By Jim Reynolds
Jimmy’s Ice House, a Heights institution for nearly seven decades, is being sold.
“Breaks my heart,” said Mike “Tuna” Coleman, a dedicated patron of more than 40 years.
Jimmy’s owner, Rose Garden Holdings, is negotiating to sell the property at 2803 White Oak to Braun Enterprises, said Rose Garden managing partner Eric Quinn. The sale most likely won’t close before Mar. 31. Braun plans to lease the ice house to a third party, Quinn said. Braun did not respond to phone or email inquiries.
“I don’t know what they’ll do with it,” Quinn said. Potential tenants, as yet unidentified, toured the building mid-January taking various measurements, said manager Audra Audy.
“All things must pass,” said Jimmy’s regular Fred Kitziger. “With all the development around here, this place has had one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel for several years. But I’m looking forward to seeing what happens.”
Kitziger fondly described the ice house’s eclectic community role: Wedding receptions, wakes, memorials, golf tournament headquarters, White Oak Athletic Association functions, biker gatherings, cook-outs, all kinds of social events – a “town square,” he said.
Rumors about the sale surfaced in early January, and then an ominous sign appeared behind the bar: “All Tabs Must Be Closed By February 1, and NO NEW TABS.”
Long-time customer reaction is predominately pessimistic. “Sad, sad, sad,” said Marie M., a self-described old-timer whose father was a friend of Jimmie Murray. “I like it the way it is. I don’t want it to change.”
Sherry Griffith, a patron since the late 1950s, declared, “It’s sad because Jimmy’s is an institution. Heights people who’ve moved to other parts of Texas, always come back to Jimmy’s when they visit here.”
Asked how long he’d been coming to Jimmy’s, Andrew Coker joked, “You mean legally?” Coker then speculated, “They’re going to lose their customer base if they change.” A patron who declined to reveal her name said angrily, “I hope they don’t turn it into a… yuppie bar!” Jim Settles bluntly said, “I’ll just find someplace else.”
Jimmie Murray founded the bar in the late 1940s. Upon his death in 1994, ownership passed to son Frank Murray. Current owner Rose Garden Holdings consists of Eric Quinn, Danny Krienke and Marion Murray, Frank’s widow.
Even if the new operators make no changes, Quinn said, they won’t be using the names “Jimmy’s Ice House” or “Jimmie’s Place,” business tags that Quinn owns. Also, renovation would be problematic. Due to multiple additions and remodeling across the decades, with numerous “grandfathered” improvements that would now be subject to building codes, most renovation short of demolition could be prohibitively expensive, Quinn said.
Patrons recall from well into the 1990s the unassuming albeit noteworthy qualification on the Jimmie’s sign: “Just Beer.”
“That came from major hassles Frank (Murray) had with the alcohol authorities,” explained customer P.J. McEwan. “He tried to use ‘ice cold beer’ on the sign, but they were such nit-picky jerks about temperature and so forth, he got frustrated and finally settled on ‘just beer.’”
Jimmy’s Ice House T-shirts proclaim, “If you don’t like it here, go somewhere else.” Inside a cover featuring a beautiful fruit-and-cheese platter, the bar’s wine list reads “Red, White, Pink.” Customers enjoy watching and feeding the large turtles living in Gostic Spring, a White Oak Bayou tributary off the property’s west border. The hardiest Jimmy’s patrons brave all weathers on the quiet covered patio out back, sipping beer and addressing the world’s problems.
Bill Wheeler, who walks to Jimmy’s most days, summed up the prevailing sentiments. “I hate what’s happening to the Heights,” he said, “but there’s nothing I can do about it.”