For Jimmy Yeager, proprietor of Jimmy’s American Restaurant and Bar, the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen signifies the beginning and the end of his run in the world of spirits and cuisine here.
The unofficial opening of Jimmy’s was on the Saturday of Food & Wine in 1997, when at the urging of renowned sommelier Josh Wesson, Yeager agreed to hosting 30 people from a Paso Robles, California, winery while the Hopkins Avenue spot was still under construction and ready for its soft opening the week following Food & Wine.
“He thought it was great, a raising the roof barn experience,” Yeager said.
Also that night, the annual “Whisper Party” was born. That was dreamt up by restauranteur Jimmy Bradley as he and Yeager, Wesson and sommelier Steve Olson were drinking a bottle of mezcal.
They had messengers go to the Hotel Jerome ballroom during the Top 10 Chefs dinner and identify people who they knew couldn’t miss a party and couldn’t keep a secret.
They told the fear-of-missing-out folks that a small group of people and some who’s whos in the industry were gathering at Jimmy’s after the dinner.
“It went off like a charm,” Yeager recalled. “By 10:15 there was a line down to the courtyard and 700 people came through. We were able to show the restaurant off to the Food & Wine crowd without risking having to serve a piece of food … all we did was serve drinks.”
After being a fixture in the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen for 23 years, Yeager and business partner Jessica Lischka are closing the restaurant on Sept. 18. A week prior to that, they will be going out in festival fashion on the weekend Food & Wine is held, Sept. 10-12.
“The dove tailing of opening on Food & Wine and the closing of Food & Wine for us cosmically really makes sense,” Lischka said.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced the epicurean festival, normally held in June, to cancel in 2020 and be pushed back to September this year.
“We thank Food & Wine for their kindness of moving the festival from June to September,” Yeager quipped. “The serendipity is quite remarkable and appropriate.”
Jimmy’s was the first business to bring spirits into the Grand Tasting Tent, which was in 1998 and only one year after being open.
Jimmy Yeager with long time Food & Wine Classic legend Chef Jacques Pepin.
“We launched what was called the premium cocktail exhibition, and essentially what we did was exhibit to people that using premium ingredients in cocktails was not only worth it but it was something that should be adopted,” he said. “It created an explosion of spirits interest in the festival, which has gone through several swings of acceptance and rejection over the years.”
Jimmy’s quickly became the house of spirits, and hosted seminars on whiskey, scotch, tequila, mezcal and other spirits for several years as the official venue for Food & Wine.
Yeager and Lischka are seizing the opportunity for Jimmy’s last Food & Wine weekend with three pop-up bars featuring nationally renowned establishments and their operators – Sweet Liberty (Naren Young), Café La Trova (Julio Cabrera), and Julep (Alba Huerta).
Other traditions like the Thursday industry bar for those working the weekend seeking comradery and respite, and the early Sunday morning breakfast for the staff will continue, as will the shenanigans that come with the festival.
“We want all of our friends here, industry friends that we’ve created relationships with over the years of doing this, and that’s really what it is all about,” Yeager said. “One of the greatest joys of Food & Wine is that it’s an incredible opportunity and we’re very fortunate that we happen to be located here, where we get to host the greatest talents in our industry on food, on wine, on spirits levels.”