Jimmy’s leaving Aspen’s restaurant scene after 24-year run
Downtown hot spot will have a farewell summer before handing over keys to space to Austin-based group
After more than 24 years, Jimmy Yeager and the team at Jimmy’s An American Restaurant and Bar is taking a goodbye lap this summer before handing over the downtown space to the Austin, Texas-based group who has a growing presence in Aspen.
Yeager said Sunday morning he and business partner Jessica Lischka have struck a deal to turn over the lease to the 4,000-square-foot space in Mill Street Plaza to the McGuire Moorman Lambert Hospitality group.
Jimmy’s Restaurant will remain open through the summer with plans to close in mid-September. It will be a bit of serendipity as Yeager quietly opened the restaurant during the 1997 Food & Wine Classic weekend and will close after the 2021 edition, which was moved from its traditional time in June to September because of the pandemic.
“It was poetic for the Classic to move to September because as we opened unofficially at it, we’ll close on the same festival,” Yeager said, “but then we’ll have a locals appreciation week the week after.”
Larry McGuire, one of the partners in the hospitality group, said Sunday he was not ready to release a lot of information about their newest Aspen restaurant and wanted the focus to be on celebrating Jimmy’s through this summer. He and Tom Moorman founded their hospitality group in 2009, and this year changed to MML Hospitality with hotelier and partner Liz Lambert joining the group.
“We don’t have it all baked yet because we’ve been working on the deal with Jimmy,” McGuire said of the new concept. “Whenever we’re doing these deals now … it’s kind of all about the last couple of months of what Jimmy wants to do. We don’t want to get people talking about what we’re doing. We’d rather get people talking about Jimmy’s and the last summer for him.”
The group will take over the lease Oct. 1, and their plan is to put in a Mexican-style restaurant, he said. Other details of the deal were not released.
McGuire did want to say for certain when they would reopen the space (possibly by early 2022), but added when they do they will be open for lunch, which will be a change for the third-floor space along the Hopkins Avenue section known as Restaurant Row.
“We knew it was a great space, and we love taking over stewardship of these iconic spaces,” he said.
McGuire and Moorman, both chefs, came into Aspen in October 2017 after taking over the iconic Little Annie’s space on Hyman Avenue and running Clark’s Oyster Bar there since.
In March, McGuire and Zack Kupperman completed a $68 million deal to buy the historic Mountain Chalet, which has been operated by the Melville family since Ralph Melville opened it with three rooms in 1954. The new investors are scheduled to take over the Chalet operations after spring 2022.
McGuire said Sunday they’ll keep the configuration at the Jimmy’s space with the bar at the front, and the menu will be styled after their La Piscina restaurant at the Austin Proper Hotel.
“We hope people will be excited about it,” McGuire said, “but right now it’s about Jimmy have a great last summer and that crew.”
Yeager came to Aspen after growing up in New Jersey and working in the New York restaurant scene. He said his first official job in industry was summer of 1979 as a bartender and his history also includes a lot of time in the kitchen.
He recalled Sunday the day the doors opened at his new Aspen space, as it was an unforgettable “whisper” party. He officially opened June 18, 1997, which was a Wednesday, but a few days before they slyly put out the word.
“The first day was an epic whisper party,” he said. “On the Saturday night of Food & Wine, we did a bar-only introduction of Jimmy’s through three great friends of mine from New York who went to the top-10 chefs dinner and whispered, ‘Shhh, don’t tell anybody, but our friend Jimmy from New York is going to be opening up his restaurant next week and he’s having a few people over for drinks after 10 p.m. tonight.’
“And we had 700 people come through the restaurant.”
After their opening weekend, Jimmy’s through the years has become a hangout among locals for its bar scene, but also for a number of repeat customers and visitors for its steak and seafood menu, large wine offerings and unpretentious atmosphere. The walls of the bar-area are covered with signatures and notes from patrons through the decades. It’s that community, Yeager said, that made it an enjoyable run.
Over the years, he’s never hesitated to lend his voice to the local restaurant scene, but as the pandemic took hold in 2020, Yeager and Lischka worked within the changes and restrictions as they could and helped lead the conversation.
“Jessica and I had a very strong opinion about how the business community could work with and not against the bureaucracy of county government,” he said. “Whereas everyone else was yelling and screaming, we wanted to actually provide a pathway to protect our business and protect the businesses of others.”
They penned opinion columns and were regulars at the city and county meetings about the difficulties of running a business during the uncertainty.
“The main objective was to take business in the context of community health, and we found our words hit a chord that made sense,” he said. “So a lot of it was just darn-good timing and luck, and another part of it was all the equity and goodwill that we’ve built over the community in the past 24 years gave us a seat at the table at the pleasure of our colleagues.”
Lischka started as a hostess at Jimmy’s in 2006, became the general manager in 2010 and then Jimmy’s business partner in 2013. She said Jimmy’s has “been her life” for the past 15 years, including where she met her partner, who is also their bar manager, eight years ago.
“The sale comes with a lot emotions, a lot of excitement, but a lot of emotions about how our lives are going to change,” she said Sunday. “We are really focused on throwing a big party, having a lot of fun and celebrating what we’ve done and built over the last 24 years. Yes, it’s sad, but we really don’t want to focus on that part of it. What we want to continue with the same fun and atmosphere this entire time.”
They are asking those patrons who want to share memories and photos that they send them to Lischka at Jessica@jimmysaspen.com. She said Sunday it is “impossible to quantify” the memories through the years.
Yeager said he is not sure what’s next — “the idea is to not have an idea” right now — but said he is not leaving. Lischka they are kicking around ideas, but “nothing is really real yet.”
“I’ve been so fortunate because Jimmy and I saw the mutual value in our relationship, and not every business owner would be willing to extend a partnership the way he did,” she said. “He saw what works for both of us, and that led me to stick around. … Just because Jimmy’s is closing doesn’t mean all those relationships have to go away.”
In the meantime, there are three months to appreciate what they have accomplished — expect a lot of reminiscing, sharing stories and raised glasses for celebratory toasts.
“I’m absolutely going to stick around town. I have no intention of going anywhere,” he said, later adding, “We have the luxury of being able to be open through September, so we have 12 weeks to celebrate and enjoy our time in this farewell season.”
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Construction has stopped indefinitely on the raze-and-replacement project at 300 E. Hyman Ave., home of the Crystal Palace Theatre Restaurant from 1957 until 2008. The site was closed July 1 after seeing sparse if any activity during the second half of June.