A slice of local life: Barman Jimmy Dey savors the conversation

“Dark and Stormy” might be Jim Dey’s favorite drink, but this barman’s way is just the opposite: calm and peaceful.

Dey, the Jimmy of “Jimmy’s Bar” at 3 Rivers Grill, looks forward to talking to his customers, learning and swapping notes and stories about surfing, motorcycles, carpentry, and any number of the many topics he knows a little or a lot about.

“I love the conversation, It’s the best part of bartending,” he said.

For Dey, the customer is always interesting.

Jimmy and his wife, Courtney, a former professional windsurfer, met while attending Eckerd College in Florida, and now have a son, Parker, 11. She was pregnant with Parker as the couple worked to get 3 Rivers built and open for business

Jimmy, 47, a homebuilder and windsurfing instructor for Courtney, built the viewpoint restaurant, overlooking downtown Hood River and the Columbia River, from a “somewhat abandoned” home in 2002-03.

“That was a lot of fun, the renovation. We really liked it because of the view. It was a great project.”

The Deys wanted to keep the dining area view-forward so it worked out that the bar area is not the most obvious feature of the place. That’s what led to the “Jimmy’s Bar” sign out front.

“It was Courtney’s idea, so people can see the sign and know there’s a bar involved,” Jimmy said.

He expects New Year’s Eve to be a busy time, but emphasis on forks and not swizzle sticks.

“We’re a pretty early crowd ... a lot of people will be coming in here and dining before they go to parties, which I’m not really a night person, so I’m okay with that.”

Jimmy’s rarely has to deal with problem intoxication.

“We definitely cut them off. We’re not really a heavy drinking establishment so we don’t really deal with that on a regular basis. Groups come in and drink but we know them a lot of times, and we’ll take their keys away way and drive them home.”

He said that kind of service might be out of the ordinary, but “we’re so much smaller a bar. Some folks might have been somewhere else and they might come by to say ‘hi,’ and we’ll take them home.

“I feel much better, if someone has maybe not been over-served here but they come in, and we actually take their keys away, or take them home; it makes you feel good that you delivered them safely home.”

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Three Rivers opened in April 2003, and has been “successful, definitely. It’s our family business, family run,” Jimmy said, noting that theirs and a variety of fine-dining establishments came along at the same time between 2002-04, joining the ranks of neighboring restaurants Brian’s Pourhouse and 6th Street Bistro. The “Jimmie’s” sign taps into that sense of the personal connection people often have with bars or restaurants they enjoy frequenting.

There’s a pulse and a predictability to it.

“People come in at specific times of the week to eat, and you know they’re going to come in at certain times, and you look forward to it,” he said. “It’s still pretty personal here. It’s a nice town to live in. We’re here 70 hours a week.”

At 3 Rivers he jokes that “I’m mostly the maintenance guy, the guy who fixes things. I have some hand in menu, and have been cooking lately,” with longtime sous chef, now chef, Efrain Rivas recently on vacation.

“I definitely prefer bartending over cooking. Bartending you get to talk to your guests. Cooking you don’t get to do that.”

Jimmy, a New Jersey native, grew up with the restaurant business. His father has owned Shelter Harbor Inn in Westerly, R.I., since the 1970s.

“I did busing, washing dishes, bartending, cooking, and I managed the place in 1999-2000. That was a nice time but we found out Hood River was better.”

He said working his way up taught him the common sense side of the business, that he combined with his degree in economics and leisure services, including accounting classes.

The Deys came in 1989 for windsurfing, which they now do “just for fun.”

“We’d been living here in 1980s and 1990s, and always kept our eye on running a restaurant in Hood River,” Jimmie said. “You had the windsurfing boom and then in 2003 was the next boom of people moving in with money; and at the time when the town was changing quickly, it seemed like the town was ready for another restaurant.”

Dey has grown to know his customers, be they locals or the many tourists that come through.

“Everyone is different. Different people talk about different things, and so there’s different nights of different kinds of talk, that’s fine. With bartending you never have to go out at night, and with your day off you just go home. It’s kind of the opposite of everyone else.”

He finds common ground with people “in all the outdoor activities, and it’s great when the tourists come in and you give them advice of different places to go, great hikes, fishing, mountain biking, sailing, great whatever they like to do.”

Are people as inclined as they used to be to stop and talk?

“Definitely, even the tourists,” Jimmy said. “They come here because it’s a friendly small town. They might come from Portland or Seattle, where it’s bigger and less personal. If you want impersonal you go to some chain restaurant somewhere else.”

“You got fishing talk, motorcycle talk, car talk, those are all big bar topics. I try to kite and windsurf, and fish as much as possible (fly and steelhead), and ride motorcycles. I try to do the outdoor sports.”

One night recently, a regular had recently acquired a sailboat that he planned to take to the Bahamas, a place Dey has often visited.

Bartending is, of course, about more than conversation.

“It’s the fun part; but it’s also fun when it’s super busy in the summer, and you make drinks as fast as you can, same as when you’re cooking, you just try to see how fast you can go.” Courtney backs him up behind the bar when things get hectic.

He has a thorough knowledge of the 100-variety wine list, with “95 percent” made in either the Willamette valley or the Gorge, “probably 50 percent from Hood River and The Dalles. There are so many good local wines now.

“We have a (cocktails) book but now people ask for a weird drink that’s not in the book, and the iPhone is better. Even if you haven’t made it, likely you recognize it and you can look it up.”

“In the summer you get drinks and you can tell if people aren’t from around here,” he said, referring to the high rate of boat drink requests, which he rarely makes at Jimmy’s. “We don’t keep a blender at the bar, to not disturb the diners.”

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