Spike TV show gives Silver Spring’s Piratz Tavern a makeover

February 22, 2012

For Piratz Tavern owners Tracy and Juciano Rebelo, it was the end of an era last Thursday as they tore down the skeletons and pirate swords that had bedecked their bar for five years.

These buccaneer business owners, however, did not let the bar go without a few yo-ho-ho-hos and a bottle of rum, Tracy said.

“There were a lot of sad pirates here the other night,” she said. “And there was a lot of drinking, too.”

Piratz Tavern in Silver Spring headed to Davy Jones’s locker, as they say, this week after the Spike TV reality show “Bar Rescue” chose the bar for one of its Season Two episodes.

The show is hosted by nightlife expert Jon Taffer. He and his team of experts — including mixologists, a chef and a restaurateur — work to change struggling bars from failing business ventures to successful moneymakers.

Taffer transformed the bar from a pirate treasure island into a corporate lunch hot spot in 36 hours.

The bar reopened the night of Feb. 18 as Corporate Bar and Grill with a menu serving gourmet burgers, tuna steaks and shrimp ceviche. Taffer said he hopes the bar’s new focus will create a place for executives to go to lunch and happy hour, a niche he said did not exist in Silver Spring previously.

“There is no place to come to get a great executive burger,” Taffer said.

The show chose Piratz Tavern from a pool of 260 applicants, Taffer said. Taffer changed the menu, look, drinks, service practices and business model at Piratz.

“This is a place where [staff] comes to play pirate every day,” Taffer said. “It’s like kids in a sandbox.”

The Silver Spring bar was known for its staff dressed in full pirate garb and its signature drink: grog, a brown mixture of undetermined alcohols.

“It’s to the point of delusion,” said Taffer, who said he has launched about 600 restaurants. “[At other places,] I have dealt with bad food, bad management, rats, mice. This is the most bizarre restaurant and bar I have ever been to.”

Taffer, however, was headed for turbulent tides with some staff members who were not excited about the change.

Waitress “Poppet” Lynn, who declined to give her first name, drives an hour from Glen Burnie specifically to work at a pirate bar, she said.

“I am not happy,” Lynn said. “I like the way the bar was before.”

Tracy Rebelo said the bar has been struggling since it opened five years ago. She said its location at Georgia Avenue and Bonifant Street had not been able to target the foot traffic that bars on Ellsworth Drive enjoy.

The pirate bar was Tracy’s dream. She said she wanted to create a place where people could come to escape real life.

“Everyone wants to be a pirate,” Tracy said. “What if, whenever you felt like it, you could come to a place to not feel uncomfortable, and when you leave, you go back to reality?”

Her fantasy, however, did not coincide with the realities of the business world, and the bar had been struggling to make money.

Taffer said Tracy and her husband lost their home and had to move into her parents’ basement.

“It’s literally walked [Tracy] off a plank,” Taffer said.

Taffer said he and the show studied Silver Spring’s restaurant market, finding that most sales are made before late-night hours. They also thought there was no place to eat a high-end lunch. Taffer planned to make Piratz a place for a classy lunch that would tap into the market of people spending money at noon and in the early evening.

“This will be a great place for white-collar people to come to downtown,” Taffer said.

The “Bar Rescue” staff arrived in Silver Spring last Wednesday, filming scenes with Taffer tasting the food and experiencing the tavern in all its scallywag splendor.

The experts trained owners and staff in mixology, food and hospitality the rest of the week.

Mixologist Elayne Duke taught three Piratz staff members to make new drinks last Thursday, showing them citrus slicing techniques and new cocktail recipes full of high-end liquors and fresh fruit juices.

A sticker reading “Got grog?” was plastered on the refrigerator door nearby; patches in the red and wood-panel walls had been ripped bare.

Three staff members stood with their arms resting on the bar as Duke quizzed them.

“This is a citrus drink, so do I put ice in first or last?” Duke asked.

“Last,” the staff answered.

In the kitchen, chef Brian Hill showed kitchen staff members to make meatballs and shrimp ceviche. A string of plastic bones hung over the door.

Juciano was the cook at Piratz. The menu had items such as a salad called “Treasure Island Booty” and turkey legs. Flavors ranged from Thai to Jamaican to African. A favorite was a sausage in whiskey that staff would light on fire.

“His food is the worst food I have ever tasted in my life,” Taffer said.

Tracy was wary of losing the pirate theme.

“We are a family,” Tracy said. “We are hoping we end up being in the same kind of environment, and this puts us in the right direction.”

The “Bar Rescue” episode featuring Piratz Tavern will air sometime in late spring or early summer on Spike TV, Taffer said.

Once Taffer and his staff members move on to resuscitate the next bar, it will be up to the Piratz staff to continue what they’ve learned, Taffer said.

“It’s like a sinking ship,” Taffer said. “I can paint it. I can make it look beautiful, but if you want to run it into a reef, I can’t stop you.”

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