Funky Florida: Jimbo’s Place on Virginia Key, now closed

Artwork on buidings and buses at Jimbo's by Antonia Gerstacker
Artwork by Antonia Gerstacker; Photo by Thomas Hawk
Jimbo's school bus offers shelter when it rains.
Jimbo’s School Bus

UPDATE: Jimbo’s is closed and was torn down by the City of Miami, which owns the property. Proprietor Jim Luznar had requested the closing.


 

VIRGINIA KEY — On your first visit to Jimbo’s, you don’t know quite what to think.

People are walking around, beers in hand, amid the ramshackle buildings, beached boats, abandoned cars and an old school bus, all splattered with very colorful abstract artwork.

The Miller Beer signs say $3 Premium, $2 Domestic, $1 Water. But where’s the bar?

“Over there,” says one visitor. “Right through there, see the cooler?” Sure enough, there’s my $2 beer floating in a big tub of ice. “Domestic are on the right,” came a voice from the porch.

A bunch of folks are sitting on that funky old porch, sitting in funky old chairs and funky old couches, watching football on the funky old color TV. Next to the porch, a handful of people are bowling on the funky old bocce ball court. Covered, of course, to keep out the funky old sun.

Well-worn couches, chairs and benches are scattered around the grounds, small groups of people enjoying an afternoon at funky old Jimbo’s.

When somebody conjured up the phrase “Funky Florida,” they were thinking of Jimbo’s.


My wife and I had been exploring nearby Crandon Park Beach to include in Florida Rambler’s “Best Beaches” section when we happened across the sign to “Virginia Key Beach and Park” on the Rickenbacker Causeway, across from the Miami Seaquarium.

Virginia Key’s public beach had a character of its own and, we would learn, quite a history. We encountered several small parking lots with sea-grape shaded paths leading to beaches before we found the main beach. Yes, it was funky, too. Not quite a candidate for “Best Beaches of Florida,” yet there was something special here. Something unique.

Tiki umbrellas with small picnic tables marched in a row along the beach path, and cars were parked along the sandy trails leading to the main beach. Four people had set up a plastic table at the surf line and were playing dominoes in the water. A lifeguard station kept watch over it all.

Beer prices at Jimbo's

Football on TV is featured at Jimbo's
Jimbo’s “Sports Bar”

During the 1940s, 50s and early ‘60s, this was Miami’s “colored only” beach. After the beach was integrated in the ‘60s, the beach began to decline and was later taken over by nudists and gays. The back side of the island, now a water treatment plant, had become a trash dump for the tony residents of Key Biscayne. (Read more about Virginia Key’s history on Wikipedia.)

Today, the park stands as a historical treasure, cleaned up and reopened in 2008, which may explain why I had never seen it before.

So this brings us back to Jimbo’s.

After leaving the beach area, we did a little more exploring, going deep into the park to the end of the road, past the water-treatment plant, until it turned to sand. And there was Jimbo’s Place.

Outdoor patio at Jimbo's
Relax in the hammock at Jimbo’s

Jimbo Luznar was a squatter on Virginia Key, an original resident, eventually gaining ownership by default when Biscayne National Park was established.


With a small little harbor fronting his shack, the location was convenient for fishermen to drop in and buy shrimp. It was also a convenient base for construction crews working for developer Bebe Rebozo.

As the legend goes, Bebe wanted his workers to be happy, so he urged Jimbo to apply for a beer license. Jimbo was turned down, so Bebe sought help from his friend, Richard Nixon, whose “Winter White House” was on Key Biscayne.

Jimbo got his license and began serving beer, and he’s been serving it ever since, much to everyone’s delight. Jimbo’s famous smoked fish is cooked on premises, from a smoker grill.

I would be remiss not to mention the artist whose colorful abstracts cover the “bar” and shacks at Jimbo’s Place. It is the work of Antonia Kay Gerstacker, known as Art Girl. And there is ample graffiti contributed by various artists.

Another bit of Jimbo’s trivia. Remember Flipper? The legendary TV show was shot at Jimbo’s, at least some of it, and the aged sets remain as part of the menagerie of shacks that populate the grounds. Jimbo’s is also a popular backdrop for model shoots, TV shows (Miami Vice and CSI: Miami) and several videos were shot here, including “Who Let The Dogs Out.”

You can find Jimbo at the shack every Sunday, playing bocce ball, helping cook the smoked fish or just visiting with visitors.

The event of the year at Jimbo’s? His birthday, of course. Tax day. April 15


2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Jimbo is not a squatter. Far from it. He originally ran his shrimp boat on a slip at Biscayne Bay, where the Miami Herald property now stands. The city urged him (forced him) to move and offered him a choice of several sites. He chose the spot in the lagoon at the end of the road when no one ever goes. He has a legitimate life long lease on the property from the city of Miami.

    There are more rumors and misinformation about Jimbo’s Place than any other Miami landmark. Some believe he owns the shacks where so many movies were made. He does not. Some think it’s a bar, a convenience store or a restaurant. None of the above. It’s not a marina where boaters can get gas. Nope. It’s just a place to get smoked fish, have a beer, relax and play bocce ball — and be left alone, if that’s your choice. It’s a natural habitat where dolphins play in the lagoon, water birds congregate, models and actors are shot, movies are made, picnics are enjoyed.

  2. Avatar

    There are really two public beaches on Virginia Key, the 1000 acre barrier island that also includes a state-designated critical wildlife area: there’s the Virginia Key Beach that is closest to the Sewage Treatment Plant and Jimbo’s (the tiki huts) and the Historic Virginia Key Beach, which was the designated blacks only beach when it opened in 1945 during segregation (closest to Bear Cut bridge). For more on the history and ecology of the island, see links on the Facebook site, Friends of Virginia Key or the 2010 blog, http://www.viewfromvirginiakey.com. Enjoy the Jimbo’s birthday bash and then go exploring. The island is an amazing, beautiful place.