Remembering Ruben Rueda, Musso & Frank's Longest Serving Bartender
Legendary martini-maker, red jacket-wearer and witness to countless celebrity benders Ruben Rueda, who worked as a bartender at Musso & Frank Grill for 52 years, has passed away at age 67. He died of natural causes on Friday, April 26, at Whittier Hospital Medical Center.
"It didn't matter who you were or where you came from, you were a customer who needed something and he was going to provide that. It truly was about who you were as a person," said Mark Echeverria, the great grandson of John Mosso, one of the restaurant's first owners.
He was four years old when he met Rueda. "I was having dinner with my grandmother, who was running the restaurant at the time, and with my cousins and aunts," he said. "We were having Shirley Temples. Ruben would make them and serve them in martini glasses, just like he would regular martinis. It was that sort of special touch and feeling he could get anyone in the restaurant to feel."
Rueda also had a remarkable ability to recall customers' drink orders. He once remembered the order of an Argentinian woman who hadn't stepped inside Musso's for nearly three decades.
"I can't explain it. I don't think anybody could ever explain it. We'd have people who for whatever reason wouldn't come to the restaurant for 10 years. Then they would come back in, and he would remember their drink. He would admit he might not remember their name, but he'd remember their drink," Echeverria said.
When LAist interviewed Rueda in 2017, on the occasion of his 50th year of employment at Musso & Frank, and asked how he did it, he simply said: "You look at the eyes."
A native of Durango, Mexico, Rueda was walking past the restaurant one day in 1967, back when an Old Fashioned cost 50 cents, and he decided to go inside and apply for a job.
After a short stint as a busboy or several years as a server assistant (it depends which account you believe), Rueda became a bartender -- a job he held for the rest of his tenure at the restaurant.
Over the decades, Rueda served tons of celebrities including Old Hollywood luminaries Orson Welles, Rock Hudson, Raymond Burr and Steve McQueen; writers Charles Bukowski and Gore Vidal; and rock stars Keith Richards and John Lennon. Johnny Depp was also one of Rueda's regulars.
He was the best known bartender at Musso & Frank, maybe the best known bartender in Los Angeles. How did he accomplish it? Not just by making a killer martini, his signature drink. "By listening and talking," Echeverria said. "Some people wanted to be listened to. Some wanted to be entertained. He always knew, without them saying."
Echeverria praised the level of professionalism that Rueda brought to the job. "The loyalty he had to the restaurant, to his customers, to our family, it can't be replicated. How he spoke of his customers and everybody around him was always of the highest level. He never spoke badly about anybody. He saw the restaurant go through ups and downs, and he was always optimistic."
He also says Rueda was incredibly humble: "Some of his closest family, like his son and his daughter, didn't know the stories about who sat at his bar."
In the second half of 2009, Echeverria came in to help run the restaurant, which had taken a major hit after the financial collapse of 2008. The days were long and he had tons of work to do, but Echeverria said that he would always go down and greet Rueda when he came in for his shift at 5 p.m.
"I would always feel better. I think that was the feeling he gave to everyone who came into the bar, whether it was someone who had been coming in for 40 years or someone who just walked in off the street," Echeverria said.
The restaurant and bar celebrated Rueda in 2017 on the 50th anniversary of his employment.
Although Rueda had faced some health challenges in the past couple of years, he was working until a few months ago, according to Echeverria.
"He wasn't necessarily a man of a lot of words, but the words he spoke were very powerful," Echeverria said. "He had a very deep, powerful, commanding voice. You could always count on him to tell you a story or a joke. He didn't ramble on. He said exactly what you needed to hear and bam."
Opened in 1919, Musso & Frank is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Rueda was able to enjoy some of those festivities.
Rueda is survived by his wife, Maria Olga Rueda, a son, Leonard, who also works at Musso & Frank Grill as both a server and a bookkeeper, and a daughter, Cynthia. He also has two grandchildren Brooke, a UCLA student, and Sebastian, a student currently attending a university in Spain.
Echeverria promised that Musso & Frank will do everything they can to honor his memory. Plans were underway for a celebration of Rueda's life to be held at Musso & Frank in the near future.