OCEAN CITY –St. Patrick’s Day celebrations will officially kick-off Saturday with the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and will continue on Monday as the Irish-proud put back a few green beers in celebration, and what better place to celebrate than at the popular Irish-themed sports bar and restaurant that’s been serving food and fun for the past 18 years, Smitty McGee’s.
Gearing up for another fun-filled St. Paddy’s Day, owner Dawn McGee took a break to sit down with The Dispatch and discuss all that Smitty McGee’s has to offer, from great drink specials to live entertainment to overstuffed sandwiches.
Smitty McGee’s opened their doors in June 1989 with the intention of being a casual, Irish-themed sports bar where, like Cheers, “everybody knows your name”. 18 years later, the restaurant and bar has seen some changes, but the theme still remains.
After years of long waiting lines that wrapped through the restaurant, McGee took the opportunity to expand when the lease for the neighboring space became available. “We started half this size. There were always major lines, we had people waiting in between tables,” McGee said. Opening day for the expansion aptly occurred on St. Patrick’s Day weekend, making it essentially a sink or swim situation for McGee as her business doubled on the busiest weekend of the year. “We doubled the restaurant size in one second,” McGee said. Although things ran smoothly, McGee was surprised when a line quickly formed. ‘We thought we’d have no more lines but we had a line that first day.”
The restaurants success has forced McGee to consider expanding to a second location or even franchising. Although McGee admits she’s come close, for now she is focusing on their sole location on Route 54.
“I love it, I still enjoy it everyday,” McGee said, noting that whether it’s getting to know the customers or creating a new dish or special, she still looks forward to coming into work each day. Although the area and the market have changed since Smitty McGee’s opened 18 years ago, the underlying theme remains. “I’ve always wanted it to be a fun, Irish-themed sports bar and it still is. We’re still about fun and good food,” said McGee.
Food has always been a focus at Smitty McGee’s with an extensive menu with something to offer for everyone. Whether you’re in the mood for a full entrée or an appetizer, the menu offers a little bit of everything. Some of the mainstay items on the menu are the crabby cheese fries, the crab dip, and of course, the wings, which McGee noted as their specialty. Sandwiches range from the popular grouper sandwich to the classic burger. “We have a pub atmosphere. We have a lot of salads, appetizers and sandwiches so we only have four entrees,” said McGee, explaining that while the four entrees are popular, customers generally fill up on appetizers or a sandwich before they can even think about delving into an entrée.
Besides great food, McGee attributes Smitty McGee’s popularity to a great staff. Staying open year round has given McGee the opportunity to create a solid work force, many of which have been with her for years. “In 18 years we’ve have three major sets of employees,” she said, noting that a new batch usually transitions every 5 to 7 years. “And of course I have my lifers.”
Many of the customers acquire favorite bartenders, choosing certain times to come in so they can sit at that particular bar. Whether its to see Jimmy, known for making “the best margaritas ever,” or Murph, the comedian of the group who’s always providing entertainment at his bar, customers become accustomed to the friendly atmosphere and the feel of their own local bartender. “We have a really good staff right now,” added McGee.
The bartenders aren’t the only ones providing nightly entertainment to the crowds; Smitty McGee’s provides an array of entertainment. Whether its Randy Lee Ashcraft, open mic night with Chris Button, or Team Trivia Tuesday, every night of the week has something to offer. “There’s something for everybody, everyday,” McGee said, explaining that even when football season comes to an end, the fun continues at Smitty’s.
Of course the biggest day of the year for fun and all day entertainment will occur this Monday. “Monday is the busiest day of the year. We get a double hit with the parade which is sort of a practice run for us,” said McGee. On both Saturday and Monday, specials will be available all day as well as constant entertainment. Green beer, free giveaways and the Ocean City Bagpipe Band are just a few of the amenities planned for the holiday. Entertainment will run from 1 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Saturday and Monday. “We don’t miss a beat,” said McGee, explaining that the entertainment transitions smoothly from a live DJ from 1 to 4, to Randy Lee Ashcraft and Chris Button from 4 to 8, to The Saltwater Cowboys from 8 to 1. The food will also be Irish themed, with corned beef and cabbage. “We have the best corned beef and cabbage in town,” said McGee. The staff spends the whole day before preparing their home-cooked meal. “It’s happy,” McGee said of the celebration, “it really is a fun day for everyone.”