The closing of Jimmy’s Oriental Gardens in 2006 no doubt left many crying in the beer they couldn’t have anymore at their favorite watering hole. But Jimmy’s was greater than a sophisticated souse’s favorite non-divey dive bar, as it had been a Chinese restaurant, run by the same family, no less, for half a century, a last remnant of Santa Barbara’s long-gone Chinatown.
Just less than five years since the closing, you can once again get a beer or some wine in Jimmy’s. For deli Three Pickles, a neighbor, has moved into the restaurant side of the building, spiffed the space up, and hopes to carry on the Jimmy’s vibe a bit, even handing out fortune cookies with orders.
Three Pickles owner Bob Lovejoy (along with son Clay Lovejoy and partner Bob McCourt) admitted the initial dream for Three Pickles started with a trip to the old Jimmy’s: “When we walked out one night and saw the ‘for sale’ sign next door after a couple of margaritas, we wanted the spot. Tommy [Chung, Jimmy’s longtime owner,] was great—he always had a good feeling over here. And I thought it would be great I’d be next door to my favorite bar each night after I closed the shop. But he was only open for three months.”
Lovejoy related that “when we got a shot at the place, we didn’t hesitate at all.” It did take a lot of work, including new electrical, plumbing, heating, and air conditioning, and then there was the look of the high-ceilinged and airy space. “My son and I, when designing it, spent a couple days in L.A. going to every old place in our Zagat’s, like Philippe’s and Clifton’s, to see how things were designed in the ’40s,” he said. “We did notice there was always a bar for single people to sit at, so we were sure we wanted to do that.” That bar features Carrera marble, because Lovejoy “likes the look of dark walnut with the marble.”
Then there’s the new marmoleum (eco-friendly) flooring. Lovejoy based the pattern and colors on an old Italian piece of pottery he owns that’s on display in the restaurant, and he admitted the red, green, and beige “at first seemed a little much before we painted the walls. I thought, ‘I’m going to be playing a lot of reggae in here;’ it looked pretty bright. But it turned out fine.”
And while Three Pickles doesn’t mind a bit of a retro look—especially since Lovejoy gets to bring antiques in from the family store to show off—they do know when they have to change, too. “We always like to be the throwback place, but there are a lot of modern things you can do to help,” Lovejoy said. “You can make things faster.” That will be easier now, for unlike at their old Canon Perdido location next door, they finally have both a hood and a full kitchen. No more waiting for sandwiches to heat up in the toaster oven. Lovejoy said, “We can make a dozen hot sandwiches now in the time it used to take us to do four.” Soon they’ll even have prepared, grab-and-go sandwiches, plus online ordering.
The menu is largely the same, but there’s room for growth. “We like taking one idea and working on it for a month or so ’til we all decide we can stop now,” Lovejoy explained. “It’s fun for everyone to be involved in the design of a sandwich or a dish.” The menu will have some new offerings for dinner, like lasagna, eggplant parmesan, and chicken parmesan. Lovejoy pointed out that partner McCourt is making his grandmother’s recipes. It’s all in an attempt to provide good bang for the buck, for as Lovejoy insisted, “If somebody pays six dollars a bottle and then charges eight dollars a glass for wine, well, what’s wrong with this picture? We want somebody to be able to come in, get a glass of wine and a bite to eat, and get out for 15, 16 bucks.”
And as for the two most asked questions, according to Lovejoy, “Everybody goes, ‘Why don’t you get that egg roll recipe?’ I don’t know if Tommy is giving up any of his recipes; he said he might. Hopefully in the next couple of years—it would be another step to honor the establishment.” The second question, of course, is when they will open up the bar (they currently only have a beer-and-wine license and will close at 8 p.m.). Lovejoy said, “I wanted to be sure we made our move and had everything under control before I started thinking about the bar.”
Peckish for pastrami and more? Head to Three Pickles (126 E. Canon Perdido St., 965-1015, threepickles.com). There’s also a Three Pickles in Goleta (420 S. Fairview Ave., 964-4585).