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A Genuine, Original Florida Establishment • Virginia Key, Florida USA
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Folk Tales: Jimbo's Liquor License

This is the story of how Jimbo got his liquor license, as told to an old friend by Jimbo himself.

There's a remote island in Biscayne Bay off the coast of Miami that's been off limits since the 1920s to all but the world's richest and most powerful friends of William Vanderbilt. Before that time, Fisher Island was owned by Carl Fisher, known for developing Miami Beach into a world-class destination. He purchased the little island from Dana Dorsey, South Florida's first black millionaire.

The story goes that when Mr. Vanderbilt (great-grandson of famed "Commodore" Cornelius Vanderbilt) first brought his magnificent 250 foot yacht to Miami, Carl Fisher was smitten with this grandiose toy and wanted it for himself. "My island for your boat," Fisher insisted. Vanderbilt eagerly accepted. A legendary trade was consummated.

In 1925, with initial deed in hand, America's richest sportsman set about fashioning a $1.5 million private retreat rivaled by few in the world. He built a Mediterranean-style mansion facing the Atlantic Ocean where he and his wife Rosamund enjoyed a long storied history entertaining the luminaries of its time. Vanderbilt encircled his state mansion with lush landscaping, gracious guest houses, tennis courts, swimming pools and a nine-hole golf course.

75 years later, the island was beginning to be developed into luxury condominiums which surround the elegant estate. These residences were built by middle class workmen using a huge barge to move their equipment to the island every working day.

The work barge was anchored at the end of the Virginia Key road, along a small inlet and lagoon, next to the mooring for Jimbo's shrimp boats. Every morning the workmen loaded their gear at Jimbo's dock and traveled about one mile to Fisher Island across the shallows. Their first phase of construction included the country club facilities, restaurant, bar and pool, in addition to the first set of residences.

With these initial facilities complete, the workmen enjoyed relaxing at the end of a long hot day of construction by enjoying a beer at the bar, but the scene of working class folks hanging out on Fisher Island gave the developer a migraine headache. Not wanting to slow construction or cause a strike, he enlisted the help of his partner, Mr. Bebe Reboso of Key Biscayne.

Being a resourceful man of the world that had "fixed a few problems" in his day, Bebe reached out to his old friend Jimbo. If Jimbo could get a license to sell beer, the workmen could return on the barge at day's end and enjoy themselves at the shrimp shack without further disturbance to the disgruntled developer.

Jimbo said he's happy to help, but wondered aloud "why they gonna give me a damn liquor license when all I got's an old bait shack?" Undeterred, Jimbo applied for a license with the City of Miami. As we might have expected, he was turned down cold. Bebe tried his hand at convincing a few local politicians that this arrangement was in everyone's best interest, but he too was unsuccessful. No beer for Jimbo.

Bebe doesn't take no for an answer, so he calls his old friend and companion Dick Nixon and relates his dilemma. "Let me see what I can do," says Dick. The next day, Jimbo had a license to sell beer.

Of course, this made all the construction workers quite happy. After work, they drank beer at Jimbo's Place until the cows came home. They played bocce ball, ate Jimbo's famous smoked fish and enjoyed the down home ambiance and genuine hospitality of this forgotten, unpretentious little hideout -- only minutes from the hustle and bustle of downtown Miami.

beerAs a matter of fact, Jimbo sold so much beer that he started ordering it by the truck-load. And ice too. His little bait shack -- which only sold shrimp to fishermen for $1 a dozen -- now hosted a lively crowd of regulars that enjoyed the quaint, unassuming space where dolphins played in the lagoon and exotic waterbirds were seen in abundance.

The developer was happy. Bebe was happy and Dick Nixon, who's winter White House was just down the street, soon figured he better stop by Jimbo's to see for himself what all the fuss was about.

Now Jimbo Luznar has always been at ease around big celebrities, famous people, fancy politicians and regular folks, so when Dick Nixon came to visit, he got the same friendly treatment as every other Joe that ever visited... a warm handshake, a broad smile and a sincere greeting from the friendliest man in the world. And, a little extra thanks for "helping to straighten out that deal with the beer."

Next time you visit Jimbo's Place at the end of the road on Virginia Key, reach in that old barrel full of ice-cold beer and fish one out. When you pop that top, think about old Dick Nixon, his pal Bebe Reboso and all those construction workers that unknowingly changed the course of history -- against great odds -- to allow you the unlikely pleasure of enjoying one of life's simple pleasures at one of Florida's last original, genuine establishments.

Robert Burr
an old friend of Jimbo

Jimbo's Place, Smoked Fish, Bocce Ball, Virginia Key Florida, location, shrimp, Old Florida Jimbo's Place, Smoked Fish, Bocce Ball, Virginia Key Florida, location, shrimp, Old Florida

A Genuine, Original Florida Establishment

Duck Lake Road, Virginia Key, Florida
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