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 barney@independent.com. He also
writes a Tuesday online column at independent.com and Barney’s
Weekend Picks on Fridays.
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