On Location with "Bar Rescue:" Swanky Bubbles in PhiladelphiaMay 23, 2011 By: Donna Hood Crecca
Two things invaluable to any bar owner are the all-important "buzz" and the ability to keep it fresh — from the décor to the drinks to the food. When John Frankowski and Ryan Dorsey heard about “Bar Rescue,” they saw their opportunity to score some buzz as well as a makeover for their 11-year-old bar. Once a hot spot on Philly’s Front Street, Swanky Bubbles definitely had run its course; Frankowski openly admitted the Champagne concept was passé and the business was stymied. I visited the day Jon Taffer and the Spike TV team were there to film an episode of “Bar Rescue,” and with one foot barely in the door, it was evident: This place needed help.
From the ratty carpet to the tattered seating upholstery, the wear and tear of more than a decade was noticeable. One banquet had a pattern of Chinese letters on it, which looked odd opposite an exposed brick wall. But what really stood out as a problem was the bar. Designed by an artist, it was a curvy, swooping wooden structure, with oddly sized backbar shelves in what resembled cave openings, except that the framing resembled blue waves… It’s difficult to describe, but you can check it out here. Feeling a bit like I fell down the rabbit hole, I checked out the bar setup and was astounded. The distance from the bar itself to the backbar was so narrow, there was no room for necessary undercounter setup and no way two bartenders could possibly pass one another. So while the décor definitely was out of touch, the bar absolutely was not functional. In a word, the whole place was bizarre. And don’t get me started on the menu… It’s massive and ran the gamut from sushi to mac ‘n' cheese.
Enter Taffer. With top Chef Brian Hill and renown mixologist Elayne Duke of the Diageo Reserve team, he was dissecting the business — tossing the existing food menu of so-so sushi and assorted other odd items, revamping the drink menu and training the bar staff. They were on a crash program, and the cameras were rolling. The Spike folks were scurrying around because a remodeling crew was scheduled to arrive at midnight.
Frankowski and Dorsey were milling about, giving interviews to the media and surveying the training. At one point Dorsey jumped behind the bar to try his hand at mixing one of the cocktails – apparently the first time he’d been back there in a few years. And while he came out smiling, the “Rescue” process hasn’t been all fun and games. In fact, at times, it had to be downright painful. Trust me, Taffer isn’t one to mince words (he's president of the Nightclub & Bar Media Group), and part of the process involves him taking full control of the bar so he can fix it and telling the owners exactly what they're doing wrong.
While Frankowski said it was tough but exciting, his partner Dorsey admitted to being, “Oh, a little stressed,” to which Frankowski quipped, “You gotta drink the Kool-Aid, man. You gotta believe that it can be turned around and this unbelievable crash course will mean this space is again a premier spot in Philly.”
I can’t give away much more than that, but tune into Spike TV this summer to see how the rescue panned out, and check out nightclub.com for exclusive coverage of each episode. For me, I’m really curious as to what became of that strange bar…
Watch for the premier of “Bar Rescue” on Spike TV this summer and for exclusive coverage of every episode on nightclub.com.