The site of Jimmy’s Oriental Gardens is Santa Barbara’s last visible remnant of the Chinatown that once was. Today, the space is open for business under the name The Pickle Room. But nine years ago, the bar and restaurant closed for the first time in sixty years, and with it went the locals and a rich history of just how Jimmy’s came to be.
On March 1st, a special screening was held at Marjorie Luke Theatre of a film that gave an audience who couldn’t make it to the Santa Barbara International Film Festival screening a chance to discover the magic of Jimmy’s. It was this magic that sparked director Casey McGarry’s interest to create the short film “Grasshoppers for Grandpa.”
In the 1940, James (Jimmy) Chung decided to open the “Oriental Gardens” restaurant. After being in America for several years, he settled on the location where it still stands to this day, 126 E. Canon Perdido. For six decades, the restaurant served homemade Chinese food while bartender Willy Gilbert kept the people coming back for more with his legendary drink-making skills.
After many years of success, the family-owned establishment took a devastating blow when Chung passed away in 1970, leaving the legacy to his son Tommy. Then in 2006, Tommy decided to close down the business and sell it to the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation. Sadly, seven years to the day that Jimmy’s closed, Tommy Chung passed away at the age of 70.
This should have been where the story ended. The restaurant and bar had closed, and regulars would soon find a new spot to call their favorite. But this is where McGarry stepped in and created “Grasshopper for Grandpa” to extend the story. With insightful interviews given by Jimmy’s regulars and Chung family members, McGarry’s camera lens showed that Jimmy’s was much more than just a restaurant. From rumors of underground opium tunnels to respect given to the restaurant by gay community, the place was an open atmosphere for everyone.
The rich history behind the Oriental Gardens inspired Bob Lovejoy, a Jimmy’s regular, to reopen the restaurant. He used original blueprints to restore the restaurant to its original layout, and with the approval from the Chung family, reopened under the name The Pickle Room in 2013.
Although the space has a brand new name and doesn’t sell Chinese food anymore, it’s still “Jimmy’s Oriental Gardens” to the countless number of locals who paid a visit every week, sometimes even daily. While the Pickle Room serves deli dishes, the spirit of the original space lives on through the restored red bar and those who keep Jimmy’s Oriental Gardens’ memory alive.