Jon Taffer’s Bar Rescue reality show on Spike TV follows the nightlife consultant as he attempts to transform struggling bars into vibrant, profitable businesses. Bars that make it onto the show usually have employees, owners and guests who yield a high potential for controversy, and each episode depicts a two-and-a-half-day operation to make the bar over, all while drumming up drama. Over the five seasons of the show, eight Las Vegas bars have been featured on the program, some with spectacular results, some with dismal failures and some a mix of both.
One of the more dramatic Vegas episodes was that of the blues-centric Sand Dollar on Spring Mountain, which aired during season three in 2013. Taffer renamed it Bar 702, made it more upscale, kept the live music it was known for and brought in gaming expert Anthony Curtis, publisher and president of lasvegasadvisor.com and erstwhile Vegas Seven columnist, who advised to improve the payouts to attract and keep more customers. Curtis says, “After loosening the pay tables, it was basically the loosest bar in all of Vegas and the increase was four-fold.”
The drama involved video of Sand Dollar owner Dr. Paul Wilkes making inappropriate advances toward Taffer’s wife, followed by a virulent face-to-face exchange. After the show aired the bar received an initial jolt from the exposure, but soon after, Wilkes sued Taffer and the show for the way he was portrayed on the program and sold the bar in May 2014. Curtis adds, “If it hadn’t been for all the tumult, it would have worked and they would have done well.” After the sale, the new owners reverted to the original Sand Dollar moniker.
In the case of Champagne’s Café, a former mob hangout dive bar on Maryland Parkway, which originally opened in 1966, its makeover occurred in March 2016 and was portrayed in season five. Taffer’s suggestions included renaming the bar to drop the Café (which made sense since the bar had not served food since 2006), changing the sign and updating the outdated décor. Owner Greg Sims (who bought the bar in 2015) was contacted and asked to be featured on the show, and although he didn’t feel he needed to be rescued, he agreed to do the show provided he could keep the bar’s iconic red velvet wallpaper. Changes he did agree to resulted in a minor facelift, including adding lighting sconces, switching out film posters and photos of Sinatra with higher quality vintage photos of Vegas in the 1960s, replacing furniture and updating smoke eaters for cleaner air.
Before the TV cameras came in, there was a bit of a backlash from loyal patrons not wanting any changes to their favorite watering hole. Afterward, the biggest complaint was the bar losing its vintage sign; Sims brought it back a year later, much to their delight. As for the show helping his business, Sims reports, “The biggest boost we got was from local press, around the time it filmed four months before it aired, which resulted in a 40 percent increase, and then a two-month boost after the show aired. Now every time the show is repeated we get one or two bumps from that.”