Over four seasons of hosting Spike TV’s “Bar Rescue,” Jon Taffer has seen a lot of things, including someone riding a horse into a bar. He’s even gotten into some tussles with angry bar owners.
But beyond the makings of great TV, Taffer has seen some genuine horror stories in his long career in the bar business.
Taffer landed his first bar management job in 1978 and worked his way through America’s bar and nightlife industry. He was one of the first inductees into the Nightclub Hall of Fame, is president of the Nightclub & Bar Media Group, and has worked with more than 800 businesses in his career.
He tells Business Insider that there is unfortunately an “ugly side” to the bar and club business, and he’s seen plenty of it.
Here are Taffer’s top three worst bar horror stories:
The unfortunate football fan
Taffer says that the worst bar or club incidents involve innocent victims. He remembers a particular moment many years ago when he was running a nightclub in Los Angeles and a guy “got hurt through the silliest of things.”
The Washington Redskins professional football team had just lost a game that would have put them in the playoffs, and a passionate fan (or someone who bet a good chunk of change) decided to announce his anger as he walked into the venue.
Taffer remembers him screaming, “Those f—ing Redskins!”
And like the punchline to a bad joke, there happened to be a group of Native American patrons within earshot who, thinking his remark was a racist barb aimed at them, decided to beat him up pretty badly.
Taffer remembers the Skins fan as “the most inoffensive, politically correct” man he could have imagined, who just happened to wind up in a jam because of bad luck.
The Peeping Tom
Taffer doesn’t share too many details about a time he had to deal with an ambitious pervert, but he shares enough.
“I once had somebody try to get into a ladies’ room,” Taffer says.
“He climbs up into the ceiling and the entire drop ceiling of the ladies’ room crashed with him on the floor. And he’s lying on the floor in the middle of the ladies’ room and the girls are just kicking the hell out of him.”
The opening night tragedy
It’s not hard for Taffer to pick the worst thing he’s ever seen happen in one of his establishments, since an accident resulted in someone’s death.
One of the most successful venues Taffer ever ran was a club called Pulsations in Concord, Pennsylvania. It featured 11 bars, 10 levels, top-level entertainment, and had more than 2,000 patrons on weekend nights for much of the ’80s, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
It almost didn’t make it through its first night.
“On opening night, a light fixture fell off the ceiling and somebody got killed,” Taffer says. “Nobody could’ve seen it coming, but it did happen.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the fixture struck and killed Margaret Jones, 37, and injured five others. The club settled out of court with the Jones family in 1987.
How bar owners recover from disasters
Taffer says that Pulsations went on to thrive for 13 years, bringing in “obscene” revenues, and that disasters don’t necessarily mean the end of the business.
The most important thing owners can do is to make customers feel like they will be safe if they return, he says. In the case of Pulsations, inspectors flooded the club in the week after the light fixture tragedy, which he says helped reassure many people.
“The fact of the matter is that the most important responsibility a bar owner has is public safety and the safety of the people in it,” Taffer says. “Some operators seem to forget that.”
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