Jon Taffer - 10 Lessons

The expert hospitality consultant and host of “Bar Rescue” takes THR’s Taste Test.

“The whole point of a bar is, I look in your eyes, you look in my eyes, we’ve never met each other before, we talk, we get to know each other, have a drink together, and the great end of that story is we get married someday,” says Jon Taffer, a hospitality veteran and host of Spike TV’s Bar Rescue, which resurrects failing bars and clubs. “Most people who get into the business are social animals by nature, but do they have the financial abilities to manage a business? A great bar owner has both.”
Current Fixation
“Right now, I’m into a drink called The Godfather. It’s typically a scotch on the rocks with Amaretto in it, and the normal ratio would be an ounce and a half of scotch to half an ounce of Amaretto. I usually pour a scotch on the rocks – it might be a Johnnie Walker Black or a Ballantine’s 18 scotch, and I’ll just put a few drops of Amaretto on the top, which would make it a dry Godfather, and it’s got a wonderful flavor. It’s a little nutty; it brings out the smoke in the scotch. And if you drink a Vodka and Amaretto, it would be a Godmother. The first time I had Godfathers was in my young twenties, and then I stopped – I’ve been drinking other things. About five years ago, I circled back to it, and it’s been my go-to drink for the past five years. I think life takes circles sometimes.”
Known for Mixing
“I love to mix juice drinks, particularly rum juice drinks. I have a full bar in my house, and I have an extremely close relationship with Diageo, so they’re the sponsor of Bar Rescue. They’ll send me cases and cases of booze, but – you’re gonna laugh – there’s a line of flavored vodkas called Smirnoff Confectionary Brands with ice cake, fluffed marshmallow, root beer float. It’s a blast because you mix all these flavors, you’re like a mad scientist mixing whipped cream and root beer and iced cake with chocolate liqueur and raspberry. Some people think I’m a purist and I should turn my nose up at those things, but anything that makes an alcohol more fun to play with is great.”
Destination Drink Spot
“My destination drink spot is absolutely clear to me. It’s extremely expensive, and I go there anyway because it’s so special. Most people would go to a place like this for special occasions; to me, going there is a special occasion, and I’ll do it often. It’s Ten Pound in the Montage Hotel in Beverly Hills; the logo is £10, as in 10 pounds in England. There’s no sign – you enter through a back door, and you have to make arrangements to go there. It’s one of the finest scotch bars in the world, if not the best scotch bar in the world. When you go to that bar, the mixologist comes to your table and shares with you what fresh juices and special products they have. Then he goes back to the bar and based on the conversation he has with you, he loads up his cart, comes back to your table, and prepares cocktails for you tableside with the finest scotch and ingredients in the world. There are scotches at Ten Pound that are $65,000 per drink, all the way down to about $160. The ice cube that’s in your cocktail is made from the same water that is used in the distillery to make your scotch, so it has a mineral content identical to the water in your scotch; as the ice melts, it doesn’t change the flavor of the scotch. You’ll also be drinking out of $150 cut crystal glassware, and the flavors, fruits, juices, everything is made in-house and is very special. Every single element of the product, presentation and drinks in this bar make it unquestionably the finest bar in the America, and most likely the finest bar in the world. Anybody who wants to see what it’s like to experience the world’s best bar, go to Ten Pound.”
Go-To Bar
“These days, it’s Craig’s in Beverly Hills. I’ve known Craig for almost 30 years – I remember him when he was a busboy at Dan Tana’s. It’s a great bar scene. You can go casually or dressed up, and it’s the scene that a bar should be in Hollywood.”
Adventurous Sip
“They say when you drink a Green Lizard, the girl sitting next to you gets much prettier by the minute. It comes in a shot glass filled with 151-proof rum and green chartreuse, which is 110-proof. Green chartreuse is famous for its aphrodisiac qualities, so it’s one of those spirits that supposedly raises body temperature a little bit, makes your genitals tingle, and makes you more likely to engage in physical activities. It’s a remarkable cocktail because when I used to own a bunch of bars, we would make 10 or 20 Green Lizards, walk them down and give them to people at the bar. So help me god, 45 minutes later, the bar was empty because everybody left with each other. The son of a gun worked! It’s the strangest, most vile-tasting drink I’ve ever had, but it’s actually effective.”
Simply Won’t Drink
“In my business, I love to taste things. However, when I was in high school once, I drank a fifth of gin, and I spent the balance of that evening in a primal position, heaving for a good five or six hours straight. That happened to me when I was 16 or 17, but to this day, I can’t even smell gin, let alone drink it. I do not have the capacity to drink gin because of that one time when I abused it as a child. I’ve never abused an alcohol ever since. It taught me a powerful lesson, to tell you the truth.”
