Jimbo Luznar ran Jimbo’s down on Virginia Key in Miami since 1954 but this past year it was closed down for good. Not because Jimbo didn’t want to run it anymore but because bureaucracy trumped authenticity one more time.
There is a commemorative website up for Jimbo’s and it describes the place as more of state of mind than just a location. The website says, “It is simply the last place at the end of the road where everyone is welcome, from kings and politicians to working folks and the salt of the earth. Jimbo’s is not a bar but you can buy ice cold beer here. It’s not a restaurant or a convenience store; but you can buy the best smoked fish you ever tasted here. It’s a not a marina but you can pull you boat up to this natural eco-friendly location anytime and just hang out.”
A good friend of mine, a writer from Miami with a taste for the unusual, took me to Jimbo’s, the first time. I don’t know what I was expecting but it sure wasn’t what I got. I got more.
Around the main building where you get the ice cold beer and the really good smoked fish there was a hodge podge of chairs and old car seats, signs, a broken piano who knows what, as if the flotsam left over after Miami got fancified had washed up and somehow got incorporated into the décor. The bocce court was frequently in use but few dared challenge Jimbo himself unless they were ready to lose. His birthday bashes were legendary and a party was likely to break out almost anytime. There was even a small art gallery where anyone was invited to hang work.
Along with characters usually in attendance, there were plenty of tall tales like the story of how Jimbo supposedly got a license to sell beer. It’s a rambling tale that involves rich folks on nearby Fisher Island and the poor folks that were building the place and who wanted a beer at the end of a bug-filled, over-heated day of work in the sun. To keep the workers happy Bebe Rebozo called on his old pal Dick Nixon to urge the city to hand out the license and sure enough, they did. As the story goes, Nixon himself came by to have a cold one and talk with Jimbo back in the day. True or not, it hardly matters. We are a country built on legend and bigger than life heroes and villains. It is better not to mess with a good story.
Once people discovered Jimbo’s they were hooked. And it’s true that you never knew who might be there. Could be a biker group urging their gals into a wet tee shirt contest. Could be fishermen stopping by for some bait shrimp. Sometimes a bunch of Latinos would leave their car doors open and play hot salsa while they cooked up something good on the BBQ grills that dotted the waterfront.
There was a bunch of falling down cottages that were part of an old movie set, “Island Claws,” one of my favorite B movie horror flicks ever. But the appeal was broader than that. The energy, the beauty mixed with the scrappy quality of the place all made it irresistible to movie makers and TV shows like “Flipper,” “Miami Vice,” “Glades,” “CSI Miami” and “Burn Notice.” “Ace Ventura” shot scenes at Jimbo’s along with “True Lies” and several others.
Adding to the fame quotient were videos by Ziggy Marley and JayLo and plenty of photo shoots for gals like Heidi Klum and Naomi Campbell.
On the flip side of all that temporary glamour, there was a porta potty that was to be avoided if at all possible.
It wasn’t the easiest place to find. Drive out Rickenbacker Causeway to Virginia Key. Tell the man at the toll booth you were going to Jimbo’s and not the beach parking and he’d waive the fee. Drive down a sand road past the water treatment plant and find some place to park your car before you ran out of land.
Get a picnic table and send someone inside for beer and fish while you unpack the other food you brought. Make sure someone is always at the table to fend off the feral cats if there’s food out. Settle back and see who shows up and what direction the day takes. That’s what you could have done before Jimbo’s closed. So, thank you Jimbo Luznar for almost 60 years of holding open the door at the place at the end of the road that made everyone who found it happy.
© Copyright 2012: text Sue Harrison; photos Sue Harrison & Lee Brock for MyOldFlorida.com.