Rubi's in a late night guise

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GREAT BARRINGTON - More than one visitor has likely walked into the dark-wood, rustic-chic dining room of Rubi's Coffee & Sandwiches and pondered the notion that it would be a nice place to enjoy a glass of wine under cover of night.

Indeed, the café's namesake owner, Mathew Rubiner (better known for his adjoining cheese shop and specialty grocery) has experimented with weekend late nights in the past, typically during the summer and for limited engagements - the doors stay open to 11 p.m. (instead of 8 p.m.), the usual assortment of beer and wine is augmented by some choice liquors, and a special menu is available.

This winter has seen the welcome resiliency of Friday and Saturday nights at Rubi's, complete with a raw bar that lends the enterprise a special flair. It is still an event in need of an audience, but that makes it a bit of a diamond in the rough.

Approaching Rubi's, which is located on the Triplex Cinema parking lot, the first thing you're likely to notice after dark are the warm, orange coals within the circular grill outside the front door, put to use when a Rubi's staff member ventures outside to grill up savory treats like Merguez lamb sausage, knockwurst with veal and pork from North Plain Farm, or kielbasa from the Meat Market, served on a grilled and buttered baguette.

The lamb sausage was served as two long, thin cuts on the aforementioned baguette (with a house-made chili pepper relish), and served as meaty ballast in our stomachs while we turned our attention to the evening's main attraction: the raw bar, offering clams, cooked jumbo shrimp, and oysters.

On the drink side, we felt two IPAs were the way to go - Racer 5 from California's Bear Republic Brewery, as well as a selection from Denver's Great Divide Brewing Co. (All beers were served by the bottle at $5 each.) With clams priced at $1 each, oysters at $2 and shrimp cocktail at $3, we started a food tab and ordered a first round combining some of all three items. It was served attractively on a platter with house-made cocktail sauce and an apple vinaigrette. (Small bottles of Tabasco sauce were available by request.) I am not a raw foods connoisseur, but I've had excellent bivalves placed in front of me before and I found this assortment to be delectable. (We expected the oysters to be great, and they were, but the clams were actually the surprise MVP at our table.)

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A rotating assortment of oysters might be served; this evening, we had Wellfleets and another variety, while Maine Bagaduces have been served in the past.

Though the raw bar (and an extended menu also including fish tacos, fish stew, and mac & cheese) is available until 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, the chief attraction is "oyster Happy Hour" for the last hour on Saturday. Yes - free oysters. (Two weeks ago, the oysters were reportedly done for by 10:30 p.m.; last week, the supply seemed to be holding strong.) On our visit, all the big things were done just right: The food was excellent, the drink was tasty and fairly priced, there was a generously portioned bonus round of oysters on the house. The staff was also friendly, knowledgeable and attentive.

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Alas, the venue hadn't gone the final distance to really create a nightlife ambiance.

In the past, Rubi's has been almost magically transformed from coffee shop to latenight salon simply with dimmed lights and small candles.

However, on this Saturday night we enjoyed our feast under the harsh glare of bright lights and without the benefit of any background music or other mood-setters.

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Also, we were among fewer than a dozen patrons, at least before the oyster happy hour inspired several more parties to show up.

Perhaps the venue has scaled back to reflect the level of patronage; the two or three staff members on hand were very attentive, but could have been overwhelmed by a bigger crowd.

On the whole, this remains an after-dark option with great potential. It seems best poised as an evening starter (for those who aren't catching some sort of show) - raw bar and drinks at Rubi's til 11 p.m., then off to somewhere else. Or for a quieter evening, it could be just the thing to top off a visit to the Triplex or a heavier dinner downtown.

It seems Rubi's is committed to making Friday and Saturday nights a regular part of its weekly schedule.

I'm sure it's a smash in the summer, but if it is to prove a popular choice in the winter months, the venue will have to complete its transformation from coffee shop to swank lounge. It is very, very close.


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