with this. This is my life and this is my baby. I see things that other people would never see and that’s just the way I am.

Do you still get behind the bar?


Yeah! I hadn’t for a bit and now I’ve just gotten back on because I’m training staff and staff have gone on holiday. I try not to be off it for more than like a month.

What is your favourite part of working in this industry?


When we’re busy and we’re completely pact and my staff are enjoying themselves and all customers are having a great time and they’re dancing around because they love my playlists. I look around and I’m like wow, I created this. It’s worth all the hours that I put into it when I get that back. That’s what’s the best.

And what’s your least favourite part?


Cleaning the toilets.

Do you think being a woman has affected your career? Has it been in a positive or negative way?


There’s been moments where it’s been difficult to assert myself, especially not coming from a cocktail background as it were more a hospitality background. When you get young bartenders coming in that can be slightly difficult. I’ve gotten used to it a little bit, it depends on my frame of mood. But there are a lot of customers that will come in or people from the bar industry that will ask me where the owner is. Or they’ll go straight up to the male bartender and ask ‘can I talk to you about the bar?’ and they have to say ‘oh I’m not the owner, she is’.
I don’t think it’s affected me that much to be honest. I think more I opened not being in the bar scene and not knowing anybody.

What’s been the biggest challenge with opening your own bar?


Staff and money. We don’t have any investors, we didn’t take any loans. That stress level is beyond anything I could have comprehended and if you’d told me I would have been like, no way.

Photography by Tigz Rice Studios

What trends have you been seeing in the bar?


When I started it was the whole molecular thing, now it’s more sustainability. Trends aren’t really my focal point. I’m more about the old school way, fantastic service, classic drinks.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone who wanted your job, what would it be?


Your budget is going to triple. Personally for me, if you’re going to succeed you need to love it. Every aspect of it. You need to have a very very clear idea of what you want your vibe to be and what you want to project.

What is you favourite drink at the moment?


I’ve been drinking for a loooong time, so depending on my mood it’s either a Rye Manhattan (Perfect) or I like a Gin Gibson. I can do a Negroni and then if I go out where I’m not too sure on the cocktail vibe I’ll go for a beer and a shot. When I’m working it’ll be prosecco because it’s just like drinking water.

If you know a lady in the drinks industry that you would like to see interviewed, pop an email to drinkswithhebe@mail.com. 
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