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Tuesday, January 22 , 2019, 2:18 pm | Fair 62º


Pickle Room Opens a New Era for Famed Santa Barbara Bar

Father and son, Bob and Clay Lovejoy have been working for nearly a year on revamping and conserving the legacy of one of Santa Barbara’s classic cocktail lounges, which they opened last month and christened as the “Pickle Room.”

Next door is their Three Pickles Deli + Sub, which the Lovejoys have had great success with, so pickles had to be in the name. It’s fitting that a family should open a new business there, as well; the location at 126 E. Canon Perdido was once the legendary “Jimmy’s Oriental Gardens” — a family owned and operated restaurant and lounge from 1947 until 2006 under the guidance of the Chung family.

Today it’s the Lovejoy family carrying on the tradition. That’s why when you walk into the bar and look at the windows with the Chinese symbols of “double happiness” one can imagine the building and family are giving the new owners a nod of approval. It’s a family thing.

Getting the building is a real dream come true for Bob Lovejoy, who moved to Santa Barbara from Burbank in late 1975 and two years later opened Lovejoy Design. For 37 years, he presided over the marble, tile and glass brick installation/contracting business.

“Jimmy’s is where I would come after working to relax and enjoy the company of the patrons and my dear friend, Willy Gilbert, the bartender who over the years has become one of my closet friends," Lovejoy said.

"Willy was also rather famous for his jazz collection, which was the soundtrack for the bar.”

Inspired by the memory of the mood-setting music, Lovejoy added, “Sonos Sound is designing a great sound system for the bar that will further identify the kind of atmosphere we want to have in our new room.”

Sitting in the heart of what was once downtown Santa Barbara's bustling Chinatown and Japantown, it is one of the few original buildings left in the area. The Lovejoy family — Bob, Clay, Dawn, Athena and Martha — has made a sizable donation to the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation to fund an Asian Museum, which is to open in 2014, in the most unusual setting you’re likely to come across: a museum inside a cocktail lounge. The historical facts will focus on the impact the Chinese and Japanese people made in the area with a spotlight the Chung family.

“We want to honor our neighborhood’s heritage, especially those who worked here in this building, so they aren’t forgotten for their important contributions to this community,” Clay Lovejoy said.

“Think of it as a great conversation starter,” he winked.

Building on this legacy, the Lovejoys have restored the vibrant red bar to its original length, fitting perfectly under the pagoda-styled roof, as it was when it opened 66 years ago. Lovejoy said he has “a reverence for what’s old and Californian,” having come from a family whose business was American antiques. His sensibilities in design play out in every square inch of the lounge.

“I want this place to evoke memories of a 1940s cocktail lounge,” he said.

Red, black and gold — traditional Chinese décor — are the colors used throughout. Vintage pin-up posters of Asian women that adorned the bar previously are back on the walls. There are lots of little touches you’ll notice that honor the Chinese roots here.

The original sign that hung outside Jimmy’s now dominates the back wall of the bar. Tommy Chung, who took over the reins from his dad, Jimmy, in the 1970s, gave the Lovejoys his permission to use the sign.

Not only is the building making a great comeback, longtime favorite bartenderWilly Gilbert who worked at Jimmy’s for 25+ years, has returned to his old stomping grounds to manage the bar and work three nights.

“I will be juggling my time between the Pickle Room and another venerable restaurant where I have been for six-plus years, and am very fortunate and excited to be working in both establishments,” he said with a smile.

The Lovejoys and Gilbert have designed a great cocktail menu with classic drinks alongside the new handcrafted cocktails now so in vogue using house made simple syrup. House special drinks made with tequila, rum, whiskey, gin and vodka all get their signature drinks: Willy’s Hornitas Margarita; Tommy's Mai Tai; Old Fashioned; Singapore Sling; and Moscow Mule.

Three of the 10 bottled beers will be Asian, including Tsing-Tao Chinese rice beer.

“We’ll have four wines available by the glass: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and a house red," he said. "Plus, I have my personal favorite Pinot Noir wines, which I’m going to make available to purchase by the bottle.”

Chef Weston Richards, whose work at Julienne and Wine Cask was heralded, helped to design the menu and will be executive chef in the kitchen a few nights of the week. Lovejoy’s menu will have a rotating special nightly, such as lasagna, eggplant Parmesan or chicken Parmesan. Clay Lovejoy’s face really lights up when you start talking food; his background in the meat business comes into play here and at the deli next door..

“We’re going to grind our own meats for the house special meatball and spaghetti (that’s singular on purpose as the dish will have one big meatball) and burgers," he said. "Also on the menu will be a Pastrami Dip, deep-fried pickles and in a polite nod to the Chinese legacy, Chinese Chicken Salad and Combination Fried Rice — plus a hybrid we’ve just created the Reuben Eggroll, using Russian dressing as the dipping sauce.”

There are lots of "regulars" who are looking forward to seeing the place reopen. One of those is longtime Santa Barbara resident and artist Gary Chafe. His painting of the old Jimmy’s is also the T-shirt for the new room and the apparel is available for purchase.

Additionally, Lovejoy’s will be able to offer Three Pickles Deli as a new location for small, private events or parties.

“We’ll close the deli at 3:30 and be able to offer event planners an alternative space for after-work options starting around 5 p.m,” he explained.

Lovejoy's Pickle Room, 126 E. Canon Perdido, is open Monday through Saturday, with bar hours 4:30 to 11 p.m. Monday-Wednesday and 4:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. Thursday-Saturday; kitchen hours 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. Monday-Wednesday and 5:30 p.m. to midnight Thursday-Saturday; and happy hour 4:30 to 6 p.m. Monday-Friday. American Express, MasterCard and Visa are accepted.

Connect with Lovejoy's Pickle Room on Facebook, or call 805.965.1015 for more information.

— Maureen McFadden is a publicist representing Lovejoy’s Pickle Room.

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