Spike TV’s going to do what? Give me an open bar tab!? This means I get to down ALL the drinks on the new cocktail menu until the bar shuts down—while TV cameras roll. Yes please! If the assignment calls for it, my duty is to step up to the plate and drunkenly swing for the cheap seats—in the name of journalism. Fueling my liver is all a part of my astute coverage of Spike TV’s Bar Rescue—pitting me in the bowels of Orange County at a biker bar named the Canyon Inn Sports Bar & Grill.
Here’s the skinny: Bar Rescue is like Kitchen Nightmares—but with bars. Instead of Gordon Ramsey dishing out the tough love, we have renowned bar and restaurant consultant Jon Taffer. (Think of him as Gordon Barsey.) Under Taffer’s watchful eye, his bar-transforming-posse traverses the country to give failing watering holes one last chance to succeed. Heads butt. Tempers flair. Taffer’s in-your-face approach rocks the establishment’s old guard in an attempt to turn the place around into a profitable drinking joint.
And the Canyon Inn desperately needs Taffer’s bar 911. Situated in a suburb that looks like home to people in the Witness Protection Program, this outdated dive is reminiscent of the bar in the seminal Swayze movie Roadhouse.
Yelp comments best describe the Canyon Inn experience:
“On $2 beer night there’s guaranteed to be a fistfight.”
“I spent $100 on drinks and I didn’t even get buzzed.”
“I saw a fat chick was beating the hell out of a skinny blonde bimbo out back because she dumped her beer out. Go fatty!”
“Canyon Inn is dimly lit, perfect for all the bleach-blonde meth addicts who use 50 pounds of MAC cover-up to hide the pock marks.”
Great: Tonight I want to see a complete trainwreck!
Trouble is already lurking in Bar Rescue paradise: Tension mounts between Taffer and Pauley—Canyon Inn’s tough guy owner. Like the Truman Show, I watch the action unfold on large screens from the control room—set in an office across the parking lot.
“You got a sticker on your door that says, “Dickass,” Taffer berates in animated fashion. “I’m going to get some pretty girls coming down here. They’re going to walk up to the door—and it says, ‘Dickass.’ (Pause) 67% of females don’t like ‘Dickass’ on the door.”
“They should change the name of the bar to ‘Dickass,’” the director smirks to his crew, feeding Taffer info via an earpiece on what’s going on around him to escalate the action.
“Please go take the Dickass sticker off the door,” Taffer demands—busting tough guy Pauley’s balls in an I-don’t-take-shit fashion.
“We have some 9-10 tension. I need some 5-6 tension from this stuff,” summons the director. “You can make this a good scene have Johnny pitch Pauley his new plan.”
“So Pauley, we got our stress test tonight,” Taffer states in the kitchen. “It’s called Bar Rescue—we’re here to help you out.”
The crew is like a renegade superhero team with individual X-Men powers. Taffer, expert mixologist Mike Tipps and 5-star chef Eric Greenspan are on hand to introduce five new cocktails and six new dishes to the Canyon Inn.
“It’s a whiskey drinking tattoo crowd,” says Chef Greenpsan. “We have all meat on the menu. If they don’t want meat on their salad—it will cost $2 to take it off.”
“Pauley seems to like whatever it is he’s eating,” notes the director—offering a positive note.
For tonight’s stress test, the Canyon Inn’s staff will be put under the pressure cooker; two employees walked out of Bar Rescue’s last shooting location.
“Why or why not will this bar fail or succeed?” I ask Taffer during the break.
“Harmon, you can fix broken bars but sometimes you can’t fix broken owners,” he says (doing an alpha-male thing of continually repeating my name). “A bar is an extension of the personality of the owner. I have an owner who walks by the front door that has a dickass sticker on it.”
“So how much tough-love do you think you’ll have to dish out?”
“We’ve been screaming at each other at the top of our lungs for two days; he’s the most resistant owner I’ve ever worked with. If he knows everything—then why am I here?”
