Barney’s On the Beat

Jimmy’s Bar: A few hundred feet from the tourist and college hangouts of downtown State Street, a cozy bar offered sanctuary to a merry band of locals. I use the word “offered” because Jimmy’s closed recently, to the laments of the regulars: a postal worker, a PR woman, and other assorted residents of good cheer.

It could reopen, I suppose, but even if the regulars return, “It wouldn’t be the same,” said PR woman Mo McFadden. Not without the likes of longtime bartender Willy Gilbert, his wife Esther, and Tommy Chung, owner of Jimmy’s Oriental Gardens. There was no jukebox. Willy, an aficionado of jazz and rock, played his own CDs, Mo said.

Jimmy’s was a handy spot to drink your lunch and nibble at snacks ordered through the door to the main room of Jimmy’s Oriental Gardens, where Pearl the server was happy to oblige. Jimmy’s, tiny as it was, was a hangout for the theatrical crowd, actors and “techs,” as Mo put it, after shows at the nearby Lobero Theatre, Center Stage Theater, and Ensemble Theatre. Jimmy’s was definitely a “friends” type bar. But not, Mo said, a singles bar, or a place where women would be hit on.

Mo first walked into Jimmy’s when she was invited in with the theater folks years ago. But as a newcomer, she knew her place. She sat in the booths for a year until she was accepted enough to take her place at the bar. The problem with the bar stools, as in most places, was they had no backs. After a hard day’s night, she complained to Tommy, she needed a back. So one Christmas, Tommy had a surprise for Mo. “This stool’s for you,” he told her, pointing to her own personal barstool — with a back. “I laughed,” she said. And when Jimmy’s closed, he gave her that stool.

I mention all this because we may not have seen the last of Jimmy’s bar. As I wrote previously, the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation is in the process of buying the restaurant to turn it into a museum focusing on the East Canon Perdido Street neighborhood and its Chinese, Japanese, and other heritages. And, as I understand it, another restaurant might be brought in to operate the place, help pay the mortgage, and, if it’s a Chinese eatery, preserve the ambiance. And, who knows, maybe preserve Jimmy’s bar too.

I don’t know where all the regulars drifted off to — some to Jill’s Place on Santa Barbara Street I hear — but surely they’d drift back and Jimmy’s would still be a locals’ bar and the friends would still be friends. And eating Chinese in what remains of Santa Barbara’s old Chinatown.

For one reason or another I never ventured into Jimmy’s bar until late one afternoon a few days before it closed. It was one of my quests for column material, and I was delighted and amused by the happy atmosphere. It was a place for a nip or two with pals before you wended your weary way home, perhaps to an empty room.

It seems I’m always going to places that are just opening or just closing, sometimes with only a couple of moons in between. Back in my blue-collar Chicago, working men would swing off the streetcar after work and stop at the neighborhood saloon for a beer or two before heading home to dinner. And perhaps for more than a beer or two, which would usually mean a phone call from the missus: “Tell Pete to get home now or eat a cold supper.” In those days there was no urgency to rush home to catch the 6 p.m. news or jump on the computer to scan email.

When Will It Open? Spotting owner Gene Montesano at his Tre Lune, which has become the tablecloth breakfast place on Coast Village Road, I asked when he might be opening his long-awaited restaurant on East Cota Street, where Mousse Odile once thrived. It’s been four years of paying rent, Gene lamented. The most recent problem is that chairs he ordered from France weren’t up to snuff and had to be sent back. So what kind of food will he be serving at long last? French? Gene’s mysterious reply: “Good food. A bistro.”

Season’s Warning: The city of Santa Barbara seems to be sending a mixed message with signs in its parking garages: “Happy Holidays. Please Lock Your Vehicle.” What Year? One of the top money men in town is puzzled by a full-page News-Press ad in Sunday’s paper: “We kept you informed in 2005 … and we will continue to keep you informed on all the major stories as they unfold in [giant numbers] 2006.” (Year-old ad mistakenly printed?) Meanwhile, the fence is down. (And what was that all about?)

You can reach Barney at 965-5205 or via He also writes a Tuesday online column at and Barney’s Weekend Picks on Fridays. // //

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