verburdened bakeries and restaurants might have their own problems, but when things go awry in the bar business, they can get way out of hand very rapidly. It’s an eventuality that happens to be “bar rescuer” Jon Taffer’s bread and butter. And, as if to prove the point, Taffer, with his straightforwardly titled hit program “Bar Rescue,” has devoted the past four years to resuscitating drinking establishments that are about to go on life support. A native of New York City, Taffer grew up in Great Neck, Long Island. A college bartending job seemed to stick with him, and it eventually led, in the late 1970s, to a managerial gig at the legendary Troubadour bar and nightclub, on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood. That experience, and a subsequent job at the equally famous Barney’s Beanery, galvanized Taffer’s growing interest in, as he refers to it, “leadership,” especially that of bars, pubs, taverns and nightclubs. Since then, Taffer has started, flipped or owned more than 800 establishments in a consulting career that spans three-plus decades. “I enjoy being a leader—not from an ego standpoint—but a ‘lead the troops’ sort of attitude,” he says. “When I was at the Troubadour, it lit this fire inside of me. I loved managing the
environment. And then one day it occurred to me that my legacy is to make people smile.” Taffer’s been doing precisely that—making people smile—for the past three seasons and 61plus episodes of “Bar Rescue.” Airing on Spike TV, “Bar Rescue,” like other programs in the ‘rescue’ genre, features a business—in this case a bar or nightclub—that’s in danger of failing. Enter Taffer and his team, who devote five days to completely overhauling the business from top to bottom before arranging a dramatic reveal at the show’s conclusion. It’s a classic formula that seems unfailingly to hit a sympathetic nerve with viewers.
Impossible,” Taffer says he makes it a point not to have met the bar owners or ever to have been inside their establishments prior to taping the episode. “They never know when I’m coming, nor are they even sure that I’m coming,” he explains. “But suddenly I walk in. If they know I’m coming, the bar will never be empty—it’ll never be indicative of what they do, so I have to play with them and the situation a bit to find the reality.” During the course of each episode, Taffer draws upon his three decades of bar and nightclub consulting experience to touch nearly every facet of the failing business’s operations—the architecture, the theme, the drink menu, the ambiance, the music, the décor, the pricing, training— STORYTELLING every facet, that is, except one: Taffer shares a belief with “I’m not a chef so I don’t migrate many of his fellow rescueto the kitchen.” he admits. programming hosts when Like his fellow rescue hosts, he says that “Bar Rescue” is Taffer’s shooting schedule is appealing, in essence, because concentrated and demanding. it’s a mini-drama of sorts. “If “What people don’t realize is that I were to define what ‘Bar I’m not only shooting a TV show Rescue’ is,” he explains, “I 12 hours a day, I’m signing off on would say it’s storytelling. logos, the food recipes, the plates, There’s a character in trouble; everything—I sign off on every there’s a transformation and a redemption; and there’s an ‘end aspect of the operation. I truly do of the story’—an opportunity to the TV work and the consulting feel good. It has all the elements work—so, yes, it’s a bear.” of a great story. You connect with somebody who’s in trouble. NOT THE MONEY They go through the trials and Difficult as it might be, it’s a tribulations of getting out of successful formula. Although trouble—the pressure, the tension, the stress, the tears— good and bad. When they come out on the other side, you feel terrific for them. It’s something that we all can relate to.” Taffer says that what has surprised him as the episodes have unfolded over the past three seasons is how personal it becomes for the bar owners and managers. “I’m beginning to feel like ‘Dr. John,’” he quips. “But I’m finding that, nine times out of 10, I’m truly effecting a ‘personal’ transformation rather than a ‘bar’ transformation. It’s powerful when you live it.” Like Robert Irvine does with his show “Restaurant:
Taffer says that he doesn’t personally track the success or failure rate of the bars he’s transformed, there are websites that do offer such statistics, and his are favorable. “Out of the 60 episodes that have aired, I’m told that roughly 50 or 51 [of the businesses] are still open,” he reports. “And when you consider the kind of trouble that they’re in to begin with, and we’re tracking a 75- to 80-percent track record? I’m told it’s the best on television.” One establishment that Taffer helped, Spirits on Bourbon, in New Orleans, reportedly increased its sales by $1 million a year following Taffer’s makeover. But Taffer probably speaks for all three of the rescue hosts when he says that, for him, the prospect of money alone is not enough to compel him to take on the impossibly hectic, exhausting lifestyle he or she must lead to host a show like his. “Why do I do it?” he asks. “It’s that hug I get at the end of the show—or hearing from them afterwards. I tear up, and I must tell you it’s very emotional for me. It’s the most gratifying thing for me. It’s the hardest work I’ve ever done in my 35 years of professional life. But it’s not the money that motivates anyone to do this kind of work. It’s the emotional gratification at the end of it all—it’s that hug.”
‘WHY DO I DO IT?’ IT’S THE MOST GRATIFYING THING FOR ME. BUT IT’S NOT THE MONEY THAT MOTIVATES ANYONE TO DO THIS KIND OF WORK. IT’S THE EMOTIONAL GRATIFICATION AT THE END OF IT ALL—IT’S THAT HUG. JULY/AUGUST • 2014