Oregon Music News: Oregon’s all-genre music magazine since 2009

JD and Lisa
JD and Lisa

Jimmy Mak's 2010: A day in the nightlife; fond memories of a club we love

By TOM D'ANTONI // From the OMN archives. What it was like all day and night.

Jijmmy Mak's announced  on Monday, November 28, that they were closing permanently after the show on December 31.

This was first posted on Oregon Music News on June 8, 2010

Jimmy Mak's is a music club but it's also a top of the line restaurant, although not one with bar food. For that reason, owner Jimmy Makarounis is mostly dealing with vendors when he unlocks the place at 1pm.

He moved across the street in 2006 when he built the new club. Standing in the unfinished club, at the time, he said, "For 27 years it was Downtown Auto, an old auto body shop. In 98 or 99 it was an art gallery. The Pearl Gallery."

There was a lot of developer talk about tearing down the old place across the street in the few years before he took the plunge and moved. "For about 3 or 4 years. I felt we were losing control of our own destiny. We didn’t own that building and the developer was telling me one thing and the landlord was telling me something else and I was caught in the middle wondering what’s going to happen. Are they going to tear down this building? At that point in time, fortunately, our business had been strong enough that we started looking around in the neighborhood for buildings to buy. We had an opportunity to buy this building. From the time we first seriously started looking, to now, it’s been four years. We were in and out of escrow four times before we were able to close on this building."

But it was difficult, emotionally to leave the old place, "Our family started that business. So my wife and I, my sister, my brother-in-law, my mom and my dad. Just a lot of memories, especially of my mom. She passed away six years ago. Used to be that I’d walk in in the morning and my mom would be baking bread. I still have strong memories of my mom over there. I’ll be honest with you, I cried the last three days we were there."

Makarounis grew up in Portland, learning the saxophone at David Douglas. "I don’t (play) any more. Mel (Brown) used to bug the shit out of me, but I told him, “You’ve got Renato Caranto on stage. You want me to stand up there next Renato? That ain’t gonna happen."


The club is empty. Light is streaming in through the windows. Jimmy is on the phone patiently taking a reservation for tonight's show. A vendor has just wheeled in boxes and taken them into the kitchen.

This may look like the start of the day for the club. "The day really starts about 6:30 in the morning," he says. "I do all my paperwork, pay my bills, get contracts out, follow-up with phone calls, emails...all the office work. And then if we have repairs or we have a vendor who has to get in early, sometimes I'll be here ten or eleven o'clock. But our official office hours start at one o'clock."

He breaks open the "banks" from the night before. The cash that the wait staff has taken in during the previous night is the "bank." "It's not only what they started with but what they took in."

Vendors come in and out bringing supplies...food, paper towels, booze, rubber gloves...whatever. Sometimes I'll get here at one and there'll be trucks waiting outside to get in.

He checks the journal kept by the staff to see if they noted anything that broke the night before or an issue that needs to be addressed. He orders supplies. He checks voice mail but doesn't have to return any at the moment.

Booking the music, "has turned more and more into an email thing. Musicians and bar owners keep some crazy hours, so it's not unusual for me to get an email at 3 in the morning. But between one and three pm I'll be reaching out to those people by phone or they'll be calling me. All of our business meetings take place between one and four."

Why is that?

"I've got to control the schedule to a certain degree. Otherwise I'd be having meetings from seven in the morning till ten at night. It's great for the vendor or the band because they know when I'm accessible. From my standpoint, it helps take some of the craziness out of it."

John Miller, the kitchen manager is also in the building, making prep schedule and getting things ready.

A vendor walks in. Think running a club is a glamorous business?

Jimmy: How are we looking?

Vendor: Probably next week you got four paper towels, six rolls of toilet paper.

Jimmy: So probably just a case of paper towels on Tuesday?

Vendor: That's what I'm thinking. Then maybe toilet paper on Thursday.

Jimmy: OK

Vendor: I'll check Tuesday.

He hands him a check, and that's part of the fascinating world of running a music club.


Bar managers J.D. (John David) Stubenberg and Lisa Brandon-Boyle arrive. Anyone who has come near the bar here has seen them. They both came with Jimmy from the old place. Lisa started in 1997 and J.D. a year before. "She ran the basement bar," he says, "and I ran the the bar upstairs. Now we split the duties."

They talk with Jimmy about what needs to be done. Lisa handles the wait staff and J.D. the music, Facebook and other web stuff. But at 3pm (sometimes 2pm), they're putting away liquor, and preparing the bar."

They set up the bar. "Getting the ice, the booze, cutting the fruit..., you know, answer the phone, answer the phone, answer the phone. Oh, and did I say answer the phone?" she says. "That takes about two hours."

Jimmy leaves to run errands. He'll come back in a couple of hours and take care of whatever needs to be taken care of. Today he has to go up on the roof and unclog a downspout.

