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Piratz Tavern: How Bar Rescue Faked Reality

Before I begin, please watch the following about Piratz Tavern:

Now this episode of Bar Rescue is compelling television. It’s about a sinking pirate bar called Piratz Tavern in Silver Spring, Maryland, where the staff wants to play pirate while the workers at the several corporate high rises next door ignore the noise. Furthermore, the owner is $900,000 in debt and lives in her parents’ basement with her husband, Piratz’s incompetant chef, and her college-age daughter.  In walks nightlife expert Jon Taffer who believes the staff is delusional and drags them kicking and screaming to a new theme, the Corporate Bar and Grill. After the change, the place looks to have a bright future. But the owner, still wanting to play pirate, turns it back to Piratz a few weeks later and the ship continues to sink.

There’s only one problem: The show is made up.

I’ve eaten in Silver Spring lots of times and had even tried to eat at Piratz Taven before the filming. Honestly, it looked like an empty dump. The show wasn’t completely wrong in that respect.  However, after watching the Bar Rescue episode, I absolutely had to go in order to find out how different the show was from with what actually happened. I went for dinner there with some friends and spent a long time talking to the staff.

Piratz Tavern Staff

From left to right: Rouge, Monkey, Blackjack, Archer and One-Eyed Mike.

What I found was that practically everything on the show was made up. While the staff, along with the manager Tracy Rebelo, had a reason to lie in order to make themselves look better, it was obvious from their passionate and candid responses, along with a few plainly visible facts, that they weren’t lying.

Here’s a list, in show chronological order, of many of the differences between the Bar Rescue episode and what I observed and was told:

-At the beginning of the show there’s a statistic that says during the day the population in Silver Spring swells to 295,000 with an average income of $96,000. At night the population drops to 71,000 with an average income of $36,000. While there’s nothing wrong with this on the surface, it’s missing something very important that I’ll explain further down.

-The show claims the staff loves to drink and play pirates rather than serve the customers. Well, that both is and is not true. On the one hand, the staff loves their jobs, loves pirates, and enjoy working there.  On the the other hand,  the food came quickly and I didn’t have to wait to get a seat. In some ways, the jovial, friendly staff is why anyone would come to Piratz in the first place and Taffer ignores it.

– On the show, Tracy claims that’s she’s over $900,000 in debt, her credit is shot and she lives in her parent’s basement.  Tracy told me, a guy she never met, that she never uses credit cards with Piratz and she’s pays off the $10,000 rent every month in full and on time… oh, and there is no basement.

-Jon and his wife show up to the bar which looks dead…except it’s dead because the Bar Rescue producers told the tavern to tell everyone that the tavern was closed. Anyone in the bar were people who walked by and saw it was open.

-The show claims the patio in the back is unoccupied…except they forgot to mention that the segment was filmed at night in February 2012, with nightly temperatures in the 30s. Jon’s wife is even shown walking into the establishment in a heavy coat.

-The fish the planted couple orders is supposedly terrible. Everyone there told me basically the same thing: the food was fine, they just lied and said it was terrible. My food was delicious!

Update: 9/29: Went back to Piratz and ordered the fish the couple on the show did.  While I thought it wasn’t as good as the turkey legs I had last week, it wasn’t nearly as bad as the show made it seem.

-There’s a reference to an appetizer that’s too spicy. The “Burnin’ Bits” has a waiver you to have sign in order to eat it. I know because I took notes on the back of said waiver:

Piratz Tavern Waver

Too spicy on purpose.

-How many corporate high rises are really around Piratz?  There are two on the same block, plus a few within eyeshot. Jon wanted to make the point that there are tons directly next to it, but there are only the aforementioned two plus the Discovery Channel directly accessible via a back alleyway. The others he points out include a two-story storefront and this:

Behold the Silver Spring Metro Garage!

This is a case of Jon not only stretching the truth to make his point about corporate highrises, but also ignoring a bigger problem which should be obvious to anyone who has been to the area:

The way most people get to the area is to get off 495 and head down Georgia Ave. Right before you get to Piratz, they come to what’s known as Downtown Silver Spring, a popular outdoor plaza with literally a dozen restaurants and two movie theaters (The Regal and an AFI Silver) along with several big stores including a DSW and a Whole Foods. This attracts a lot of people with money. However,  the traffic turns on either Colesville or Wayne and heads towards the garages. Only a fraction of the traffic heads past Wayne Avenue. I’ve traveled to the area quite a bit. Downtown Silver Spring could be packed, but walk across across Wayne Avenue and the place is a ghost town.

There’s no way Jon missed this fact when researching – he could see it from Piratz Tavern! While it appears he might have counted Downtown Silver Spring as a high-rise, counting it as such is extremely misleading because he therefore ignores all the people coming in on weekends for entertainment. This destroys his entire theory on why a pirate bar in Silver Spring can’t survive.  If Piratz had a location within Downtown Silver Spring, it would’ve been just fine because the people who go to the plaza are looking to have fun.

– Moving on, Archer, who quit on the show, was told to be the bad guy and his role was to quit. The only thing is that Archer really did  get mad at John so the reaction when he told the cameras to get out of his face was real.

-To help in the kitchen, Jon brings in Jason, a line cook… who had been working at Piratz for 7 months prior to filming. He was working at a Bertucci’s when a few Piratz employees got him in touch with Tracy who hired him.

