Bar Rescue

Bar Rescue debuts tonight on Spike TV at 10 p.m. Eastern.

One look at hospitality consultant/crazy-eyed public speaker Jon Taffer’s prehistoric Web site tells you that this man knows how to turn trash into class. After all, who else could take credit for revamping the culinary mystique of Hooters, Sammy Hagar’s Cabo Wabo Cantina, and Bangkok’s NASA outpost? And who can estimate how inferior Holiday Inn’s continental breakfast might have been if not for Taffer’s priceless business-development insights?

Taffer, along with his wife and “market recon specialist” Nicole, is the star of Spike’s new hour-long reality show Bar Rescue. Jon is a big man who bears an uncanny resemblance to Bob Einstein as Marty Funkhouser and barks motivation at his clients with the bullying claptrap of Crazy Eddie with an R. Lee Ermey edge. He is by far the most unlikeable aspect of a series that has genuine conceptual potential and, judging by its premiere, some great natural drama and interesting reveals about the nightlife industry.

Jon, Nicole, and an A-Team that includes “expert mixologist” Michael Tipps and “nightclub expert” Deborah Maguire (both, I assume, phony titles that come attached to University of Phoenix degrees) are on a mission to restore run-down dives and tacky lounges into rustic whiskey outposts and elegant, pulsating hotspots. Their season-one journey commences at Angel’s Sports Bar in blue-collar Corona, CA, which has been run haplessly by Renee Vicary since 1992. It’s ostensibly a biker hangout attached to a strip club of the same name that, down to its mustachioed, inept General Manager Wayne, could not possibly be more of an unintentional homage to Roadhouse’s Double Deuce.

In fact, when Jon confronts Vicary’s staff at a hostile meeting, it plays out as a nearly shot for shot facsimile of a very similar scene in the cult Patrick Swayze flick. Except Mr. Taffer ain’t no Dalton. Rather than convert his skeptical charges with three-parts Zen philosophy and one measure necessary force, Jon Funkhouser simply yells a lot, points fingers, calls the employees “stupid” and other encouraging adjectives, and channels his inner keynote-speaker with camera-ready bites like “Either you guys are gonna get on my bus, or I’m gonna run ya over!” He’s a blowhard of epic proportions, relying on patented catchphrases and outright intimidation. In other words, Jon’s probably spent too many hours celebrating Alec Baldwin’s monologue in Glengarry Glen Ross for all the wrong reasons.

Maybe there was a similar epiphany during post-production, or perhaps Jon was a dually controlling tyrant behind the scenes of Bar Rescue, because there are substantial chunks that focus predominantly on the organic drama between Renee and her rightfully frazzled bartenders and managers, and they are also the episode’s most compelling segments. In fact, 40 minutes as a fly on the wall of this bar’s everyday operations would have actually made for a great little show. But by the time we leap forward to the Taffers’ big introduction of Angel’s new makeover into sophisticated bourbon/billiards hall Racks (and mind you, this name came from a man who spent a half hour berating Renee for her establishment’s sexually degrading ambience), it’s likely you’ll forget that Rescue was even structured around anticipating the venue’s radical transformation.

There are moments here and there, particularly during Tipps and Maguire’s staff training, when some pretty cool barkeep secrets are revealed (ways to give the impression that drinks are poured more generously than in reality, etc.). And the employees are rightfully scolded for asking questions like “What’s a cocktail?” and leaving areas of the façade eaten away by squirrels and lined with exposed staples. But Jon himself is a weak link and is in particularly patronizing, over-the-top pitchman mode during the closing minutes, when he attempts to portray Racks’ network-sponsored, heavily promoted grand opening as a completely spontaneous success that can be accredited to his genius and guarantee a thriving business. Unfortunately for Renee, early Yelp assessments suggest otherwise. As for Jon, what does he care? He just ensured possibly hundreds of new clients will surf over to his Geocities-era online home and hire him to scare the shit out of spineless corporate marketing teams around the globe. He best enjoy it while he can, however, because the way episode one was edited indicates there could be some major retools ahead.

Stray Observations

  • The Angel’s regulars they interviewed were amazing and further proof that Bar Rescue would be saved itself by focusing on the existing culture of its locations, with the publicity inherently helping them survive.
  • I love Wayne.
  • There is NO way Jon inconspicuously went into that place as a customer without being pegged for the motivational nerd who was coming to ruin/improve their lives.
  • When Nicole first spots Wayne across the bar, she refers to him in a whisper as “the Asian guy” on the other side of the room. I’m sure she’s a peach.
  • I highly doubt Jon himself could promote and lay off Renee’s employees, and I also have a feeling a lot of cuts were made on account of her staff cracking up during Jon’s ridiculous Bob Odenkirk-ian fits.
  • Bikers are terrifying.