The bar that Snake Saturday calls home
Looking inside Paul & Jack’s Tavern’s “Snake Saturday” room, you can feel the pride that Northtown takes in this now 40 year-old event. “That’s Micky Finn’s jacket,” directs Brandi Smithmier, owner/operator of Paul & Jack’s. Encased in glass is the varsity-style jacket, in green-and-brown event colors, laid on top of a kelly green sportcoat.
Finn, whose party planning aptitude has become the stuff of legend around NKC, dreamed up the annual event as a promotion for the Roadway Inn motel… a way to celebrate St. Patrick’s driving the snakes out of Ireland (and driving tourists to town every Saturday before St. Patrick’s Day). The event has grown exponentially thanks to local news outlets and, now, generational tradition.
The event planners, organized as Northland Festivals, has had a close relationship with Paul & Jack’s for decades– with the group meticulously planning out the parade’s details in the private room that now serves as a year-round headquarters for the event.
Where the locals eat
Paul & Jack’s, to its credit, goes back even further (twice as long, in fact). In 1948, the first iteration of the neighborhood bar was opened by brothers Paul & Jack Dunbar. Described best as a “hole in the wall”, the original bar fit in what is now the neighborhood hangout’s kitchen area. The bar has since been remodeled twice, but hangs on to the reliable menu items that local customers demand– including a chili recipe dating back to Mrs. Dunbar’s original recipe (topped generously with chopped onions and served with a vinegar pepper sauce on the side).
You can find just about any pub fare you’re looking for here, including burgers you build to order, buffalo wings, corned beef and cheese curds. Fridays are Prime Rib nights, which you can get served up in a prime rib melt. What the bar is best known for nowadays is the patio addition and the stage, which brings live music to the block every weekend in the warmer months.
Taking the stage this weekend (with a wishful start to “patio season”) is Outlaw Jim & the Whiskey Benders— a hard-hittin’ country band you can regularly find at venues like Knuckleheads in the east bottoms. Outlaw Jim is a Snake Saturday mainstay in NKC. “This edition of Paul & Jack’s is 20 years old, and he’s been playing since the beginning,” says Smithmier.
After giving some festival history, I ask her about the importance of supporting local on a weekend like this. Northtown is poised to get, on average, 10-20,000 visitors filtering through town, and big days like that can mean a world of difference to small establishments. “It’s not chains– we (Bill and I both) we’re here and we work every single day, I bartend three days a week, run food the rest of the time. He’s in the kitchen every single day, and most nights too…” says Smithmier. “Being small-owned, you’re one-on-one with your people…you don’t see that in the larger places.” Although she lost count of the jello shots served long ago, every year you see staff filling tables and tables worth of little plastic cups with the colorful concoctions. Like many establishments in North Kansas City, the revenue brought in on this one day is nearly enough to put the smaller businesses in the black by itself– a pain felt especially hard in 2021 when the parade was canceled outright. Something the dozens of local owners like Smithmier have learned not to take for granted, no matter the weather of the day. “It’s crazy around here, we love Snake Saturday so much!”