It wasn’t too long ago that I discovered Bar Rescue on Spike TV. After watching a couple episodes, I was hooked. I instantly gave my DVR a workout so I could catch up on all the episodes I had missed. I’ve never been a big “Reality TV” guy, but this show contained enough educational elements surrounding drink creation and preparation, bar/beer/liquor science, and the fundamentals of operating a successful bar that it drew me in. The other dramatic parts of the show I could do without, but they’re nice for a chuckle from time to time.
For those of you who don’t know, Bar Rescue is hosted by Jon Taffer, a world-renowned Bar Consultant (and I didn’t major in Bar Consulting in college why? Maybe I did…unofficially…anyway…) who has turned around hundreds of bars worldwide. Jon and his team of experts find bars on the brink of closure, typically run-down and in need of rehabilitation, both to the physical structure of the establishment and to those in charge of said establishment. The show fits your typical Reality TV framework, starting out rough and exuding a full turnaround by hour’s end. After that, it’s up to the owners to run with the new concepts, ideas, and knowledge Jon and his experts teach.
One thing I’ve noticed throughout this series is Jon’s gravitation towards spirits. Appropriately, Jon is driven by profits and maximizing every ounce of liquor poured in the bars he revives. Bar Rescue has taught me that the highest profit comes from liquor and cocktails. If drinks are made with proper amounts of liquor and not wasted through spillage, over-pouring, and giving shots away, liquor-based cocktails can strengthen the bottom line better than any other drink in the house.
Bar Rescue has also taught me a lot about beer, such as proper temperatures affecting the amount of beer a keg yields, proper pouring techniques, and how line systems work. But, I’ve never felt like many of the concepts Jon created for these establishments placed much emphasis on beer. Especially craft beer. My perception has been that craft beer bars are doing things correctly and, thus, aren’t in need of a rescue. But implementing a thought out craft beer program could welcome new clientele to pull up a stool and, thus, increase profits, right?
So, I tuned in to Spike as last night’s episode took the air. The name of the episode was “Lagers and Liars” and the setting was a bar in LA called the “Los Angeles Brewing Company.” My first thought was, “FINALLY, they’re going to take a look a brewery!” But, lo and behold, this was an enormous bar with poor management and no beer brewed on site. Even their claim of having 100 beers on tap fell woefully short, as only 18 were reported when Jon and actress Maria Menounos did recon to discover more about the business. And, as per Bar Rescue norm, the food sucked, too.
The show overflowed with the usual tale of neglect, drama, and lack of knowledge to run a bar by the owner. And, as always, light at the end of the tunnel began to show as Jon told the staff he was going to turn them into a brewery!
YES! I was anxious to see how they set up the tanks, created recipes, and who they’d bring in to do the brewing. And with Neil Witte, one of just nine Master Cicerones in America, in the house, I figured he would play a role in making sure they were set up for success with the right brewer for the overall concept Jon put in place.
Alas, this wasn’t the case. Jon did, in fact, rename the bar “LA Brew Co.” and set them up with a small brewing system, thus bringing more sense to the name. He did a total facelift and added several tremendous upgrades to bring the venue to life. Brand new food menu, too.
But, all the brewing will be done via computer using a system called SmartBrew containing pre-loaded beer recipes. No real brewer, no innovative direction or brewing concepts, just technology developed by brewers.
Don’t get me wrong, this is a badass piece of machinery. But the true art, passion, ingenuity, and uniqueness of brewing beer is completely lost in its function. If this was the sort of equipment Jon wanted to install for this rescue, fine. But you can’t call it a brewery now just because there are tanks in front of the restaurant. That’s like saying my house is a gourmet restaurant because there’s a stove in the kitchen. It’s not original, and quite frankly is a slap in the mouth to brewers worldwide working daily to create something fresh.
If LA Brew Co is going to be a true craft beer bar (and one would assume an establishment offering 100 beers would be just that), wouldn’t it be more effective to remove the “brewing” concept altogether and implement a strategy for always having 100 unique options on steady rotation at all times? Or, since 100 taps is a lot to manage and could potentially be overwhelming to consumers as well, why not cut the number in half and implement a small cocktail program like all the other rescues? I’ve been to many bars over the years that have an exorbitant number of taps, but each one had a unique beer flowing and a thought process was used to provide style diversity throughout the lineup.
In the end, it’s up to the management to operate the place effectively. And based on recent feedback I found after watching this episode (these rescues typically take place months before they’re actually aired), nothing has changed and things at LA Brew Co have seemingly gotten worse. Check out the fallout here.
I take from this episode two things:
1) Despite any efforts Jon Taffer or any Bar Consultant makes, if you can’t effectively manage this type of business and won’t take genuine guidance to heart, get out of the business.
2) With the current rise of craft beer popularity, Jon Taffer and Bar Rescue could utilize it more in their revivals to attract a constantly-evolving, consistently-growing customer base.
This particular episode hasn’t pushed me away from tuning in. But I’d truly like to see what could happen if the advertising that drives the production of this show was removed and a true craft beer program was constructed for a bar on its last leg. I’m sure that’s something we won’t see, but a boy can dream.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Since publishing this article, it has been reported that LA Brew Co. will be closing its doors due to their inability to turn things around, even after what Jon Taffer claimed to be his most expensive rescue of all time.