The Fixer-Upper Reality Show You Should Be Watching

Slate's Culture Blog
Feb. 8 2013 3:37 PM

The Fixer-Upper Reality Show You Should Be Watching

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Bar Rescue host Jon Taffer yells at an unsanitary kitchen worker

YouTube

For almost 30 years, Jon Taffer has made a career as a bar and nightclub expert, opening, owning, and renovating hundreds of establishments. By all accounts he has been quite successful—he also runs a consulting firm—and since 2011 he’s brought this business savvy to Spike TV’s reality show Bar Rescue. Sort of Extreme Makeover meets Restaurant Impossible, the program finds Taffer—a hulking, tell-it-like-it-is macho dude—revamping failed bars over the course of just a few short days, and the results are oddly addictive.

Bar Rescue has its structure down pat. In each episode, the owner (or owners) puts out a call for help—their bar or nightclub is losing thousands of dollars every year; they’re behind on the mortgage; the staff doesn’t show up or perform their duties correctly; and so on. Taffer waltzes in with a plan to redesign the bar’s look and theme, while mixologists, chefs, and hospitality experts help train the employees. Almost without fail, the staffers don’t take too kindly to being told they have to change their ways, and the series has featured plenty of shouting matches, that reality show staple. Taffer’s unfailingly blunt—just watch his understandable “meltdown” over a kitchen worker handling raw chicken with her bare hands—and doesn’t care to hear the opinions of the owners.

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But why should he? One fascinating aspect of the show is seeing managers and owners who have an actual investment in how well their bar or nightclub runs battle against Taffer after asking for his help. In perhaps the most infamous episode of the show, a pirate-themed business in Silver Spring, Md., was made over into a sleek, corporate-themed restaurant and bar to complement the many office buildings in the surrounding area. Despite not having made a salary in six years, the owner—who lived with her husband and teenaged daughter in her parents’ basement—nevertheless held firmly against the upgrades throughout the episode. Not long after filming ended, they changed everything back, and even created an angry video aimed at Taffer.

I’m not a Food Network devotee, and usually get my reality TV fix by watching a bunch of strangers thrown together in a house or deceiving each other on the Internet. But I’ve made Bar Rescue a part of my weekly viewing routine during each of the last two seasons. If you’ve ever worked in a less-than-stellar bar or restaurant with clueless managers, you will probably appreciate what it has to offer. And if you’ve only been a patron, well, you’ll get to see the secrets of just how calculated and scientific every (properly run) bar works. (Admittedly, the disgusting health code violations can sometimes be too much to handle.)

All of Seasons 1 and 2 are available online. Other than the friend who turned me on to it in the first place, I haven’t met anyone who’s seen—or even heard of—the show. With season three premiering this Sunday, I’m hoping that’s about to change.

Aisha Harris is a Slate staff writer.

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