Favorite Snack
“Considering I’m in the middle of shooting Bar Rescue, and the research I’ve been completing lately, I’ll share something with you: 43 percent of men would rather have a piece of bacon than sex. That’s an actual statistic! 20 percent of the men of America say they cannot live without bacon, and bacon is the seventh most popular scent for all of men in America. You give a guy a piece of bacon, he’s generally a happy guy. So we’ve been working on Bar Rescue with candied bacons, flavored bacons, all sorts of bacon to create a whole series of bacon-based bar foods, like warm bacon to dip in crown royal maple sauce. More traditionally, the best bar snacks are the ones that make you thirsty – popcorns. Probably our most successful is when we do kettle popcorn, drop a little jalapeno seasoning in it so it’s spiced up, and pass that around the bar. People eat it like crazy, and you can’t have a couple bites and not order another drink.”
Preferred Company
“If I were to sit with someone and have a drink, of course my preferred company is my wife. But that aside for a moment, I go out with people who own bars and nightclubs, in the liquor business and in the beer business. And there’s no question – if you want to have a good time, go out with a beer guy. Beer guys drink all day, they never stop, they’re encouraged to drink all the time. They’re really into having fun – they go to concerts and sports because those are supported by beer. These guys not only drink all night, but they have tickets to every event in town. My suggestion, go for the beer guy! And I’m referring to someone from Anheuser-Busch or Miller.”
Pet Peeve
“When bartenders pick up the glass by the rim – this guy’s hands have been god knows where tonight, he probably wiped his hands on the butt of his pants, and rather than picking up your cocktail glass from the bottom, he picks it up on the top, so his fingers are all where you’re about to drink. I have done bacteria tests on bartenders’ hands before, so I know what’s going on there, so that’s really disgusting to me. But my ultimate pet peeve in a bar – when I tell you this, some people are not gonna want to go to bars after this –  is that every bar that has a cutting board behind it where they cut fruit doesn’t go through dishwashing machines. They rinse it and use it again and again. The board gets grooves in it, they fill with the sugars and fruit that they cut, and within two weeks, you have E. coli colonies growing in these grooves. And those garnishes that sit in those trays at the bar – they refill it and refill it, but they never empty it and run it through the dishwasher. Those limes could’ve been there for weeks.”
Big Wish
“It’s probably not going to be as exciting as you think, but I gotta say this. What I want for the bar business is what the bar business deserves. The founder of our country, George Washington, was our first distiller – he distilled bourbon and sold about $10,000 a year. The second public building in America was a bar; the first was a church. America’s state borders were determined in bars, our bill of independence was originally in bars. Bars are the fiber of America – we’re one of the largest employers – and this industry is under assault from legislators who are trying to destroy it. Drunk driving has gone down hugely in America; the culprit of auto accidents these days is eating in cars, texting, distractions – far more than liquor. Pretty soon, there’s gonna be a censor in every car in America, and if you have a drink and a half at a restaurant at dinner, you’re not gonna be able to drive home.
“What has happened is ‘drink responsibly’ has become ‘don’t drink’ – when people are scared to have one drink with dinner at a restaurant, that will destroy the entire industry. It’s going to happen in the next few years. So I suggest that people who like the bar business should voice their protection of it, because it’s going to be dying. I wish Bar Rescue would do that – right now, there are about 200 pieces of legislation in Washington, each one designed to regulate it or tax it. It’s already one of the highest taxed products in the world, and they’re gonna regulate it to the level that the industry is not going to be able to survive. My dream would be that the bar business would be left alone to operate responsibly, as it typically does, and continue to play an important part in communities.”
Embarrassing Experience
“I’m not sure it’s a story you’re going to want to repeat, but I’m going to give it a try anyway. One of my first bartending gigs was on Santa Monica Boulevard, at Doug Weston’s Troubadour, a very famous live music venue. In those days, the bathrooms were in the back of the place, so if the bartender had to use the restroom, he had to run all the way to the back of the club and stand in line, and wouldn’t be back behind the bar for half an hour. So back then, what the bartenders used to do was take the glass bottles that the orange juice came in, run into the closet and pee into the bottle, and leave the bottle of pee inside the closet. When I ran the place, one night my bartender was sick, and I’m behind the bar and had to get a bottle of wine. I run in and slam the door behind me, and the bottle falls off the top shelf, hits the ground, breaks and sprays up all over me, dripping from my chin, and it was the urine of the other bartender. That was one of the most embarrassing moments of my life.”
Guilty Pleasure
“I’m not a big drinker because I’m in the bar business, so I can’t get drunk every day. But when I really want to get drunk – I’m the kind of guy that I don’t love the taste of liquor, so I’m gonna go out and take a bunch of shots. For me, the shot of choice is tequila. I don’t sip tequila. If I pull out Don Julio, I pull out a shot glass, and I’m gonna be drunk in a little while. Tequila isn’t about drinking; it’s about shooting.”
Last Drink
“My last drink would be a Chambord, a blackberry liqueur, on the rocks or on top of a little ice cream, milk and soda water. But in a post-apocalyptic world, I’m drinking it right out of the bottle!”
Bar Rescue airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on Spike TV, with a special Hurricane Sandy special on Oct. 27.
Written by: Ashley Lee, The Hollywood Reporter