GARNER — An episode of the Spike TV reality show “Bar Rescue” that airs Sunday will feature a Garner restaurant receiving a much-needed makeover.
The transformation of Character’s Quarters into MoonRunners Saloon took place in March. During the show’s same visit to the Triangle, they also made over a nightclub on Glenwood South in downtown Raleigh.
On “Bar Rescue,” host Jon Taffer, a bar owner and a bar and nightclub consultant, helps struggling bars through changes in menu, decor and rebranding. He brings a mixologist and chef to educate the bar employees on proper drink preparation, serving technique and recipe improvement. Taffer’s wife, Nicole, serves as the show’s “market recon specialist,” going undercover to sample the food and drink and talk to customers about their likes and dislikes of the establishment.
Though Taffer did little to the menu in Garner, he and his team gutted the old bar’s confusing theme, added specialty moonshine cocktails and made changes to the staff.
The new incarnation is centered around a prohibition motif. On one wall hangs a picture of an infamous moonshiner and native North Carolinian, the late Marvin “Popcorn” Sutton. In the corner are souvenir flasks and Mason jars with the restaurant’s logo – all for sale. And a moonshine cask sits behind the bar, with sneaky design features such as hidden compartments for dispensing liquor that give the restaurant a speakeasy feel.
The entire transformation took less than a week, and owner Charlie Alexander said things are looking up. The new and improved restaurant reopened March 29 to a crowd of nearly 400 people.
“We’ve seen steady increases in sales, we’ve seen lots of new faces, we’re getting good reviews,” he said. “It’s been positive.”
Alexander’s ultimate hope with the new theme and fresh publicity is to expand. He hinted at the possibility of opening a distillery soon.
“We’re also aging moonshine in our own casks,” he said in his New York accent. “So we’ve got the flavored moonshine, but that’s kindergarten. We’re working on our Ph.D. in moonshine.”
Passing the stress test
During his whirlwind visit, Taffer put the MoonRunners staff through a “stress test,” placing three waiters on the floor and two servers behind the bar to serve about 130 patrons. Only 75 glasses were available to them.
Helen, Alexander’s wife, was placed between the cooks’ line and servers, a hectic position she had never worked in before.
“What they did was take a weakness in me and make it a positive,” she said. “I’m cool with that; that was a great lesson. Now I know I can do that position in a pinch.”
General manager Guy Wavra, who is also Alexander’s stepson, said moonshine requires a very lengthy regulation process before he can serve it at the bar, which is why very few places in the United States serve it. He prides himself on creating novelty drinks that are unheard of elsewhere in the region.
Mourning for Character’s
The Alexanders still mourn the old theme though, dubbed by some on the Internet “worst bar theme ever.” At Character’s Quarters, the wait staff dressed as various characters from pop culture and sports. The pair came up with the theme themselves, they said, so it was tough to hear criticism of something they created.
A sneak peek of the episode, titled “Characters Assassination,” on the “Bar Rescue” website shows an argument between Wavra and his sister Alex, a waitress. Alex bursts into tears when Guy confronts her about her lack of training and skill when waiting tables. Taffer interrogates the family to get to the root of the problem.
“We haven’t seen the show,” Alexander said. “We’ll see it Sunday when the rest of the country sees it, which is pretty nerve-wracking.”
Despite the nerves, Alexander says he is optimistic about the episode.
“(Taffer) and ‘Bar Rescue’ left us in a really great place,” Alexander said. “And now it’s on us.”
The bar’s 15 minutes of fame comes at a cost, though, he said.
“The big question mark: ‘How goofy are they going to make us look?’”