The Last Good-bye

At a September 3 farewell bash, the seams were busting on the Aquarium Lounge. Regulars and employees said tearful good-byes as the 28-year-old neighborhood bar shut its doors to business. People even came from out of town to bid farewell to their old hangout. They had no idea how symbolic this final good-bye would be. The heroine of the Aquarium, Ruth Busch, died Wednesday evening inside her bar on West Dallas.

She and her assistant, Robert Chees, were packing up the last of the bar belongings when Busch complained of not feeling well, Aquarium regular Liann Goodwin said. Chees set up a mattress in the back for her to lie down on. Busch lost consciousness a few minutes later. Paramedics tried to resuscitate her, but she was already dead. The cause was cardiac arrest due to hardened arteries. Busch, 81, was to be cremated. At press time, plans for a memorial service were pending.

The colorful bar owner had survived a stroke and complications from a blood clot, which resulted in the amputation of her left leg (see "To Sleep with the Fishes," by Kamilah Duggins, September 7). But she feared her lounge would not survive the economic impact of the new West Dallas bicycle lane, which eliminated the nearby parking for her customers. She and Chees looked forward to moving to Livingston where she owned a home and had purchased a building to start up another bar. "It's hard to let go of anything you have for 28 years, so she was upset about leaving, but she was very excited to be opening in Livingston," said Marcia Thomason, a veteran bartender at the Aquarium.

Affectionately known as Ms. Ruth, Busch ventured into the bar business in the late '60s, when she opened the first Aquarium Lounge in the Heights. She relocated her lounge to the Montrose area in 1972. The lounge evolved into a hangout for law students, artists and anyone who wanted to feel at home away from home. It became known for its collection of Elvis memorabilia and retro jukebox.

When Busch first opened at the new location, she couldn't afford to pay rent on both a home and the bar. She solved that by sleeping on a mattress in the back of the Aquarium. "It's funny, she started out sleeping in the back on a mattress, and she died the same way," Goodwin said. "Kind of a weird follow-up."

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