Catching up with Jon Taffer, whose ‘Bar Rescue’ comes to Atlanta for latest season

Jon Taffer, who runs Alpharetta's Taffer's Tavern, hosts "Bar Rescue," back for a new season Sunday, March 20, 2022 focused on saving Gilly's Sports Bar in Dunwoody. RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

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Jon Taffer, who runs Alpharetta's Taffer's Tavern, hosts "Bar Rescue," back for a new season Sunday, March 20, 2022 focused on saving Gilly's Sports Bar in Dunwoody. RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

The show returns March 20 on the Paramount cable network

Jon Taffer, best known for his show “Bar Rescue” on Paramount, already spends plenty of time in Atlanta since he opened Taffer’s Tavern in Alpharetta in 2020.

So it also made sense to try to rescue some of his metro Atlanta neighbors for his TV show. For three weeks last fall, he was able to work with three bars in the area including 28-year-old Gilly’s Sports Bar in Dunwoody.

That episode airs at 10 p.m. Sunday on the Paramount Network (also home to “Yellowstone.”)

Taffer, in a recent interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution while shooting “Bar Rescue” in Orlando, declined to give away any details about what happened to Gilly’s.

UPDATE: Willie Chandler, the owner of Gilly’s, is portrayed as unmotivated and allows his staff to do whatever he wants. On day one, Taffer comes in and is ignored for several minutes before he walks into the kitchen and sees how gross it is. Old, uncovered wings. Crap in nooks and crannies. Dirty stovetops. “Look at this [expletive] place!” he screams. “Fix it or get the [expletive] out of here!” Willie looks comatose. He is in debt of $275,000 for a reason and is on the verge of closing.

Chandler has a long history in hospitality and knows the economics of a bar but has long lost his spark. So the kitchen does get cleaned up. During the stress test, with a bar full of customers, the staff got overwhelmed. It was a mess and Chandler failed to lead.

Taffer is able to use his own Taffer’s Tavern as his training location for bar staff. A mixologist shows them a special Bloody Mary. Taffer gives the location a makeover, a new POS system and a new name; Stadium Club. Taffer gives Chandler a hug. It seems like a happy ending though Chandler himself was unsure if he wanted to stay or sell the place and go back to a 9-to-5 job. (I’m going to have to go over to the bar and see what happened because the place is now called The Spot and there is no reference to “Bar Rescue” on its website. Chandler did not keep the name Taffer chose.)

The pandemic only stopped “Bar Rescue” shooting for a short time. He was able to do fresh episodes during the heart of the pandemic around his home in Las Vegas. But he said he felt like he wasn’t quite his in-your-face self during those episodes.

“COVID was a valid excuse” in 2020 and 2021, he said. “So I was mellower.”

But Taffer said he was able to be more like himself shooting episodes the past few months in Florida and Georgia, where shutdowns were limited and restaurants and bars bounced back more quickly than in other parts of the country.

“I can be aggressive again pushing people,” Taffer said. “Revenues are up in the industry so they have to seize it. This is the time to step up and do well.”

And he knows the metro Atlanta market especially well because of Taffer’s Tavern, making it even harder for Atlanta owners to snow him with excuses.

Each episode is structured in real time, he said. Day one is reconnaissance to see what the problems are. Day two is a “stress test” where he fills the bar with customers to see how the staff and owners deal with a crowd. He does a renovation on day three and reveals the changes on day four. It’s an insanely tight schedule.

He said he has a crew of about 57 people. He constructs a tent area where shelving and back bars are built so they can be quickly installed on day three. “We do the remodeling in 36 hours,” he said.

Taffer’s goal in each episode is to get the owner to look in the mirror and admit that they made mistakes that led to the crisis and not focus on external factors. “You can only change when you accept your own failings,” he said.

Taffer has found his niche with “Bar Rescue,” shooting 220 episodes over 11 years. It has become a bit of a blur.

“I think there are some owners who could walk by me and I might not recognize them,” he said.

He said years ago, he was talking to his friend Kelsey Grammer and wondered how he could play Frasier Crane for so long. But now he has found his own long-lasting brand in “Bar Rescue.”

Still, he said he’s not bored at all. “Every time I look into an owner’s eyes, it’s all new,” he said. “It’s this human thing between me and that owner. No past episode matters.”

As for Taffer’s, he said business is tracking 22% ahead of 2021. “Alpharetta and that town square is great,” he said.

He recently added a Southern staple on the menu: chicken and waffles: “We’ve been playing with this special brown butter whiskey sauce for it. We’ve been having fun with that.”


WHERE TO WATCH

“Bar Rescue,” 10 p.m. Sundays on Paramount