The black metal barred windows match the gate at the top of the alley where the 100-year-old Ruba Club Studios sits in a residential block of Northern Liberties.
RUBA, which stands for Russian United Beneficial Association, was originally a social club for Russian immigrants in the 1900s that provided life insurance policies and other benefits for its community.
Rumored as a speakeasy during prohibition with tales of haunting ghost stories, the vintage club has been sitting at 416 Green St. since 1915.
Between four and five years ago, Ruba focused its efforts on promoting the local entertainment scene in Philadelphia, while still upholding the aspect of Russian culture.
The bi-level nightclub with cabaret-style bars, stages and a ballroom area features burlesque shows, tango lessons, comedy, rock operas, rock bands, open-mic nights and more.
Ruba will celebrate its 100th year with a birthday party on Feb. 21, featuring The Slicked Up 9’s swing band and DJs on each level of the club, from 9:30 p.m. until closing time at 3:30 a.m.
Although the nonprofit social club was originally Russian membership-only, it’s maintained the tradition with an annual membership fee of $35, open to anyone.
But the club still holds many public parties and events, like the upcoming birthday celebration. What once held Russian operas, weddings and other cultural events is now transcending Russian culture into Philadelphia’s historic nightlife scene.
“Our mission is to do more for the arts and entertainment scene in Philadelphia,” said Paul Impellizeri, an event manager for Ruba.
That mission has also included honoring the father of G. Rich Goldberg, the Ruba Club president.
“Part of our mission has also become about physics,” Impellizeri said. “The president’s father was a physicist, so we donate money to the Philadelphia Foundation, including the proceeds from the bar.”
The club is covered in historic artifacts from the Russian community found in the attic of the club, including original photographs of theater productions, artwork, pianos, pool tables and vintage knickknacks like typewriters and cameras.
Impellizeri said the club has become a different type of scene in recent years, but much of the history is still unknown.
“There’s a lot in the middle that’s blurred because there’s documentation of it forming and merging in the ‘50s and ‘60s, but there’s a lot of gaps that we are trying to fill in,” Impellizeri said.
“But I guess in the ‘90s the Russians were renting out the space to get more income because the taxes were going up, so they would have rock shows,” he added.
Impellizeri also explained the many tales and legends he heard about Ruba’s history.
“From what I heard, Ruba was like the Studio 54 for the Russians back in the day,” he said. “I remember an older man who came here as a kid said that.”
Ruba aims at working with the community by incorporating various aspects of local arts and entertainment, including joining with the Philadelphia Fringe Festival every year and featuring artists like Philadelphia legend John Faye.
Aside from the rock shows and local artists, Ruba’s classic burlesque shows maintain the social club’s cabaret-nightclub feel. Lil’ Steph’s burlesque show and the Milonga Qilombo tango class are among some of the favorite events held.
Alexa Zizzi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org