The story was corrected on July 24, 2012. An explanation follows the story.
Tracy Rebelo’s fortunes have changed since a reality TV show came in February to turn her Piratz Tavern upside down.
The tale of her once-failing pirate-themed Silver Spring bar and its mutiny against the “Corporate Bar & Grill” makeover introduced by “Bar Rescue” host Jon Taffer has attracted new customers. Once thousands of dollars in debt and living in her parents’ basement, Rebelo has enough money to rent her own house with her husband Juciano and her 17-year-old daughter.
She added three employees and will soon introduce a new chef. She said her tight-knit crew of waiters and bartenders, even the one who quit during filming in a profanity-filled tirade against Taffer, share a renewed sense of pride in their quirky Georgia Avenue hangout.
But the matter of seeing the actual “Bar Rescue” episode, set to air Aug. 5 on Spike TV, remained until last week. The Piratz Tavern staff gathered in Rebelo’s living room to watch Taffer and his cast of experts berate their pirate-loving ways and bar management skills in 40 minutes of exaggerated and manicured reality TV.
“It’s kind of hard to watch,” said Zoe Morgado, Rebelo’s daughter.
If it was difficult for the others, they didn’t show it.
Alan Dunton, pirate name Archer, got cheers and back slaps during a segment in which he unceremoniously told Taffer he wouldn’t work for him, then stormed off into the night as cameras followed.
“Rouge,” a bartender, got even louder applause when her roughly five-second sound clip made the show. She made it clear, with a well-placed curse word, that Taffer should find another bar to apply his shirt-and-tie power lunch concept.
Finally, there was Juciano, at that point the bar’s chef. Taffer and show producers harped on his lack of kitchen experience with hidden cameras and undercover customers who hated his food. As the show recalled his every bleep-intensive outburst, the pirates laughed and threw a few more profanities Taffer’s way.
“This terrible pirate idea has done fine by us before and is doing very well for us since,” Rebelo said. “The joke’s on him. It’s not on us. It’s proven to be a success.”
In reality, the pirate idea wasn’t working. Rebelo admitted as much after her staff decided to tear down Taffer’s renovations and repaint the entire bar in March.
The show’s producers came to her, but she needed the help. Rebelo hadn’t drawn a paycheck in years.
But the changes Rebelo hoped for — a new bar at the front of the property and a fresh menu — turned into a complete upheaval of all the bar was about. The climactic moment of the episode came when Taffer unveiled the new Corporate Bar & Grill sign, a silhouette of a man dressed in a suit and tie. The staff gasped. Juciano cursed, again.
A few weeks later, the pirates filmed themselves burning the sign in a YouTube video titled “Piratz Revenge.”
“I don’t believe we have to throw the baby out with the bath water,” Rebelo told Taffer during the show. “You’re asking me to throw away everything that’s in here.”
“Businesses don’t have souls,” Taffer yelled back. “Businesses are profit centers.”
Beyond the reality TV show cliches, the episode’s central conflict came out in that exchange. Taffer was focused on the bottom line. He brought in a hospitality expert to improve the waiters’ efficiency and customer service skills. After the show ended, the pirates said they were doing just fine all along.
“Look, I know I am a mediocre server,” said waiter Anthony Dyess, known as Blackjack. “But you can’t have a good time at a place if the staff isn’t having a good time.”
As her staff re-watched the episode, reviewing every detail, Rebelo said she hopes the show does well despite her fallout with Taffer. The controversy has helped spike business and provided validation of the bar’s pirate act, at least so far.
“We rebuilt it,” Rebelo said. “We made it better.”
firstname.lastname@example.orgCorrection: An earlier version of the story misspelled Alan Dunton’s name. It also incorrectly stated that employees had not been paid in weeks; this occurred during the bar’s first year of operation.