Jim LeMond, one of the great characters of the Austin nightlife and hospitality scene for decades, died Sunday, according to family members. He was 65.
The gregarious barman who embodied the spirit of Old Austin had his hand in some of Austin’s best known drinking institutions. He opened the Cloak Room in the late '70s, and the dimly lit bar adjacent to the Texas State Capitol became a regular haunt for lawmakers and lobbyists. Among LeMond’s regulars was the famously personable and persuasive Texas State Comptroller Bob Bullock. Some Capitol denizens would joke that anytime a bomb threat was called into the Capitol, LeMond was behind it because he would benefit as his bar would fill up quickly with those decamping from the dome.
LeMond, who started his bartending career at the Montana Mining Company on Hancock Drive, sold the Cloak Room a couple of years after opening it, and eventually ended up working at Austin’s nomadic bar, the Cedar Door, apocryphal birthplace of the Mexican martini. The scruffy old ramshackle bar bounced around to several locations over the years, including a stint just west of the old Seaholm Power Plant. The 6-foot 4-inch LeMond, always quick with a joke and a smile, became the face of that bar over his two decades of service and moved with it across downtown when new owners Heather and Steve Potts relocated the bar to its current position on Brazos Street in 2002. The new owners knew that LeMond was an indispensable part of the bar’s charm and allure.
“He was a phenomenal storyteller; some of them were probably embellished. And he had an amazing memory of names. And that great mustache. And that voice,” Cedar Door co-owner Heather Potts told the Statesman. “He was the face of the Cedar Door.”
After several years at the downtown location, LeMond and his second wife, Rebecca, converted a long-abandoned Texaco gas station at Barton Springs Road and South Lamar Boulevard into the Barton Springs Saloon in 2006. LeMond was a regular fixture at his bar and naturally attracted to his new spot many old faces he’d served for years. In an ever-evolving and gentrifying Austin, LeMond’s bar maintained the shaggy demeanor and laid-back ethos that defined the city in which he was raised.
While he served as an avuncular host for his regulars, LeMond was more of a father figure for longtime employee Trevor Fletcher, who is part of a group that purchased the Barton Springs Saloon in 2018.
Fletcher popped into the bar one day at happy hour to dodge traffic and weather in 2011. A year later, he was working there. And he’s never left.
LeMond served as an exemplar of how to treat your fellow man, according to Fletcher.
“Everybody deserves the benefit of the doubt and there’s no reason to be rude to anyone regardless of situation or circumstance,” Fletcher said he learned from his friend and mentor.
When Fletcher first came up with the idea of buying the bar, he said many people laughed at the notion. But not LeMond. He gave him wise counsel and was also there for him following an accident in 2017 that left Fletcher questioning his future.
“No way I’d ever be in the position I’m in right now if it wasn’t for him,” Fletcher said. ”He told me he wanted me to carry on his legacy here. It was a father-son moment. As far as down here in Austin, he was the beginning of my family here.”
LeMond was born in Austin on March 11, 1954, to Barbara and Jerry LeMond and graduated from McCallum High School in 1974 after attending Dill and Gullett elementary schools and Murchison Jr. High. He married Hollie Harris in 1986 and had daughters Whitney and Hayly.
In 1997, he married his second wife Rebecca Garner, with whom he had son, Jackson. The couple later divorced but remained co-owners of Barton Springs Saloon before selling to Fletcher and his partners.
As much as he was an outsized presence with his friends and regulars, the card-playing, joke-telling LeMond was an even bigger family man. According to family members, LeMond’s children were his greatest pride and joy. When the kids were in elementary school, he ate lunch and read to their classes every Wednesday, and come Brownie cookie season, LeMond would sell boxes of the sweet treats at Friday happy hour at the Cedar Door.
LeMond is survived by his mother, Barbara LeMond; daughter Whitney LeMond; daughter Hayly LeMond and her husband, Brandon Huff; son Jackson LeMond; sister Betsy and her husband John Giles; sister Lissa and her husband Darren Whitehurst; sister Laura LeMond; and six nieces and nephews.
A service is tentatively planned for Saturday, Sept. 28 at Weed-Corley-Smith Funeral Home on Lamar Boulevard with a reception to follow at Barton Springs Saloon (424. S. Lamar Blvd.)