Not to be too blunt about this, but Couey was a pirate caught in Jon Taffer’s crosshairs. Taffer is the tough-love host of “Bar Rescue,” the Spike TV reality series that takes dying pubs and bars and attempts to reverse their fortunes. The program aims to save these moribund watering holes by modernizing their operations and ditching their dead weight, such as employees who view the workplace as their own private pirate ship.
“This is a place where [staff] comes to play pirate every day,” Taffer told a Gazette reporter last month when his crews hit Silver Spring to save Piratz from Davy Jones’s locker. “It’s like kids in a sandbox.”
Taffer’s solution — a temporary one as it would turn out — was to transform Piratz Tavern into the Corporate Bar and Grill, complete with a logo of a faceless, clean-cut businessman in a suit and tie. The menu, once a sprawling, multicultural affair that embraced pirate-themed dishes and Jamaican jerk chicken, was reduced to a trim, 12-item list of starters, salads, sides and sandwiches. A new menu of designer cocktails, none of them rum-based, incidentally, outnumbered the available entrees, six to three, all the better to capitalize on the large profit margins of mixed drinks.
The staff was stripped of its pirates’ scarves and wenches’ bodices and ordered to wear black pants, white shirts and sweater vests embroidered with the Corporate Bar and Grill logo. Likewise, the tavern’s Halloween-like ambiance of skeletons, Jolly Rogers and stuffed parrots was stripped down to a steel-gray-and-yellow environment, as enticing as an office cubicle. The walls were decorated with framed motivational posters, such as the one titled “Sacrifice,” in which a stern boss stares down at diners under the caption: “All we ask is that you give us your soul.”
It was the drab corporate world of Dilbert, not the high-flying Donald Trump version, and it didn’t sit well with either the old Piratz staff or its regular swashbuckling crowd, whose philosophy is to escape from the ordinary, not embrace it. On “While You Were (Out)” notepads placed on every Corporate Bar and Grill table, customers expressed their displeasure: “I hate the business theme,” one wrote. Added another: “You ruined our Piratz Tavern.” A number of regulars also started posting to a Facebook page, “The Soul of Piratz Tavern,” to express their outrage. One even coined a new “curse” word: “Taffer (v): 1) To screw things up so badly that you have the uncontrollable need to conduct a human sacrifice.”