By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer
NEWPORT - Cincinnati's effort to attract riverfront development has apparently left a bad taste in the mouth of restaurateur Jeff Ruby.
Ruby had nothing but praise for Newport city officials Friday as he announced the opening of Coconut Grove, a supper club and cabaret showplace he and others are opening in what is now the Syndicate restaurant and banquet facility on Fifth Street.
But he had little good to say about plans by Cincinnati and Hamilton County to develop its riverfront into an entertainment and residential district known as The Banks.
Ruby was asked if before opening another restaurant in Newport he considered waiting for work to begin on The Banks. Ruby answered with a reference to the Hofbrauhaus, a German-themed restaurant and beer garden that just opened across Third Street from Newport on the Levee.
"The Hofbrauhaus will open in Israel" before work begins on The Banks, Ruby said with a chuckle.
Asked several times to elaborate, Ruby backed off.
"I'm not going there," he said. "What is happening here today, and what is happening in Newport, speaks for itself.
"Maybe because they are a smaller city, they react quicker," Ruby said. "But it's easy doing business here ... compared to other places."
Newport is providing a $2 million loan for the project. Northern Kentucky businessman Wayne Carlisle of Fort Thomas, who is partnering with Ruby on the deal along with Syndicate operator John Whalen, personally guaranteed the loan.
Carlisle owns the property where the Syndicate is housed.
"Newport knows how to get it done," said Ruby, the owner of five area restaurants and nightspots including the Tropicana, which is just two blocks north of The Syndicate at Newport on the Levee.
"They are a part of the team on Coconut Grove," he said. "Without them, this wouldn't have happened."
A number of Newport city officials joined Ruby for the announcement, among them Mayor Tom Guidugli, City Manager Phil Ciafardini and Commissioners Jerry Peluso, Jan Knepshield and Robbie Hall.
Newport officials thanked Ruby for his kind words about the city but passed on the opportunity to gloat.
"We know how to entertain here," said Ciafardini.
After first learning of Ruby's and Carlisle's plans earlier this year the city began working on the project "within 24 hours," Ciafardini said.
Ciafardini was quick to point out the vital role of Cincinnati in overall riverfront development.
"We all benefit from one another," he said. Cincinnati, he added, is part of the "core" that drives development in Newport and all along the riverfront.
Ruby does operate two restaurants in Cincinnati: Jeff Ruby's, a steakhouse at Seventh and Walnut; and his first area restaurant, The Precinct on Delta Avenue in Columbia-Tusculum.
But Newport has been on what seems like a perpetual roll of riverfront and near-riverfront development. In just the past few weeks:
The Purple People Bridge, the pedestrian walkway converted from the former L&N Bridge, opened between Newport and Cincinnati. The majority of development, restaurants and nightlife are on the Kentucky side of the river.
The Newport Aquarium announced a $4.5 million expansion.
The Hofbrauhaus opened.
"There is a lot going on over here," Ruby said. "And I wanted to be a part of that ... and I want to give people in this area a place where they can dress up, see a show, eat dinner and have a good time like they used to at Beverly Hills."
Ruby said he was at Beverly Hills, the famed nightspot and onetime casino just south of Newport in Southgate, on Memorial Day weekend in 1977 when 165 people died in a fire.
Coconut Grove, Ruby said, is named after a Beverly Hills club frequented by Rudolph Valentino, namesake of the upscale Italian restaurant that will be a part of the facility.
It will be modeled after the Carlyle, a famous Art Deco hotel in South Miami Beach, and will also feature a ballroom as well as private rooms for receptions and banquets.
Coconut Grove was also the name of a Boston nightclub where 492 people died in a 1942 fire.
Ruby said he wants to bring in "big name" entertainment and is working to secure singer Lionel Ritchie for the first show. A tentative opening has been set for October.
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