Piratz Tavern opened Thursday with a corporate yard sale.
The Rolodex was $5. Faux motivational posters with men in suits and tongue-in-cheek sayings were $3. A blank business calendar in a frame was $2.
Tracy Rebelo wanted all of it gone. The items were either donated or paid for by “Bar Rescue,” a Spike TV reality show that in February came to Rebelo’s pirate-themed Silver Spring bar and in 36 hours transformed it into the Corporate Bar & Grill, something she wasn’t expecting and couldn’t live with.
“It was like a tornado,” Rebelo said. “They came in. They destroyed everything and then they left.”
The show, hosted by restaurant consultant Jon Taffer, provides failing bars with strategies and tips to turn business around. Taffer hated the grog-inspired menu and wait staff in full pirate garb that he said catered exclusively to a market that doesn’t exist.
“These people want to play pirate,” Taffer said by phone Wednesday from Las Vegas, where he was a keynote speaker at the Nightclub and Bar Convention and Trade Show. “A Facebook page with 200 people is not a pirate community. There is no pirate community. This isn’t St. Augustine, Florida. This is Silver Spring, Md.”
Taffer offered a new model, a power lunch spot that office workers at the nearby Discovery Channel headquarters and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would flock to for midday meals and happy hour specials.
Waiters would dress in sweater vests and offer gourmet burgers and cocktails introduced by one of Taffer’s expert mixologists.
Rebelo said he went too far.
“Corporate never occurred to us,” Rebelo said. “Nobody in their right mind would do that. People who want to leave their office don’t want to go to an office and drink.”
So on Thursday, Piratz Tavern was back. Rebelo and her staff — “One-Eyed Mike,” “Poppet,” and her husband and co-owner, Juciano, included — reopened on Saturday with the pirate décor back in place after weeks of renovating the extensive renovation work the show’s production crew had just done.
When Taffer’s staff contacted Rebelo about participating in the show, she said they discussed a revamped layout with a new beer tap near the front door. She needed the help. She and her husband haven’t made any money since opening the bar five years ago. When they began, Rebelo said they had trouble regularly paying staff.
She was expecting a sports bar, maybe some TVs and some kitchen advice.
What she got was a full-on makeover she claims was poorly executed by shoddy contractors and a “corporate” theme she thinks Taffer’s staff chose to make her and her pirate crew “look like a joke” for dramatic purposes.
“Bar Rescue” and Spike TV’s insurance company issued Rebelo a sum of money afterward, though she declined to say how much. Taffer reportedly said the renovation cost $250,000. Rebelo said it couldn’t have cost more than $40,000.
“I’m not trying to burn any bridges,” Rebelo said.
Taffer said Rebelo should have given his concept a full run. Rebelo never opened for lunch. Rebelo said an outpouring of customer comments in person and on Facebook made reverting to Piratz Tavern the only logical decision.
Criticism of the change from low-key hangout to uptight office space couldn’t be ignored, she said.
“I had to send an image to the marketplace that this place wasn’t pirates anymore. It was serious. I had to be extreme,” Taffer said. “Am I offended they destroyed all of the business logic and the marketing research I did? Absolutely.”
A graphic artist and friend of Rebelo painted an eye patch on the Corporate Bar & Grill logo, a faceless man in a suit, outside the bar. Rebelo said that, too, will eventually go.
The bar is struggling financially, Rebelo admitted. It’s why she chose to do “Bar Rescue,” in the first place. Rebelo and her husband live in her parents’ basement, a fact which she said Taffer badgered her about during the interview portion of the show’s taping.
Taffer said the show featuring Piratz Tavern will still air sometime in late spring or summer, probably as the episode’s main segment.
Rebelo might watch if it happens to be on and she’s not working at the bar. She sat down for an interview Thursday and avoided pirate puns, a go-to for TV news crews and reporters who covered the show’s taping in February.
Taffer wouldn’t go as quietly.
“Think of me as a shipbuilder. You bring me an old piece of crap ship,” he said. “I paint it. I fix it. I put in a motor. I give you a map. I send you out to sea. I can’t help you from hitting a reef.
“They sunk the damn ship.”