The Canyon Inn’s main problem is the Cheers syndrome; the territorial regulars who frighten the women away.
“I have an owner that’s scared to chase these old guys out because it’s the only money he’s making, but he’s losing $100,000 a year,” Taffer says. “He has to realize that those people aren’t his salvation—but his failure. I’m trying to train management when one of those regulars says something offensive to a girl that they throw him out.”
“And slap a dickass sticker on his head,” I add.
“There’s a reason why I have a million dollars and a beautiful wife and there’s a reason why you have a bar with ‘dickass’
on the door.” With confidence: “I’m going to make him successful despite of himself.”
Excellent! This is going to be a classic clash of the Titans: good vs. evil, Coke vs. Pepsi, the Simpsons vs. Family Guy. With friction between egos, I hope to see the following:
-A chef running out of the kitchen with the seat of his pants on fire.
-Pauley and Taffer angrily spraying each other with seltzer bottles
-A pie fight
“So they’re going to get you to order the new cocktails and give your reaction,” says a rep from Spike TV—as I lunge inside the eye of the storm. “Are you okay with that?”
(Pause for ironic effect.) “Yes!”
A line has formed outside of the Canyon Inn—with the aroma of bad cologne lofting in the air. I take my place behind a trio of women discussing the latest episode of The Bachelor. (“I already feel like I know the bachelors.”)
“Thank you Harmon,” the doorman says; instigating a Bar Rescue personable touch to make patrons feel good as they walk through the door. Know what makes me feel even better?
“All his drinks are on my tab,” Pauley signals to the bartender.
“Woo-hoo!” I cry—raising my arms in victory. That’s like telling a mouse he’s welcome to all the cheese his mousey-heart desires. Mark one change to the Canyon Inn Sports Bar & Grill I already love.
To get a Rashomon perspective, I ask Pauley–whose twisted nose looks like it might have seen the end of many a bar fight: “Do you think tempers will flair tonight?”
“The guy says he’s got 35 years experience. I got 17 years experience. Technically he should know twice as much as I do.”
The bartenders are amped up; moving at 300 times the normal speed of bartenders and energetically talking a mile-a-minute—like a parody of high-energy bartenders. It’s how bartenders would operate at a meth convention.
“This bar has seen a lot of naked women,” say an old codger—a former Canyon Inn bartender.
“Did they used to have strippers?” I ask for historical reference.
“No, the nakedness usually happened after the bar shut,” he says with a grin.
The place is on fire. Cameras pirouette through the crowd. Like shampoo directions (rinse, lather, and repeat), throughout the evening I navigate my way through the new cocktail menu starting at the top, working my way down, then returning to the top again. Let me tell you: this journalist highly approves of all the new drink changes instigated by Jon Taffer’s crew—twice. (“The writer sure is drinking a lot,” a cameraman tells the Spike rep.) Mental note to self: I really need to devise a way for more places grant me open bar tabs while TV cameras roll.
It’s impressive: Pauley stays level headed. The staff is rocking it in the serving department. The customers are having a damn good time. Jon Taffer seems impressed. I got some cute O.C. girl’s telephone number—Bar Rescue’s implemented changes have manifested into a well alcohol-oiled machine. I was expecting crying and shouting and staff members walking out mid-shift; not a single fat chick is beating the hell out of a skinny blonde bimbo. (Go fatty!)
As I finish my unteenth O.C. Bomber, Spike’s cameras finally swing my way.
“What do you think of the bar?” asks the producer.
“I thought it was going to be a complete trainwreck but I ended up having a great time. I love divey bars like this.”
The producer makes an unhappy face; does that mean I’m going to end up on the cutting room floor? Better schtick it up for the cameras or I wont live my dream of being seen drunk on America’s TV screens.
“But look at these floors,” I rant. “It’s the exact same floor we had in our high school bathroom. Who wants to drink at a bar that has the floor of their high school’s bathroom? What about the fake brick wall? What is this, a 1980’s comedy club!?
I ramble on like this for another ten minutes until the producer finally asks: “You’re not driving, right?”