If you missed its debut at this year’s Santa Barbara International Film Festival, you have another chance on Sunday to see Grasshopper for Grandpa, a short documentary film made by Santa Barbara native Casey McGarry.
The screening will take place at 3 p.m. in the Marjorie Luke Theatre, 721 E. Cota St., with a suggested donation of $10.
It is the story of Jimmy’s Oriental Gardens, a beloved Santa Barbara watering hole for nearly 60 years before closing its doors in 2006 with the retirement of owner Tommy Chung. Opened in 1947 by Chung’s father, Jimmy Yee Chung, it is now the last visible remnant of Santa Barbara’s small but once-thriving Chinatown.
Longtime Jimmy’s patron Bob Lovejoy and his son, Clay, eventually procured the building and moved their sandwich shop, Three Pickles, into one side of it. In September 2013, they finally were able to realize their dream of restoring and reopening the bar.
Now officially dubbed The Pickle Room, it is often referred to as The New Jimmy’s. Providing a satisfying through-line to the Jimmy’s story is the ongoing presence of 30-year bartender Willy Gilbert, who is, according to many, the heart and soul of the place.
The soundtrack of the film is made up of jazz by once-Santa Barbaran musician/composer Nate Birkey. By all accounts, jazz is what Willy played almost exclusively while working at Jimmy’s, so this adds a rich layer of authenticity to the film.
“Jimmy’s was where all the theater people went after shows,” said Maureen “Mo” McFadden, one of the film’s producers and a proud Jimmy’s regular. “And it got loud and really fun, with an East Coast vibe so I felt at home. With this film, Casey managed to capture the emotional heart of the place through the people, the regulars, who made it what it was. We are all so happy Bob (Lovejoy) took the project on and gave Jimmy’s new life. So the legend continues.”
While a Santa Barbara native, McGarry was too young to have patronized Jimmy’s back in the day. This doesn’t lessen his appreciation for the place and its memories.
“Jimmy’s represents everything right in this world,” McGarry said. “Good camaraderie, good conversation, strong drink, lifelong friends — everything you want in a local spot in the city you make your home. It also represents a place of yesterday — the kind of place I cherish deeply. In a world so inundated with homogenized, franchised businesses, to have a place like your own Cheers is something pretty special. And that’s what Jimmy’s was to a lot of people.”
The title of the film is taken from the title of a story by the Santa Barbara Independent’s Matt Kettman, who was a neighbor and regular at Jimmy’s. Kettman related how he brought his visiting grandfather there for a drink, a grasshopper, and how happy it made the elder gentleman to be in the kind of friendly, welcoming bar he recalled from the days of his youth.
”I was lucky to stumble upon such a great local story,” McGarry said. “And fortunate to have been granted such access into the complex yet irresistible world of Jimmy’s Oriental Gardens.”
Doors open at 2:30 p.m. with the screening at 3 p.m. The film will be followed by a Q&A with McGarry, Willy Gilbert and Bob Lovejoy. Also included in the program is 9 Horse by Charles Bukowski by Eric Pritchard.
The suggested donation is $10. Tickets can be purchased online with a credit card in advance by clicking here or on the day of show at the door — cash and checks only. For more information, call 805.689.5053.
— Justine Sutton is a Santa Barbara freelance writer and frequent Noozhawk reviewer. The opinions expressed are her own.