Consultant Jon Taffer (above, center) has been in the business of reconfiguring bars and restaurants for over 20 years. Clients of his company, Taffer Dynamics, include Cabo Wabo Cantina in Mexico, Morton's of Chicago and several major hotel chains. Along with provoking tired business into new money making changes, Taffer got Pulsations — one of the Philly area's grander discos — off the ground in the 1980s. Now, with the help of the MTV-owned Spike TV network, Taffer is debuting a program that teaches old chefs and owners new tricks. That show, Bar Rescue, has spent the last few weeks in Philly, first at Downey's on Front and South, then Old City’s Swanky Bubbles (now renamed Sheer) at the end of last week. “It was about time," says John Frankowski (above, left) a long-time owner of Swanky Bubbles. "The place needed a makeover bad and I was proud that these guys wanted to help me."
Between May 19 and 21, Taffer and his small crew (a cocktail consultant who I didn’t meet and kitchen consultant Brian Hill) made radical changes at the Swanky Bubbles space run by Frankowski and partner Ryan Dorsey (above, right). First, the Swanky Bubbles sign came down around 5 p.m. on Thursday. Next up, Taffer (who had never met the struggling bar owners before Thursday) sized up the situation. "That bar looks like Fred Flintstone’s car," said Taffer, referring to the rocky, resin-coated monstrosity that passed for a bar top. 'It's dated and ineffective. Patrons can't get close to the bar. This is what happens when you let an artist rather than carpenters build your bar." Dag.
While Taffer was dissing the lighting scheme ("never use blue, people look better in red") and talking about how to manipulate employees so that they won’t want to steal from their bosses ("every worker at Swanky Bubbles is loyal to the owners, truly good guys"), Hill was in the kitchen trying to figure how to rearrange menu items, like an Asian-inspired tempura banana accented with homemade peanut brittle. Within hours, Taffer retrained staff, conducted a series of stress tests on how the employees take to new rules (carry tastiest dishes at waist height so patrons can better see and smell them) and figure out how new menu items work. He banned everyone from the restaurant for more than 24 hours to accomplish his goal, then organized a big surprise reveal (above).
By Saturday, when I showed up after 9 p.m. Taffer had re-named and re-branded the place as Sheer. Taffer said on Thursday that the place's biggest clientele was largely women — why not pump it up with something sultry that reminds them of lingerie? The clunky bar top was removed and replaced with a slick black one. The walls are now chocolate brown and look great with red lighting. Taffer’s job is done.
Stay tuned for local television listings to see when Spike TV will air both Philly episodes of Bar Rescue.
Photos: Scott D. Weiner
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