Frank has been loafing here even longer, since original owner Rudy Gerger took the young boy under his wing, treating him like a son. Then there were the middle years, when Frank studied the business from the customer side of the bar before taking over. Now 80, Frank has seen all the changes in the world outside, but the joint has barely changed at all.
“I’ve been here too long,” Frank says with an easy smile. He acknowledges that the three flat screens above the bar are a rare tip of the hat to modern times, and he still laments the long-ago removal of the neon that once wrapped around the inside of the bar.
But for those who missed the era of the workingman’s bar, Rudy’s still offers a little time-travel taste of industrial history. Joints like this once were everywhere, lining the main drag of every factory and mill town and clustered around the plant gates, but you’d be hard-pressed to find one like Rudy’s still operating.
Step in off the sidewalk and it is all bar, running down the left from the front of the main room to the back. Fourteen barstools are still perfectly aligned, choreographed reminders of the serious shot-and-a-beer crowd that came here to cut the factory dust at the end of a shift. Back in the day, they were three and four deep at the bar.
There is a large Sinatra poster along the right, near the jukebox, and another of the Rat Pack posing in Vegas. Somewhere there is a Steelers banner, a reminder of the days when the great players of the 1970s and ’80s teams were regulars at Rudy’s.
At Rudy’s, the ham sandwich is king. There are two fresh soups — daily, honest soups like beef barley or cabbage — and a dinner feature. And there is a breakfast sandwich — hot sausage, egg and cheese — that patrons have dubbed “the McGus.”
But Rudy’s is all about the ham sandwich. Whole hams are baked behind the bar and placed on a rack for carving off the bone as you watch. Six or seven thick slices of succulent, lean ham are stacked on freshly sliced Mancini’s bread, another local treasure. A juicy tomato slice with crisp iceberg lettuce and mayo tops it off for most.
Each sandwich stands four inches tall, enough to split between lunch and dinner. Back when it was OK to say things like this, it was described as a “man’s sandwich;” quality and quantity, a good value. And each one is “still seven bucks, not gone up in 10 years,” according to Frank.
“When the factories were booming, we went through 150 pounds of ham each day. People came from all the plants and mills and hauled trays of ham sandwiches out of here at lunchtime. You couldn’t move in here.”
Ed Linder, the furniture maven of Linder’s on Yunker Street, a couple blocks from Rudy’s, has been eating those ham sandwiches for 35 years, and often treats his customers to take-out in his conference room. Once introduced to Rudy’s fare, some stop there first at the end of a long drive or on their way back from the airport.
“Most people take flowers or a bottle of wine to house parties, but I like to show up with a whole ham from Rudy’s,” Linder says. “It always gets rave reviews, and one time the ham got a standing ovation.”
Grab a ham sandwich at Rudy’s the first chance you get, and you, too, will be saying, “Bravo, Frank. Bravo, Gus. Bravo, Rudy.”