The comedy club Stand-Up, Scottsdale! looked much different just a week ago.
The exterior was a drab gray with a hand-painted sign. The outdated interior featured chrome furnishings, red zebra-print booths and mustard-yellow chairs. The food and beverage menus were so-so, and the staff couldn’t keep up with the hectic comedy-night crowds.
But within five whirlwind days, the 5,500-square-foot club received a sleek look, upscale menus and a new attitude on service — courtesy of the reality-TV show “Bar Rescue.”
The exterior now is dark red, and an eye-catching marquee was installed. The furniture was replaced with sleeker espresso-colored wooden tables and chairs. Weathered-wood accents now adorn the wall behind the main stage and the front of the main bar. The smaller adjoining lounge got a similar treatment with modern furnishings.
The staff was retrained by industry experts. New food and cocktail menus were introduced, and the kitchen got an update.
For any bar owner, it would seem an impossible task. But after a plea from club owner Howard Hughes to Spike TV’s “Bar Rescue,” Stand-Up, Scottsdale! got a second chance.
The show follows no-nonsense bar-industry expert Jon Taffer on his mission to revitalize money-losing bars and clubs across the country. Hughes, a professional comedian who’s a fan of “Bar Rescue,” realized he was in over his head when he took over the space from Tom Anderson in March .
“I don’t think anything was unknown; it’s just when you don’t have a) the funds, or b) the know-how to implement those things, even though you know what they are, you tend to get into a stagnant area,” Hughes said. “We were gripped with the fear of knowing that we weren’t making it each month. Some months we did, and we’d lose that the next month.”
The club has a long history in the Scottsdale nightlife scene. If opened more than 30 years ago as Anderson’s Fifth Estate, and it regularly featured comedians, including a budding David Spade. It later became a goth and rock club, and in 2007, it switched to the gay club Forbidden. In 2011, Anderson changed the concept again to Stand-Up, Scottsdale!, bringing in Hughes to run the weekend comedy shows.
Once Hughes took over, using money from investors who also were fans of the club, he started losing $3,000 to $7,000 a month. The situation proved even more difficult because it became personal: Hughes’ sister, Shannon Weissinger, and niece, Madison Weissinger, are club employees.
Taffer, after observing how the club was run, said Stand-Up, Scottsdale! was not up to par for the upscale crowd that frequents downtown Scottsdale, and the staff gave “terrible service.” It was not addressing the customers or the comedians who performed there, he said.
“Thirty-eight percent of people in this town are in the hospitality business; they love to drink, they love to go out, so to me, Stand-Up, Scottsdale! had all the potential in the world but it wasn’t achieving it,” Taffer said. “Scottsdale is a great market, and the club was so bad.”
So the “Bar Rescue” cast and crew of more than 50 worked 12-hour days to whip it into shape. Their trailers, canopy tents, generators, film equipment and floodlights took over the parking lot and a dirt lot next to the club on Feb. 4.
They brought in expert mixologist Franky Marshall to teach the staff how to make new drinks that play off the Scottsdale comedy theme with such names as the Opener, Ketel Crack-Up and the ScotchDale. All the drinks are higher end but easy to make quickly.
“This is not a bar on the South Side of Chicago, this is Scottsdale,” Taffer told the staff. “We use all premium-brand liquors, not armpit whiskey.”
The menu now features simple bar foods, such as chicken tenders, mac-and-cheese bites and mozzarella sticks, that the kitchen can execute quickly. Comedy expert Gianluca Rizzo taught the staff how a successful comedy club should run.
The staff was asked not to come by the club for the 36 hours of renovation. The crew went to work repainting the club, adding sleek dark-wood elements, new furniture and funky cartoonlike sketches of comedians on the walls. Another major change was knocking out booth space in the back of the main room and adding a large high-end green room for performers.
The primary staff, including Hughes and the Weissingers, lined up Thursday night for the reveal of the new club. Wearing blindfolds with their backs turned to the club, the staff had to react to seeing the club for the first time over the course of multiple takes. A large group of club customers and frequent performers, invited for the re-opening that night, watched the filming from a distance.
“This is good for the comedy business here in the Valley, and any exposure is a great thing,” said Dave Schnier, a frequent performer at Stand-Up, Scottsdale! “Howard did a good job with what he had to work with here, and now it’ll be even better.”
The filming wasn’t easy for staff members. Taffer is notorious for being a tough critic, often yelling at owners and staffers to drive home the urgency of the situation.
“They do it in a great way that, by the time it hits you, you’re not ready for it, even though you’re preparing for it,” Hughes said. “You know, because you’re busy doing other things and you’re not expecting it. It’s definitely a shock.”
On the fifth day, while the TV crew was packing up and the bar staff frantically cleaned to open in time for a busy Friday night, Hughes was noticeably exhausted, running on only three hours of sleep after the grand reopening. Hughes has plans to make some more changes down the line, but he looks at the experience positively.
“It really was a free-for-all here, and I wasn’t really managing anything,” Hughes said. “I wasn’t really taking an active role in the day-to-day operations. So now, through the show, that’s definitely one of the changes that’s happening.”
The Stand-Up, Scottsdale! episode of “Bar Rescue” is expected to air in late March or early April.
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