-The show makes it seems like there’s an all day bar training going on for the bartenders. Well, training only lasted as long the cameras rolled and so the staff only learned basically what is shown on TV.

-On a segment involving service staff training Mike appears to have trouble talking like “a normal person.” It’s implied Mike was so wrapped up in his pirate persona, he had trouble coming out of it.  Except how Mike talks on the show is how he really talks. His accent is not an act.

-There’s an exchange where the service trainer says to Mike to “act like the people outside.” He says that he hates those people. Only one issue: that was edited together from two different exchanges, the second one being the people who go on Yelp and give the bar bad reviews.

-The soft opening was staged, as everyone that was brought in were actors and did not have to pay. Everything was going fine until Jon told the actors to start acting as if the service was terrible.

-The scene where Juciano storms out and Tracy goes after him was staged. He was told to storm off.  The audio seems to cut during the segment because they’re laughing while filming.

-The only thing the employees weren’t told ahead of time was what the new theme was supposed to be, so their reactions were real. Even I thought the idea was terrible from the first time I saw it. The Corporate Bar and Grill made the place seem homogenized and soulless. When corporate workers want to go to a bar, they want to escape, not go back to work. And Jon Taffer, even on the show, came across as a guy who hated the very idea of a pirate bar from the moment he walked in and simply wanted it gone, regardless of the reasons for Piratz’s failures. The staff confirmed my suspicions with Tracy calling him “completely unprofessional” and saying “he made the worst decision possible.”

– While it looked pristine in the show, the new interior was shoddily done. For example, the new tiles on the floor were simply glued onto the floor underneath. The glue oozed through the tiles and was tracked onto the back patio, which had to be resurfaced.

-As part of the renovation, Jon installed self-service draft tables where people could pour their own beer. However, they are illegal in Montgomery County, so they were useless.  Not only that, the draft tables were really being rented, with the first 2 months paid for. After that, the bar had pay for all 3 draft tables.

-The grand opening, like the soft opening, was staged, with actors playing the roles of customers, who ate for free. While I wasn’t told this, based on what they told me about the soft opening, I’m certain the actors were told to act like the place was great even if it was crummy.

-During the grand opening scene, Jason can be seen making burgers. The staff told me that the burger was made using frozen beef patties and were expected to charge $11 for it; this is in contrast to their $12 buffalo burger which was and still is on the menu and is made fresh. They have an $8 regular burger. They never mentioned it, but I assume it’s made fresh. And even if it, too, is a frozen beef patty, it’s still $3 less.

-After filming, Piratz Tavern returned within two weeks, nearly every single one of Jon’s changes was reversed and a small beer bar was added to the front to make it more lively.

I went to Piratz Tavern expecting at least some of the show to ring true and found that apparently not one moment of the show was what it appeared to be. Everything organic was either staged or heavily edited. Watching the episode again after eating there I saw the fiction in the “reality” clearly. Bar Rescue is a fictional show about a man who takes bars from money pits to profitable businesses. Before Jon steps in, the staff has to be inept, the food has to be terrible and the bar has to be completely out of touch with the surrounding community, even if not one of those things was true. After John relaunches, the staff has to be top notch, the food has to be delicious and the bar has to be beautiful and popular. It makes Jon Taffer look like God’s gift to bar management. And if the bar reverts to its previous persona or isn’t doing well, it isn’t Jon’s fault, it’s always the owner who’s to blame. They didn’t listen to Jon Taffer and now they’re paying the price.

Piratz Tavern

Behold the new sign installed the week before I went!

While the staff admitted the bar was having problems, any problems it did have were solved simply by being on Bar Rescue and the huge publicity it generated, giving people a reason to travel past Wayne Avenue. Our waiter, Blackjack, told me that Jon Taffer should have just come in and just helped with an ad campaign instead of the nightmare their “bar rescue” turned out to be. Monkey even said it was one of the worst experiences of his entire life, and I have to believe him.

Piratz stands as a symbol of how fake reality television truly is. Before I ate at Piratz, I loved Bar Rescue. It was a compelling, well-produced show. After eating at Piratz, I don’t think I can watch another episode knowing full well that what I’m seeing is as fictional as a scripted drama.  One thing I do know for sure is that I’m definitely going back to Piratz Tavern.

Update: 3/28/15

Normally I wouldn’t a post an update for a 3 year old article, but with the bar closing and the upcoming episode, I feel the need I should as interest in this article will be renewed:

So, the bar is closing and the owner claims its because she was fucked over by reality TV again, believing the producers that things would be different this time with the second episode.. I personally think(and this is only a guess) Bar Rescue didn’t close the bar, in actuality, it kept it going for three years due to all the publicity, but whatever the problems were initially finally caught up with her again. She invited Bar Rescue back in the hopes that magic would strike twice and she could ride another wave of bad publicity to another three years, but when it didn’t look like that would happen, for whatever reason, she gave up and closed the bar.

I went back in February for my birthday(after a two year absence), and the bar was great. The food was excellent, the grog was delicious and the service staff was friendly(I got a free dessert and t-shirt).  in the end, I have to begrudgingly say maybe Jon was right in that you can’t run a pirate bar in Silver Spring. But who knows, considering its critical location problem.



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