J.D. was a customer in the old bar and was bartending at Jake's. Lisa was already working there. Jimmy was getting busier and busier and J.D. was looking for more hours. Jimmy hired him and it's J.D. who everyone associates with the club. "He's one of those personable, likable, easy to hang out with kind of persons. It wouldn't be Jimmy Mak's without J.D. I didn't want Jimmy Mak's to be about me but about the scene at Jimmy Mak's, not about coming down and seeing Jimmy."

Sometimes Jimmy leaves not long after he comes back from running errands. Sometimes he stays a few hours, depends on the size of the crowd and what his kids are up to. There are soccer games, you know.


Mark Davis of Aloha Sound, who does a lot of the sound reinforcement, is helping the Mike Phillips band set up. Trumpeter Farnell Newton is bringing a few things in from the truck parked out front. J.D. is at the bandstand talking with the band and messing with table settings. DJ Og One has set up and is spinning. The keyboard player is sitting at the drum kit and fooling around. Lisa is in the back making out a form that puts which diner where at each table.

J.D. moves behind the bar and is joined by Lisa who is, "Filling my face full of Cheetos, my favorite junk food."

Eric Hailstone, the guitar player comes up to the bar to kibbitz. Noticing that I have a tape machine and am talking to J.D. he tells a story about getting on national TV about a seminar on synthesizers he was giving and that the only reason it got on national TV was because the videographer was a former student of his.


As DJ Og one spins, doorman Jamahl Fitz walks in and orders some food. He's also Mel Brown's stepson. He's been with Jimmy for eight years.

The bar is set up by now. Members of the band are standing around the DJ bopping to the music.

I wonder if J.D. gets too busy to hear the music. "Sometimes when we're really busy I'll get tuned out but I try to keep an ear," he says. "Even with the bands I've heard a hundred times, three's always something new. I got the best job benefit in the world. I get paid to listen to world-class music. Life is very good." The DJ stops and the keyboard player is pounding on the drums.

Lisa stops long enough to talk. "J.D. and I have a business marriage," she says with a smile. "The division of responsibilities has been very natural." She is putting the reservation cards on each table. This is a ticketed event and it's more complicated. "Our first reservation is at six," she says. "We open the doors at five. We might do some more things before the first customer arrives, but we're ready to go at 5. If the bus stops, come on in.

"We work on tips. We get paid pouring drinks. We get paid x-amount per hour but we work off of our tips."


The band is still doing a sound check and running over a tune. J.D. and Lisa are not happy. The bandstand is supposed to be empty for the 6 o'clock dinner hour. Jamahl is at his post in the lobby. I asked him if it didn't take a certain temperament to have his job. "You have to be very patient, that's all I've got to say. Answer some very dumb questions." he says. "Like walking past the window, looking in and then coming in and asking, 'Is there a band playing?'"

"And you just have to smile and say, 'Yeah,'" I say.

"Exactly. I don't want to make them feel stupid. 'Why yes, there is.'"

"And you can hear the music out here?"

"It's the best gig. You get paid to listen to music," he replies.


A band member comes over and orders food for the break. Farnell is carrying around his trumpet. The room is three-quarters full and very well-dressed. Mike Phillips has played in Stevie Wonder's and Prince's bands and he is a dynamic entertainer as well as a good singer and saxophonist. He is a ball of fire and has been since he directed the band at the end of the sound check, running through ideas for the end of a tune until he got something he liked.


Show time but the band is not onstage. The bartenders are not happy.


Phillips informs J.D. that the band will be ready to go, "In 15." That will make them forty minutes late for their set. Looks are exchanged between J.D. and Lisa.


J.D. rounds up the band. Phillips had asked him to introduce Larry Miller, President of the Trail Blazers, who will introduce the band. J.D. does the honor with no waste of words.


After a too-long intro by Miller, including a story about how Phillips became the first non-athlete to represent Nike's Jordan brand, the music finally begins with a blast and a half and continues that way until 10:05.


The ice machine breaks down at the wrong time, at the set break when there are dozens of drink orders. Re-starting it makes it start making ice again, but they have to bring all the ice from the back bar to the main bar. "Always fun," Lisa says. "It's always fun," J.D. echoes. "It's pretty rare that you have a night here when everything runs perfectly." They both laugh.


The show is over. People are mostly leaving, but some are still drinking. This gives J.D. and Lisa a chance to start the cleanup process. The DJ continues to spin for another fifteen minutes.


The band is quickly breaking down some of their gear. Most of it will stay up because they are playing here tomorrow also. Sound man Mark Davis makes arrangements with J.D. to pick up his gear after tomorrow's show.


The cleanup is in full swing. The money is being counted and put into the banks that Jimmy will open at 1pm tomorrow.


A member of the wait staff is on one knee cleaning the ketchup she spilled on the wall opposite the bar. I ask J.D. and Lisa when they think they'll be able to go home. They both say in about fifteen minutes.


The door is locked. The night is over. They'll do it all again tomorrow.

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