In the beginning Kansas Smitty’s took their concept on the road, performing at different venues and festivals. Providing food, drinks and live music from the band, they strived to create the atmosphere of Kansas Smitty’s wherever they played. Jack recalls making tamales until 4a.m. to serve during their show on the road; ‘We didn’t make any money off of them. It was more about trying to provide the right drinks and food to match the music.’
In April 2014, Kansas Smitty’s hosted a take-over of Pond, a destination restaurant in London. In the form of a backyard BBQ Kansas Smitty’s did it all, from tamales and bourbon smoked ribs, to Kansas City swing; ‘Giacomo would run off stage, throw his tie over his shoulder and get behind the grill — I’ve never been so worn out in my life.’
After their successful event, Kansas Smitty’s kept in contact with the owners of Pond and Off Broadway bar on Broadway Market. The downstairs venue had been repurposed as a photo gallery, as well as a pop-up venue for new concept bars. Kansas Smitty’s had been searching for a venue in south London, but after a serendipitous meeting between Giacomo and one of the owners (Byron Knight) of Off Broadway, there was an opportunity for them to find a place. After a phone call and a meeting, a handshake deal was struck and twelve days later Kansas Smitty’s Bar opened to the public; ‘The solution has always come from someone very close to us but never in a way that we expected.
‘Kansas City was interesting because Jazz music was a part of the place. If you wanted to drink, if you wanted to meet a girl or a guy, then you had to go where the music was. It was the only city that survived the depression because it was completely open.’
The bar was Kansas Smitty’s way of putting their kind of music into the centre of the music scene. Taking a step back from dress codes, appeal and demographic, Kansas Smitty’s bar was open to all.
When designing the decor of the bar, research into old jazz bars and clubs described some venues as ‘stained blue with cigarette smoke’ which stuck with the duo. With help from Rose Wilkinson of Studio Rose, they ran with the idea of decorating the venue in shades of blue. ‘We would rather have a small, sweaty, busy place than a place that felt empty.’ The bar only fits two people, and the record player and vinyl collection takes up a good portion of the bar. But the bar is an important piece of the puzzle, providing that tactile aspect of the experience that takes you right to Kansas.
Drinks and Offers
The drinks menu at Kansas Smitty’s has developed as their understanding has grown. Without identifying themselves as a concert venue or cocktail bar, they only set out to provide captivating music and unique drinks: ‘We try to be a local’s bar. People can drop by and hang out.’ The bar is a stage as well, serving juleps in tin cups, frosty to the touch. Starting off with only one julep on the menu, Kansas Smitty’s now offers seven — playing with flavours of gin, bourbon, nettle, rosemary and much more.
Kansas Smitty’s weekly events range from poker nights at all levels, vinyl nights playing everything from Kansas City swing to folk-noir, and several nights of live music.
‘We’re not an easy place to get a show. And I say that fully understanding how that might sound. The guys drive each other really, really hard. You have to be on your game.’ With that in mind, the musicians invited to play at Kansas Smitty’s are those that have left a mark with the guys during their travels. There is no connection in terms of music genre from week from week, creating that experience at Kansas Smitty’s that people come back to: ‘If you come down to one of the nights and see a band and you’re really into, you can follow them. But equally, people come down week-in week-out and they’ve seen a different thing every week.’
‘The Basement Tapes’ is their original night held every Wednesday, where one of the members of the house band leads a different project. Built on living out fantasies, the night developed from the notion of ‘wouldn’t it be great…’, mixing and matching members of the house band with other musicians to create new material, original music, specifically for that evening: ‘We had the opportunity to live out these sorts of fantasies with wouldn’t it be great.’
‘The Shed widens the limit of what the bar can do. It was our opportunity to embrace all the other people we’ve met along the way.’ With a venue to call home, these nights have created an opportunity to invite musicians from all musical styles and backgrounds, to collaborate with other artists, the band, or to work on new material.
‘I’ve been blown away by it. We’ve received so much support from so many different people. We have always wanted to be a local kind of establishment.’ The weekly live music programme creates an audience that attends not knowing what kind of music is in store, people that want to experience something new. A wide range of musicians are set to take the stage at Kansas Smitty’s, sometimes collaborating with the house band, to add unique live performances to the mix of east London nightlife. As their reputation has grown, and as the Kansas Smitty’s house band continue to play at other venues, more and more people from further away are coming to Kansas Smitty’s bar to hear modern jazz in 1920’s Kansas.