Miami-Dade County

From Virginia Key to Wynwood: Jimbo Luznar of ‘Jimbo’s Island’ is celebrated

Members of local rock 'n' roll group, the Loose Cannons, rock out on Sunday at Gramps in Wynwood. They played on stage the whole day in celebration of Jimbo's 88th birthday. They regularly performed at Jimbo's Island on weekends when it was still operating.
Members of local rock 'n' roll group, the Loose Cannons, rock out on Sunday at Gramps in Wynwood. They played on stage the whole day in celebration of Jimbo's 88th birthday. They regularly performed at Jimbo's Island on weekends when it was still operating. For the Miami Herald

The name Jimbo Luznar may ring a bell for those who’ve lived in or frequented Miami over the past few decades. He was the proprietor of “Jimbo’s Island,” as it was called, a no-frills, come-as-you-are oasis on Biscayne Bay in Virginia Key. It was a place where all classes and personalities, from Harley-Davidson bikers to hippies and everyone in between, gathered to spend their weekends drinking $2 beers, playing rounds of bocce, listening to live rock and roll played by local veteran bands, and eating Jimbo’s famous smoked fish on a dock that overlooked both a mangrove forest and downtown Miami’s skyline.

It’s been three years since Jimbo, now 88, officially ceased operating the land, handing it over to the city of Miami due to his ailing health and his adult children not being able to maintain it. The celebration of this man, who welcomed everyone and whose smile spanned from ear to ear, has been carried on by a fan and Wynwood bar owner, who once a year in April, for the past three years, has hosted Jimbo’s birthday party at his venue so that friends and fellow fans can come together once again.

Every year, during a Sunday in April on or around his birthday, Jimbo would throw a big party — not for himself but for his friends, and since he considered everyone a friend, all were welcome. Hundreds were treated to free beer, which was dispensed from taps on the side of an 18-wheeler truck stacked full of kegs to keep all his friends happy and satisfied while complimentary hot dogs and hamburgers were cooked on-site on giant grills. Everyone was taken care of, Jimbo made sure of that.

“I didn’t want to break the continuity,” says Adam Gersten, owner of Gramps, an indoor and outdoor bar in the heart of Wynwood. “It’s been going on for God knows how many years,” he says of the birthday bashes, “and I just didn’t want it to stop.” Jimbo, who is living through the onset of Alzheimer’s, showed up the previous two years at Gramps for the party, with his family and a caregiver at his side, but on Saturday, the day before his celebration in Wynwood, he suffered a minor stroke and was hospitalized. “Hey, at 88 years old, every year is a gift” says Gersten, who said that Jimbo had been looking forward to attending.

The hundreds that showed up to Gramps hoping to see Jimbo raised their cups in his honor. Some played bocce. Others bought commemorative stickers sold for a few dollars by a long-time resident of Jimbo’s named “Jamaican Paul.” The Loose Cannons, who had regularly performed at Jimbo’s, played rock and roll as bikers, hipsters and those in tie-dye danced in front of an outdoor stage.

Before arriving at Gramps, Becca Nimmer, a sixth-generation Floridian who lives in Cutler Bay, drove to the site of the former makeshift paradise in Virginia Key to reminisce on all the fun she used to have there. “He always liked to talk to the ladies,” she said of Jimbo, a shrimper and fish-smoker who could often be seen puffing on cigars, playing pick-up games of bocce and who always had a cloud of women swooning over him, waiting to give him a hug and a kiss on the cheek. “He could shoot the breeze with everybody: ladies, men, pretty, not pretty … everybody loved the guy.” She and others agree that Jimbo’s was an iconic place, full of character, that couldn’t be compared with any place else. “Anybody, anywhere, anyhow,” she says was the motto of the hangout where people from all walks of life could go and unwind. Now the site is covered in grass with a “No Trespassing” sign posted. Plans are mum on what the city will make of it.

A slew of movies including the original Flipper, the car racing sequel 2 Fast 2 Furious, and television shows like Miami Vice and Dexter have filmed scenes at Jimbo’s, using the small collection of dilapidated Caribbean-toned prop houses, built and never taken down from one movie shoot, a Woodstock-era school bus and a rusting Volkswagen Beetle painted in sun-bleached pastel paints as a colorful backdrop. Famous models and singers including Mariah Carey did photo shoots there in front of the colorful landmarks. The lot is situated between Virginia Key Beach Park and a sewage treatment plant.

“That was the watering hole,” said Jimbo’s son, “Bubba” Luznar, while watching people play bocce at Gramps on Sunday. He says he took it hard when Jimbo’s Island was no more and recounted tales of how he had helped his dad smoke fish there since he was a teenager. During the final years, the island had fallen into disrepair and received many citations, mainly for trash and electrical hazards. Jimbo had left his two adult sons, Bubba and Bobby, to care for it, but feuds ensued between the two and they were unable to keep it up to basic standards.

Jimbo arrived in Miami in the 1940s and started a shrimping business along Biscayne Bay where the former Miami Herald building would later be built. The city of Miami had Jimbo relocate to Virginia Key. When word of a shrimper who would smoke your catch got out, boaters, other fishermen and residents started showing up to the picturesque lagoon in Virginia Key. A bait shop/shrimp shack turned into a hangout as more and more people learned of the “secret” island, including tourists in the later years.

Jimbo was offered a lease from the city that allowed him and his bait shop to remain on the key until the remainder of his natural life or, in this case, when he decided to return it to the city. Although it’s been three years since Jimbo turned in his life-long lease, his legacy continues in the hearts of his friends and fans, in this city and afar.