JT Basque Bar and Restaurant
The tradition of family style dining offered by the Basque hotels and boarding houses of the great sheepherding era; is as popular today as it ever was. It attracts a very relaxed clientele who turn out to have a good time. They turn up to experience a sense of Basque culture, to soak up the atmosphere as much as the food.
The J. T Basque, Bar and Restaurant in downtown Gardnerville captures the conviviality, the sense of family bred service, the reliability of a good, hearty meal served with wine, that has come to represent the traditional fare of a Nevadan, Basque kitchen. The walls are warmly decorated and display an enigmatic hat collection whilst the ceiling in the bar is covered in dollar bills, donated as good luck charms. There’s an old piano and a jukebox with a combination of Basque and American music.
The bar and restaurant are always bustling.
J.T.’s is owned by Marie Louise Lekumberry and her brother, Jean Baptiste. They took over ownership in 1993, following the death of their father Jean. He was the migrant in the family, coming from the French, Basque country to the Carson Valley in 1947, to work as a sheepherder. As was often the case; having saved some money he branched out into the hotel trade and, with his wife Shirley and brother, Pete, took over what was already an established Basque concern with a curious history.
The building has had some extensions added since the old portion, including the bar and half the front dining room was, in 1896, uprooted and transported to Garderville, via Genoa, from Virginia City, by local entrepreneur, Hans Nelson. Its current name is derived from the Jaunsaras and Trounday families who were the first to turn its use to a sheepherder hotel and dining room, in 1955. The Lekumberrys kept the J.T. name to preserve the continuity of its Basque heritage.
JT Basque interview by Alina Bryant
In the early days, under Lekumberry ownership, Jean tended bar whilst his wife ran the dining room and brother, Pete, though lacking any professional chef training, cooked up the generous meals, designed to meet the hungry sheepherders’ appetites. Diners all sat round a long table to partake in the meal of the house, served in one seating.
In the midst of all the activities, Jean and Shirley raised three children on site. They soon learned the skills of the trade.
There are still some large tables at J.T.’s, but mostly dining is on a more intimate scale. The menu is a set dinner, usually a tureen of soup, salad, beans, a stew course and fries with your choice of entrée, usually either beef, lamb, chicken or shrimp. The shrimp is a modern addition to reflect the maritime flavor of cuisine from the Basque homeland. Home grown, organic meat is prevalent, as the family believes in the importance of growing and raising their own local produce for their kitchen.