Reality Bites: Bar Rescue

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There are a million reality shows on the naked television. We're going to watch them all, one at a time.

Managing a successful bar -- or restaurant or genital piercing establishment (trying to cover all the bases here) -- is a tricky proposition. Your might have a solid concept, a highly desirable location and hard-working, enthusiastic staff, and it still might not matter. Most bars fail (60 to 90 percent, depending on what unsourced Internet citation you believe), as is the case with many of the watering holes I frequented during and after college.

Failure in the retail and service industries has now become an industry unto itself. Or at least the reality subgenre of "rescuing" these struggling companies. If your hair salon is getting less business than the Flowbee, Tabatha Coffey will swoop in and set things right. If your restaurant's marquee is stuck at "Dozens and Dozens Served," Gordon Ramsay will scream at you for a couple of days before setting things right. And now, on Bar Rescue, if your tavern is more reminiscent of Moe's than Cheers, industry consultant Jon Taffer and his team will save you from a life of honest employment.

All whlle yelling slightly less than Gordon Ramsay.

I watched a mini-marathon of Bar Rescue on Spike on St. Patrick's Day, because this is how a parent of three little kids sublimates his desire to be out drinking. More important, I like bars. At one point, I spent a lot of time in them, so this subject - unlike tow truck driving or ice road trucking -- actually interests me. Maybe you and your buddies from college talked about opening a bar (the actual premise of one of the episodes I watched) whilst in your cups one night; I know we did. Bar Rescue often deals with the people who actually followed through.

Not that the setup is anything we haven't seen before. Taffer, who looks like he should've been sitting between Frankie Carbone and Jimmy Two-Times in Goodfellas, gives a brief rundown of why a particular bar has fallen on hard times. The causes can usually be narrowed down to "owner(s) have no idea what the hell they're doing," "employee thievery" or "somebody got murdered there." He then sends in someone for "reconnaisance," often his daughter or wife, with a hidden camera to showcase this hilarious ineptitude for all our enjoyment.

Taffer then reads everyone the riot act, fires recalcitrant employees (you might be taken aback at the number of apparent fuck-ups in the employ of the bar industry; don't be; I used to be one of them and I can tell you our numbers were Legion), and revamps the drink and -- where applicable -- food menu. They then hold a "stress test" wherein the employees attempt to serve these new options to a larger than usual crowd of patrons, the better to further humiliate them.

At some point, construction crews come in and completely renovate the place. They can make cosmetic improvements like adding windows -- one of the only rules for living I intend to pass on to my offspring is to never drink at a place with no windows (casinos and strip clubs don't count) -- as seen in "Fallen Angels," or they can perform a tear-down almost to the studs, as seen in "Murphy's Mess," in which a series of undetected leaks had rotted the floor almost completely away. Taffer then gives the bar a new name, often something like "The Local" or "The Annex" and not something hilarious like "The Office."

See, that way if your wife asks where you were, you can say, "The Office" and not be lying to her, and...oh, never mind.

Taffer's success rate is pretty good, or so I assume. Most of the bars are still afloat when he pops back in a few weeks, but that's hardly an accurate benchmark. Some of these places were coasting along for months before he showed up. A better measure would be to have Taffer return in a year or 18 months and see if the owner had hung himself in the cooler yet.

Failure used to be something of a character-building exercise. In fact, I'm sure I've seen quotations by famous people to that effect. On the surface, shows like Bar Rescue seem to violate some Prime Directive of capitalism, and though I'm no free-market evangelist, it irks me somewhat to see a bar run into the ground by a couple of ex-frat boys interested in nothing but facilitating brawls with "Dollar Shot Nights" get their bacon saved by an uglier Brad Garrett in a suit.

Then I think about the bank bailouts and figure maybe a few bar brawls aren't that bad.

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