Reality TV to the (Bar) Rescue!

Going inside John Taffer's watering hole-transformation empire

After a midseason break, Spike TV?s Bar Rescue returns with a new episode at 9 p.m. July 7, and it?s one Las Vegas bar lovers shouldn?t miss. The reality show?which stars industry expert Jon Taffer (imagine the Gordon Ramsay of the bar world)?documents the tough-love turnaround of distressed bars. The new episode features Las Vegas? former Sand Dollar Lounge, which has been transformed into Bar 702 (3355 Spring Mountain Road). Later installments will feature Gypsy and the Hammer.

As the publisher of the Las Vegas Advisor and books about gambling, I get some unique opportunities pushed my way; one of them was appearing in the Sand Dollar episode. If you?ve seen Bar Rescue, you know that there are always a couple of guest experts helping Taffer with the turnaround, and I was brought in to revamp Bar 702?s video-poker program. Being in the middle of it all allowed me to experience firsthand what most can only speculate about: how a reality show really works.

There are plenty of opinions about how ?real? reality TV really is. Detractors use words like ?phony,? but after experiencing it, I wouldn?t. The word I would choose is ?revisionist.? Bar Rescue was far more real than I expected. The bars that make it onto the show all have the potential to stir controversy in the turnaround process. The writers come up with an angle to stoke that controversy, and a loose script is put together. From there, all that?s needed is to turn on the cameras and let the directors follow the momentum. Here?s where the revisionist part comes in.

Once the reality is captured, the completed scenes are set up again, with portions reshot, ostensibly so they?ll make sense in the context of the whole show. But there are other reasons. In the episode I was on, there was a heated exchange in what was supposed to be the opening scene. I?m talking drinks being thrown, fists flying and grown men rolling on the floor. The scene was reshot three days later, minus the mayhem.

I found the whole experience intriguing. It helped that I had more freedom than the others on the show, because none of the writers or directors understood gambling. After a while, they pretty much let me do my own thing, which resulted in the high-return video-poker games now in place at Bar 702.

Bar 702 will host a party in the show?s honor at 7 p.m. on July 7. I?ll be there, along with many of the others you?ll see on the episode. The party?s open to the public, so come on by.