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Spike TV’s ‘Bar Rescue’ Transforms Philadelphia’s Swanky Bubbles: Pt. 1


What do you get when you combine an old bar needing a new concept, a complete makeover, and an experienced host to make it all happen?  Spike TV’s new series “Bar Rescue.”  

Think “Kitchen Nightmares” without all the obscenities and British accents. The series found its way to Philly to help out Swanky Bubbles, a small eatery with a huge menu and an over-the-top décor concept that had fallen on hard times. Spike TV's 'Bar Rescue' host Jon Taffer  and celebrity expert chef Brian Hill.

Luckily, Philly2Philly was there to witness the behind-the-scenes action and talk to some of the people involved, including host Jon Taffer  and celebrity expert chef Brian Hill. 

According to Taffer, an authority on restaurant operations who opened 'Pulsations' in Philly in the 80s, the series has been in the works for several years. It underwent a bunch of name and format changes before becoming “Bar Rescue,” a show that takes ailing bars and turns them into fresh, new moneymakers.

“I never meet these people beforehand.  I’ve never seen these bars beforehand.  Not one word of this show is scripted.  It is absolutely authentic,” says Taffer.  

“When I show up after we cast them, and the network does all of the casting, not me, they will now drop me in the worst possible disasters across America. Desperate owners in desperate situations, literally going out of business in days, if not weeks.”

Check out all of the photos of Swanky Bubbles' pre-makeover to the right

But, “Bar Rescue” aims to do whatever it takes to make it better. And the process isn’t easy, considering they’re cramming several months worth of work into just five days.


Taffer has a six-step process that he follows for transforming the bar. He starts with recon, then he takes control of the business from the owner(s), brings in various industry experts to work with the staff and retrain them, conducts a stress test to see how the staff does with the new rules, bans everyone from the restaurant for 36 hours while the transformation occurs, then reveals the new concept and look to the staff, owners, and eventually the public.Spike TV's 'Bar Rescue' is renovating Philadelphia's Swanky Bubbles.

Unfortunately Taffer couldn’t tell us what’s in store for Swanky Bubbles (that part is off limits until the reveal!). No worries. There was still plenty more for us to learn.

After talking to Taffer, we visited the editing trailer to see what goes on during filming. We also got the chance to be among the last people to see Swanky Bubbles’ current decor. It was not impressive. Just sayin’…

Then it was on to the kitchen to talk to Hill. When we entered the kitchen, he was in the middle of a mini crisis—trying to figure out how to plate an Asian-inspired dessert that would not only be eye-catching, but would also use the plates already on hand at the restaurant.  

While working on the dessert, Hill let us in on what he’s doing for the restaurant’s menu. Patrons can expect the faves they already know and love.  Celebrity Chef Brian Hill.

However, Hill worked his culinary magic and also added several new entrees and desserts to spice things up a bit.  I tried his homemade brittle. If it’s any indication of how the rest of his new recipes will taste, patrons are definitely in for a treat!

Oh, and Hill still hadn’t figured out the plating issues for his dessert by the time we left the kitchen. But, we’re sure it’ll be as awesome as he is!

So, how do owners John Frankowski and Ryan Dorsey feel about leaving the fate of their bar in the hands of strangers?

“It’s very exciting to be in the city of Philadelphia. To be selected to have this honor. It’s great when you have a guy like Jon Taffer, who is a nightclub/restaurant/bar guru spearheading it. It’s just nothing but a formula for success,” says Frankowski, a mainstay on the Philadelphia restaurant scene for years. Dorsey is one of the owners of Recess Lounge (125 South 2nd Street).

As I’ve already mentioned, the restaurant’s new look and concept is being kept a secret.  But, Philly2Philly will be there Saturday night to see what it looks like when doors reopen.  Feel free to stop by around 9ish to see for yourself what Taffer and his crew managed to do.  If not, you'll see it in July when the show airs!

Swanky Bubbles

10 South Front Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106
(215) 928-1200

Valerie Schirmer is a freelance writer/editor who has written about a wide variety of topics for newspapers, magazines, and websites.  She currently resides in South Jersey with her husband, daughter, and a crazy dachshund.

Contact Valerie at writerval@comcast.net

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Very special thanks to Shana Tepper at Spike TV.