After two decades as a bastion of elegance and grand dining, Jimmy's has closed its doors.

The Beverly Hills restaurant where first ladies, foreign dignitaries and Hollywood's power elite regularly dined on classic French Continental fare is the latest victim of L.A. diners' growing preference for casual dining.

"We don't look at this sadly," said Jamie Murphy, son of owners Jimmy and Annie Murphy. "We look at it as 20 years of success for mom and dad, but nothing lasts forever."

Jimmy Murphy was traveling and unavailable for comment.

"It's a shame," said West Los Angeles attorney Lisa Specht. "It was one of the few grown-up restaurants you could go to in the city. The food was beautiful, the service was elegant and you could actually have a conversation with your guests."

Karen Berk, co-editor of the Zagat Survey's Southern California edition, said the closing was a shocker. "This is big news," she said. "They had a major following for a long time."

Zagat called Jimmy's a "junior Chasen's, not hip but a wonderful, top-notch old-timer providing exceptional French Continental food and service that's a real treat."

But Berk said Angelenos have moved past that style of cuisine. "Classic Continental food has not been happening in Los Angeles," she said. "It's a perception that it's old fashioned and the menus are not '90s."

Jimmy's originally was scheduled to reopen next month after extensive remodeling. Jamie Murphy said there had been some problems with the remodeling, but a key factor was his parents' decision to step out of the highly competitive restaurant scene.

"After 20 years at Jimmy's and 14 at the Bistro (as the maitre d'), (my father is) ready for a break," said Murphy, who himself is a maitre d' at Spago in Beverly Hills.

Murphy said he expects his father to open another restaurant within the next two years, but at another location and "about half the size."

Merrill Shindler, co-editor of the Zagat Survey, said virtually all great L.A. restaurants eventually fade out of popularity, and close. "The smart get out," he said. "We don't have a lot of old restaurants in Los Angeles."

Part of the problem for Jimmy's, Shindler said, was that the restaurant remained too formal amid a climate of creeping casualness.

"Name a restaurant where you have to wear a tie and jacket," Shindler said. "Jimmy's and L'Orangerie are the last of the Mohicans. You could go broke trying to sell cufflinks in this town."

He said the long-established clientele that appreciates such an atmosphere has been steadily declining.

"His older patrons are dying off," Shindler said. "Jimmy needed to re-invent himself. He seemed to do little to cultivate a younger crowd."

Barbara Lazaroff, co-owner of Spago, disagreed that fine dining in Los Angeles is fading.

"When we opened Spago in Beverly Hills, so many people said they were excited about getting dressed up for dining. I think there is still a great demand there," said Lazaroff, who also employs Murphy's daughter Gerri as a controller at Spago's sister restaurant Granita in Malibu.

Vicki Reynolds, a Beverly Hills city councilwoman, recalled the months leading up to the opening of Jimmy's, when Murphy pleaded his case to the Beverly Hills School Board for permission to open a restaurant adjacent to Beverly Hills High School.

"They wanted a liquor license," said Reynolds, who was a member of the school board at the time. "And the school district wanted to know whether or not to allow it so close. When we determined what kind of a restaurant it was going to be and the kind of patrons, we weren't concerned the students would be coming over on their school breaks."

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