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Jimgermanbar Closing & New Walla Walla Project Coming With Big Local Names

The new Italian bar and restaurant will be worth the drive.

German, with chef/co-owner Claire Johnston.
German, with chef/co-owner Claire Johnston.
Zibby Wilder/courtesy of Jimgermanbar]

At the end of this month, the pivotal cocktail bar Jimgermanbar will close in Waitsburg, Washington. Owner Jim German started serving the fine people of the small town 20 miles from Walla Walla in 2007, after moving to the area fresh from an impressive Seattle bartending career. If you're not an old-timer, you might not recognize his name, but you may know someone he hired back when he worked at Il Bistro: Murray Stenson. The famous local barkeep, who started slinging drinks in 1990, told Eater, "I owe Jim my career!"—and he's very excited about a new German project that's taking shape.

First off, some Jim German history: In addition to Il Bistro, he worked at Seattle's old Campagne, Place Pigalle, and the Pink Door, among others. "When I opened up here [in Waitsburg], the name was kind of this fun way to draw people to the small community: Jimgermanbar. Maybe people hadn’t heard of Waitsburg, but maybe some of my old regulars would recognize the name and come over," he tells Eater. It worked, but the name will be retired when the doors close.

As for what’s next, he’s heading into town, to Walla Walla, and walking down many people’s memory lanes. The old Pastime Cafe, which shuttered in 2006, will be home to a project German has been keeping largely under wraps. Wine country locals well remember the Italian restaurant at 215 W. Main Street with a sense of nostalgia that German hopes to maintain.

German says big names are involved in the restaurant’s makeover from old school Italian to new bar and restaurant, but with ink waiting to dry, only a few hints have been given. One local chef said that Tom Douglas was considering opening a restaurant here in the past. At one point, Douglas, German, and winemaker Charles Smith were even rumored to be opening a restaurant. And, in fact, when the Pastime property sold originally, in 2006, it was to Charles Smith. The Union-Bulletin reports that Pastime Holdings LLC purchased the property in May of this year, however, for $200,000 less than Smith paid for it.

"There’s a vibrancy and room for potential in this area. People come out looking to explore wine country, and there are players associated with that world and plenty of opportunities for chefs to do small or enormous wine dinners, or more," German explains of the culinary future in Walla Walla.

German hints that a bar will be a big part of the new venture, but the menu will tug on a longing for simple, straightforward Italian food.

German hints that a bar will be a big part of the new venture, but the menu will tug on a longing for simple, straightforward Italian food. "We have this cool neon sign from the old place and it’s such a beautiful building. One of the people involved has this incredible attention to detail, so there’s a lot going into taking the antique building into the 21st century."

In closing down Jimgermanbar, German has been overwhelmed with phone calls from customers trying to squeeze in one last meal, one more drink. "We’re packed. Every day, all night. We can maybe fit in a couple walk-ins early or late, but that’s it. And people want to come in with large parties, but we can’t entertain them all. It’s very flattering and we feel thankful for the love and support."

The old Jimgermanbar space, now established as a prime meeting locale, won’t go to waste: It will definitely become something else. A pizza place is possible, as a master mason friend of German’s cut a chunk of the back patio and inserted a wood-burning oven of an enormous scale. "The dome is as big as a VW Bug," he exclaims. The oven won't move to the new space, as it's unlikely a behemoth oven could be moved anywhere.

Though German and his team is not sure yet exactly who will take over the building, they’re only taking inquiries from industry professionals who have cut their teeth already. "We don’t want someone who thinks it might be fun to open a bar or restaurant. It’s gotta be someone serious." German hopes the oven will be used for pizzas or roasting meats, and adds that an entire small lamb could be tucked comfortably inside.

"Having this big, gorgeous oven ties the backyard together. I’m a firm believer in having that outdoor space attached. Like in the bars in Rome, there’s always an area on the sidewalk or behind, so people can spill out of the restaurant." The new owner will have to decide how to make use of the space he carefully created. 

When Jimgermanbar began, there was nothing but time to set things up. "I had five years to turn a torn up space into what it became, to solve problems, connect with people with construction skills. The idea was always this Eurocentric meeting place." Will his next bar
— the name Pastime will remain —have such a space when it opens in the spring of 2016? It seems likely, as does the continuance of Jim German’s reputation for taking things beyond people’s imaginations.

Jimgermanbar

119 Main Street, Waitsburg, WA 99361, USA

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