The doors to Smithy’s Tavern may have long closed, but memories of the Mitchell Street pub resonate to this day.
And that was down to how it was run by Mike and Senga Gilbert. Two decades on and they still get asked routinely to recreate one of Smithy’s legendary quizzes for old time’s sake.
The pub actually opened its doors 35 years ago this month in April 1987 - it was launched by Eddie Melville’s Dean Entertainments.
He gave it a Victorian theme - “ornate and rich decor that gives it an authenticity which recaptures this bygone age perfectly” said the Fife Free Press in an advertising feature to mark its launch.
Peter McKenzie was the original manager, but Smithy’s will always be synonymous with Mike.
He took over in 1990, first as manager, and then in 1993 as proprietor after a year running the Snooty Fox in Glenrothes.
And over 12 years as mine host, he created a pub, and an atmosphere, that simply stood out from the rest.
His quiz nights became legendary, then came karaoke nights, and, of course, test tubes filled with home made shots even before the market for shots had been invented.
Smithy’s had a strong student clientele thanks to its location between the Priory halls of residence in Victoria Road and the town centre – one Mike cultivated – but it also brought people in en route to Bentley’s.
“It felt something special - everyone was a part of it, “ said Mike last week as we looked back on his legacy at Smithy’s.
“It was hard work, but really, really enjoyable. I didn’t realise how much hard work it was until I stopped!”
The memories quickly resurface.
Test tube shots, home made, experimental, and sold table to table became part of the Smithy’s story.
Mike blended vodka with Mars Bar, Opal Fruits, Parma Violets, and sent his staff out to sell ‘em.
“That was different to other pubs,” he said. “You’d get five guys coming in and I’d send staff over to their table and sell them shots. They only came in for a pint …”Smithy’s shots led to bottles of Mescal and the challenge - could you drink it and swallow the worm!
“They all became synonymous with the pub, and were great fun.” said Mike.
Wednesday night quizzes also packed the bar.
Back then pubs across Kirkcaldy had great quiz nights - the official league was hugely competitive and taken very seriously. At Smithy’s, quizzes were all about fun.
Clues were dropped everywhere - I do recall Mike walking past and muttering ‘Diana Ross’ one night which made no sense until half an hour later he asked: “Question seven, who had a hit with …?”
“I gave everyone clues!” he admitted. “You didn’t want a team sitting there with no correct answers, and you never ever embarrassed anyone on a losing team.
“We brought in prizes for finishing second last which is a really hard thing to do!
“We also had spot prizes, where folk had to be first to the bar with the answer, and instant payouts - all the t-shirts, caps and sunglasses we got from drinks companies went out as prizes.
“I reckoned if you turned up you were pretty much guaranteed a prize, but the quizzes brought people in - they were hugely popular.”
The success of general knowledge competitions led to ones dedicated to music with the same approach.
“We wanted people to have a fun night out,” said Mike. “But I still get ribbed about using the same songs – back then I had to record snippets for each question, and I didn’t keep a log of which ones were used when!
The advent of karaoke also saw regulars step up to the mic, even if Mike wasn’t for it at first - “then I realised if you can’t beat them, join them!”
He made a small stage for folk willing to step up and belt out their favourite number, and added another string to his bow as compere while also cooking meals in the kitchen.
“Again, you never embarrassed people coming up to sing - particularly those who really didn’t want to do it, and that’s why it became successful. They were the entertainers - I just handed them the mic.”
The changing face of Kirkcaldy’s nightlife saw the launch of Wetherspoons in Kirk Wynd, and then Kitty’s where the first queues stretched back to Wemyssfield to get in, and that meant joining the end of it by 10:00pm.
That handed pubs across town a very different challenge as they all tried to keep their custom.
“The dynamic changed.. We were also a satellite pub for Bentleys, which was no bad thing, but it also closed and it became more of a challenge to keep people at our end of the town.
“In effect, we had a High Street pub that wasn’t on the High Street - students came from the halls to the bar and into town, and others came in en route to Bentleys.”
Mike and Senga had been talking about going abroad, so they went to Los Christianos in Tenerife and di it all again, opening a bar called Tiffany’s, before family brought them back to the Lang Toun.
Twenty years on, he still asked about Smithy’s.
“ I love the nostalgia of it. Smithy’s had a good reputation. We made lightning in a bottle.
“I still get people asking to do it again - a one off quiz night. I’ve been tempted, possibly for charity - that would give it a reason.”