Jimmy's No. 43 is closed.
The influential East Village beer and cider bar quietly closed its doors earlier this summer citing renovations, but owner Jimmy Carbone tells Gothamist that unless someone can step in to provide financial support to the business, the shutter will be permanent.
The lease has been up for two years—Carbone has been operating on a month-to-month lease since then—and in February the landlord "dialed it up" and told him that Jimmy's could stay but he would have to start looking for a partner to help with back rent and, in the meantime, he'd have to pay more to remain, according to Carbone. He says it's been a long road getting to this point.
Carbone says the financial difficulties started in 2010 when the city began issuing letter grades for bars and restaurants. Jimmy's was inspected five times in six months and Carbone says it took him three years to pay off the $15,000 in fines as a result of those inspections. In 2013, Jimmy's was shuttered twice by the Health Department, first because of rodent issues that stemmed from Hurricane Sandy; another time because Carbone couldn't afford to pay the fines.
"That was the start of the change, where suddenly I felt like instead of having money to pay for a good, young chef, I had to spend that money on an admin person to keep following up with all the Health Department inspections," Carbone recalls. "The way it was rolled out was really unwieldy for a small business. It felt like the screw was tightening on small business."
The trouble continued following the tragic East Village Explosion in 2015, the fatal incident that also damaged nearby businesses. Jimmy's was closed for nearly a month and then the building was under near constant construction and repairs for another five months afterwards. "If you close for a week, people don't realize that that's pretty much...you're not going to pay all your bills because of it," according to Carbone.
By 2016, Carbone says "a lot of the wind was out of the sails." Add to that: the Trump Factor.
"The final straw was actually Trump winning the presidency," Carbone says with an exhausted laugh. Parties canceled on him just before election night, specifically citing anxiety about the results. "Then after everyone stayed up and saw the election results...people were depressed. November, December, January were really slow and that probably was the time I really needed to do well—and usually did every year—that really pushed things over."
Soon after, Carbone realized something would have to drastically change or Jimmy's would stay closed forever.
So Jimmy's remains in a kind of limbo, closed "for renovations" on the surface but really closed unless Carbone can find someone willing to come on board and give financial assistance to help with back rent and finance much-needed repairs to the space.
"I have to believe that we're closed for a revamp and there's going to be someone who realizes there's a great location in the East Village that people know about that's ready for a business partner," Carbone says. "That's the only way I will be able to reopen."
Jimmy's opened in September of 2005 on East 7th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues as a followup to Carbone's first restaurant, Mugsy's Chow Chow, which he operated nearby on 2nd Avenue from 1994 until 2005. The space had an antiquated beer-only license, so Carbone aligned himself with fledgling breweries at the time like Victory and Sixpoint, a partnership that ultimately became a hallmark of the pub. Though Carbone was the original chef at Jimmy's, the restaurant counts chefs including Phillip Kirschen-Clark and King Phojanakong as alumni (chef Sara Jenkins was also a chef at Mugsy's).
Jimmy's also houses a small performance space with a stage, which has been a venue for acts including Reggie Watts and countless university students and up-and-coming performers. Carbone also credits the space as the birthplace of Cider Week, the annual festival highlighting craft hard cideries in and around New York.
And so after 23 years operating restaurants in the East Village, Carbone finds himself in unfamiliar territory, watching similar businesses close as real estate interests exert more control.
"I'm in an uncomfortable position, I didn't think I'd be in this position," Carbone admits. "We're seeing so many places that are closing precisely because of the rents or a landlord not willing to renew a lease. We're looking at that situation where I'm under pressure to have a more financial business partner who can come in and get a new lease and provide some funding. That's the change, because it wasn't that way [in the '90s] and that was kind of what I loved about this business, that it was more grassroots. I do feel like now, to operate in Manhattan...I think I'm the dinosaur, I think everyone else has been doing that, [working with] a business partner."
Despite all the anxiety and uncertainty, Carbone isn't ready to admit defeat.
"There's still hope," he concludes.