MORGANTOWN — Schmitt’s Saloon, the restaurant and music hall that for five years was the namesake of West Virginia fullback Owen Schmitt, has closed. It will re-open July 12 as Smokin’ Jack’s, according to the landlord.
In recent days, the large wooden signage and LED billboards visible from Cheat Road were stripped down as crews cleaned and prepared the 4,000-square-foot building for its new tenant, said Jim Walls of Union Properties.
“I spent my life’s work in that place trying to do the best I could. I’m a little attached to it obviously, but it was so much fun while it lasted,” Schmitt said.
“I met some great people and I got to bring some great live music to Morgantown. I tried something that I thought would work there. Unfortunately it didn’t pan out.”
Schmitt’s battering-ram blocking paved the way for Steve Slaton’s 3,923 career yards from 2005 through 2007, and the fullback secured his spot in WVU lore by burning Oklahoma for a 57-yard touchdown in the Fiesta Bowl.
He played five years in the NFL with the Seahawks, Eagles and Raiders before returning to Morgantown.
When the saloon opened in 2013, Schmitt’s partnership with the Davisson Brothers band out of Clarksburg helped establish the bar’s southern-fried flair. Touring country acts such as Ronnie Dunn, Old Dominion and Shooter Jennings played there, as did rock/pop bands like Everclear and Fuel.
“I don’t think people fully understood how much how much money goes into throwing huge bands every weekend,” Schmitt said. “We’d have 50 grand worth of deposits out two months before shows would even hit.”
In 2015, Schmitt’s Saloon was voted Best of Morgantown Music Venue, but Yelp reviews weren’t as kind. During recent months the business went from being six days each week to only three.
“It was a great place, but I’m just worn out,” Schmitt said. “I was cooking, cleaning and bartending and I didn’t get to run my business because it was running me all the time.”
“I worked with some great staff, and I worked with some not-so-good. I could go into countless times how people stole money, but that’s the bar business if you’re not watching it like a hawk.”
Walls sensed that the bar’s business began to wane after a man was seriously injured during a parking lot fight. He said Smokin’ Jacks plans to incorporate live music, but with a not-so-rowdy atmosphere.
“It’s going to be a restaurant first, and if you want to have two or three drinks, that’s fine,” Walls said. “But if you want to get blind staggering drunk, don’t come here.”
Schmitt has begun smoking barbecue and plans to relaunch the Schmitt’s Saloon website to drive his catering business “so I can stay connected with friends and fans who supported me throughout the years.”