James "Jimbo" Luznar of Jimbo's Place Dies at 89

Jimbo Luznar
Jimbo Luznar
Photo by Michael McElroy

Miami legend James "Jimbo" Luznar has died at age 89. 

The former shrimper and proprietor of Jimbo's Place on Virginia Key passed away about 5 p.m. last evening, according to his daughter, Gail Araujo. Jimbo, as he was lovingly known, suffered from Alzheimer's disease and had been in and out of the hospital and a nursing care facility since February.  

Araujo says that although she's sad, "we knew this was to come. He had a long, wonderful life, and I'm feeling good about what he accomplished."  

A fixture in Miami's restaurant and boating communities for decades, Jimbo Luznar held court at his shack — selling cheap beer and smoked fish to generations of Miamians. The Jimbo's website said it best:

Jimbo Luznar is a man. And Jimbo's Shrimp Shack is a place. And Jimbo's Place is... a state of mind.

It's simply the last place at the end of the road where everyone is welcome, from kings and politicians to working folks and the salt of the earth. Jimbo's is not a bar; but you can buy ice cold beer there.

It's not a restaurant or a convenience store; but you can buy the best smoked fish you ever tasted there.

It's not a marina, but you can pull your boat up to this natural, eco-friendly location anytime and just hang out. Come by car or come by boat. Come by jetski or parachute in. Play bocce ball, have a picnic, enjoy some smoked fish and cold beer; watch a movie being made, or a photo shoot; or just hang out and relax.

On the weekends, the bocce ball court gets pretty active. You might even challenge Jimbo to a game, but don't count on winning...

He did, indeed, have a full and colorful life. Starting out in a Western Maryland coal mining family, Luznar was a Merchant Marine before he set up a shrimping business in South Florida. The City of Miami let him squat at the old Miami Herald building before moving him to Virginia Key. Back then, the small island held a sewage plant. In an interview with New Times, Jimbo recalled, "It was rough, but now it's actually a historical place and it wouldn't have been if I wasn't here."

Robert Burr, founder of the Miami Rum Renaissance Festival and lifelong friend of Jimbo, recalls how the tides turned in the shrimper's favor after he garnered a city license to sell beer. "Here's a guy who runs a shrimp boat and sells shrimp for bait. When developers started to build Fisher Island, Jimbo's Place had an industrial dock that was built, then the sewer plant was built."

One of the partners on the Fisher Island project was Bill Rebozo, nephew of Charles "Bebe" Rebozo. Bill befriended Jimbo. When the construction workers on the Fisher Island project started to drink at the exclusive and brand new private bar on the island, Rebozo suggested that Jimbo apply for a license to sell beer so the workers could have an alternate place for an after-work drink. The fish shack owner was denied. Burr says, "Bebe called Richard Nixon. A few days later, Jimbo had his license and he could sell beer. These guys — 300 construction workers — drank so much, it just changed everything."

In the decades that followed, Jimbo's Place became an integral part of Miami, with scores of films and movies shot there, most famously the opening scenes for Flipper. Burr says that some of the shacks that made up the Jimbo's complex were leftovers from a sci-fi movie called Island Claw.

Jimbo's Place was one of the few remaining places where one could get an authentic, albeit rustic, taste of old Florida. But even though the beer was cold and the fish was good, the main draw was always Jimbo himself. According to Burr, "He touched a lot of people. Going to Jimbo's was a litmus test, with people saying either 'get me the hell out of here' or loving it. Most people, of course, loved it — and Jimbo."

The City of Miami ordered Jimbo's closed in March 2012, turning the page on another chapter of Miami history.

According to Araujo, the family will have a private ceremony. In lieu of flowers, she asks that friends of Jimbo donate to Alzheimer's research in his name. "That would be the best thing you could possibly do."

A public event will be held at Gramps in Wynwood — where Jimbo's annual birthday celebration was held — on Sunday, July 17, from noon to 10 pm. "We want to have some way for the public that knew him best to remember him."

Araujo says not to be surprised if friends of Jimbo feel something in the air at that memorial. "He's in a better place and I know his soul will be with us and he'll touch lots of people there. None of us has seen the last of him."


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