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Published: Tuesday, 3/26/2013

Mutiny at pirates-themed pub justified

BY DANIEL NEMAN
BLADE FOOD EDITOR

I almost cheered when the guy dressed like a pirate called the big TV star a bleep-head.

I don't know what word was bleeped, but I have a couple of good ideas.

What started as just another confrontation in the hyped-up maelstrom of reality television turned into a surprisingly candid look at the battle between art and commerce, want and need, self-fulfillment and Mammon.

In the heart of Silver Spring, Md., is a bar called Piratz Tavern, which has a pirate theme. The servers dress with bandannas and cutlasses, the decorations tend toward skulls and crossbones, and at least one depiction of a pirate's skeleton stuck in the mouth of a crocodile is on the wall.

It is not the sort of bar you would expect to find in Silver Spring, right next to Washington, D.C., and home to an unholy number of law offices, financial institutions, lobbyists, and chain stores. It also has a  lovely residential section, though you wouldn't know that from watching the show Bar Rescue, which featured an episode on Piratz Tavern.

I'm afraid I'm late to the Bar Rescue phenomenon, but I happened to catch this episode in a rerun. The television show stars nightlife expert Jon Taffer, who is called in to use his expertise to help turn around bars that are failing. The bar owner, it should be noted, is the one who calls for his help.

In the case of Piratz Tavern, she immediately regretted making the call.

The owner had put $900,000 into the bar, and it was not paying off. According to the show, she, her husband, and their teenage child were all living together in her mother's basement.

Mr. Taffer came in and immediately decided a pirate-themed bar was a ridiculous idea in Silver Spring. If it had been in Florida., he said, it would have made more sense, but not in the middle of Maryland where there weren't any pirates.

Shows how little he knows. The Chesapeake Bay, just 35 miles away as the seagull flies, was home to a great deal of piracy for 200 years.

Even so, he had a point. Not many of the workaholic Yuppies who work in Silver Spring would have any interest in a pirate bar. So he tore down all the pirate decor, eliminated the costumes, and gave the restaurant an utterly generic makeover. Then he changed the name to the Corporate Bar and Grill and installed a sign featuring a faceless corporate silhouette.

One of the employees, dressed like a pirate complete with a Jack Sparrow beard, decided to quit. When Mr. Taffer yelled at him that he was leaving his family, the man responded, "No, I'm quitting because I'm being yelled at by a bleep-head."

Mr. Taffer yells a lot on these shows. With its combination of frequent yelling, tough love, and quick, sensible fixes to get the staffs back in working order, the show was clearly based on the popular Restaurant: Impossible show, starring Robert Irvine.

I've met Robert Irvine, and although he yells on his show he is in fact a quiet, thoughtful, witty, and sincere man. On the other hand, I suspect Mr. Taffer is a bit of a bleep-head.

The bar's owner was upset with his changes. She complained that he was casting aside all of the bar's soul, and he yelled, "Bars don't have souls. Bars are profit centers."

And that is the crux of the issue. Mr. Taffer, who claims to have been involved with owning, opening, or consulting with more than 800 bars in 35 years — that's nearly one new bar every two weeks — looks at bars only for the money that can be extracted from them. But some of us disagree. We think there can be more to business than just business. There can be a life to be lived there.

All the owner and employees of Piratz Tavern ever wanted to do was dress up and play pirates. They didn't care about making scads of money, they just wanted to have fun living out their pirate dreams.

A day or two after the cameras left, they painted an eye patch on the corporate silhouette, pulled it off the building, used it as target practice, and then set it aflame. As it burned, someone put a pair of crossbones in front of it.

Contact Daniel Neman at: dneman@theblade.com or 419-724-6155.


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