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Jon Taffer: the Bar World’s Harvey Dent, or More of a Two-Face?

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Written by Dylan Jesse
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We are coming up on the annual Nightclub and Bar Trade Show and Convention in Las Vegas, and once again it will be hosted by shaved-ape and famed nightclub consultant Jon Taffer (pictured above, I believe twice). You most likely know him as the host of the contentious TV show Bar Rescue (which our Captain of the Good Ship Drunkard has mused over previously). If you are not familiar, the premise is simple: Jon Taffer visits bars that are about to go out of business, nearly gives himself a stroke from screaming at everyone and everything human-shaped in the place, decides that what every customer really wants is either an epilepsy-inducing nightclub or a kitschy steam-punk themed cocktail bar for 20-somethings, then he yells some more, and finally he gets some crew of what have to be talented drifters amped up on homemade speed to completely renovate the place overnight, permits be damned. Missing-link Taffer claims that his “bar science” will fix the struggling business’s problems and everyone learns a valuable lesson about either teamwork or cowering before a belligerent he-beast in an off-the-rack suit jacket. All I’m saying here is that he behaves in an uncivilized, apish manner. Just making sure you’re with me on this one.

Granted, the veneer of “reality” that gets shellacked onto the tragicomic farces of Jon’s vaguely scientific overhauls of failing bars is as transparent as an unaged whiskey. Lawsuits have been filed against Mr. Taffer and the show’s production company alleging exactly that. To make matters worse, a significant percentage of the “rescued” bars go on to close only a few months after the crews wrap up filming. In all fairness to ChimpManzee Taffer, some places are run by such muppets that no amount of re-branding or strobe lights or butt funnels (seriously, that’s a thing Taffer thinks we want) can save them. There is only so much he can do without staying to run a place indefinitely, so some failures are bound to be solely on the microcephalic domes of the useless owners.

And while we’re talking about butt funnels, that kind of close social genital rubbing is something that other primate species regularly do in the wild. So, the shaved-ape evidence is mounting. Taffer has his science, and I have mine. And mine is actual science. Kind of.

For all of his faults (like berating some male owners for being sexist, but he apparently has given away breast augmentation surgeries to female patrons in the past and then hung “before and after” bras in the men’s bathroom, and then they were judged), I want to like him in some small way. Actually, I can’t let that breast augmentation thing go. Here’s an excerpt from a Reddit thread he participated in about a year ago:

[–]Salacious-70 points

What is the weirdest theme or gimmick that you’ve ever seen in a bar?

If that’s not clear, maybe an example would help. An Irish Pub would be an example of a theme or type that is fairly normal. What is a super-weird one that you’ve seen?

[–]Jon_Taffer[S] 149 points

Well I can to speak to one that I created many years ago. Midget tossing as a bar promotion. That was pretty darn strange. I’ve also given away breast enlargements in nightclubs. We hung the “before” and “after” brassieres in the men’s room. The girls that lost got “booby” prizes.


And midget tossing? I really don’t think this guy is on the level. Perhaps he really does know the business and promotion side of things (however perverse and degrading), but I’m convinced that he doesn’t know what a bar should be. And all of this coming from a man that routinely touts the importance of getting and keeping women as regular customers. He’s about to open the “ultimate bar” on the Strip in Vegas, and judging by his work on the show, it seems that we’re all in for a horrifying treat. Ladies, you’ve been warned. And dwarves, for that matter.

And this brings me to my point: I still want to like him. Want is the operative word here. His mission of saving failing bars appears to be a noble one–he could be our White Knight, riding across the country and salvaging watering holes everywhere he goes, setting right what once went wrong. Fine, I’m mixing both Batman and Quantum Leap references, but both are valid. Seeing a bar close, no matter how terrible it is, brings with it a tinge of sadness, of regret. When real estate for the great cause of Drink is lost, which seems more likely: that a new, better bar will open up in the same spot, or that your town will get another Payless or a vegan burrito joint that sells skinny jeans and body lotion made from organic quinoa meal? Or just another shitty bar that can’t so much as serve a Scotch neat properly? Saving a bar should be an act of heroism, an exercise in American entrepreneurship, a rallying cry against the forces that would rather oust us from our communal dens of iniquity and into the shadows of our own studio apartments than give us another place to tie one on together.

However, Jon the proto-simian is apparently the screaming, strong-browed face of bar renovation, and his roughly 25% failure rate  is rather telling. Every Bar Rescue seems to hinge on turning everything into a themed joint, and it doesn’t seem to work as flawlessly as he thinks it will. But to return to Batman (because why would we not), is he not the hero we need right now, but the hero that we deserve? Do we support these kind of shameless marketing tricks and hokey sales gimmicks at the expense of a truly good bar culture? Is this hulking gorilla impersonator the kind of crusader that we have earned through our poor taste and general fuckery? And could Jon Taffer actually be Sasquatch?

I’ll leave you with this final thought: if Taffer is the hero we deserve, then the one we need is Dalton:

swayzeTaffer just might be the bar world’s Harvey Dent, a brave soul willing to step in and do what is right to save the institutions in which he believes. But, perhaps through a tragic gasoline fire that burned off all of the coarse, black body hair that protected him against all of the sticks and thistles in his native jungle environment, he has been corrupted into a half-man, half-monstrosity that moves soulessly through the world, fueled by anger and hatred at a society that just didn’t love him enough. Or maybe he’s a shitty Batman, attempting to solve the world’s problems through brute force and a pile of sponsor money for shiny new renovations. I don’t know. I didn’t pay much attention to the Nolan Batman movies. But I did pay attention to Roadhouse, and there’s no problem that Dalton couldn’t solve with a pool cue, some roundhouse kicks, and that sweet, sweet mullet. It becomes incumbent upon us to work to deserve our own Dalton.

And we’ll need a Dalton. I’ll be accepting applications for review.

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About the author

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Dylan Jesse

Dylan is a freelance writer and general itinerant who now lives in what may very well be a some kind of hippie commune, but which has an official beer sponsor (thanks, Montucky Cold Snacks!). He has many thoughts on what you can do with your flavored vodkas, and none of them include drinking. He occasionally accosts ducks in public places, so please do not be alarmed if you see him doing this. They know what they did.

They know.

If you know of any breaking news or troubling rumors that should be brought to the unfocused attention of the drinking masses, write him a letter and include a SASE to [email protected].

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  • …youve been entirely too accommodating to that [redacted]. It takes an awful lot for a purveyor of booze to scare away people that just want a place to yuk it up over a few glasses. Maybe its just better to let that kind of place pass into history. What should never happen is to dump hundreds of thousands into replacing what used to be someone’s go-to watering hole with a fluorescent-powered selfie background. And good luck getting even a warm glass of tap water for under five bucks or in under 20 minutes with a carnival ride atmosphere designed and priced to cater to twenty-something woo-girls spilling drinks that are going on some office-male’s tab.
    The best place for Tapper is the front of a sandwich board with one of his little rants about how half-second overpours are tantamount to grand theft.

  • “The best place for Tapper is the front of a sandwich board with one of his little rants about how half-second overpours are tantamount to grand theft.”

    Good one Dick. You Hatewell! Seriously, good comment. 2-second overpours create return customers!