Spike TV's 'Bar Rescue' takes on Cotati's Tradewinds

A dated local cocktail lounge gets a facelift and a sharper focus, thanks to Spike TV.|

Sonoma County car salesman Dan Thompson always wanted to own a bar.

In 2015, that dream came true, when he and a silent partner bought Tradewinds in Cotati.

Just over a year later, Thompson said, they found themselves calling for the assistance of Jon Taffer, the big personality star of Spike TV’s “Bar Rescue” show.

Tradewinds has served as a locals’ watering hole in the heart of Cotati for 51 years, but the aging bar was showing its age when he purchased it, said Thompson, 48. It was struggling financially and failing to compete with other nearby bars that attracted troves of bar crawling college students looking for craft beers, decent cocktails and club music.

The new owners decided to shift their focus to engage Sonoma State University’s growing student population. Thompson recruited his 27-year-old stepson, Chase Myers, to serve as a bar manager, and they recruited fresh-faced bartenders. They also filled the weekly schedule with karaoke, live music, DJs and country line dancing.

Despite their efforts, things fell apart quickly - a perfect storm, if you will. On film, Thompson tells Taffer they’re “in the hole by $300,000.”

Some of the on-camera blame falls on Myers, who admits to showing up late to work and leaving the bar during busy times to drink at other, nearby bars, avoiding his managerial obligations. Thompson said his relationship with Myers was strained, partly because he and his partner had given the young man a 20 percent stake in the business and weren’t convinced Myers was earning his cut.

Add a few disenchanted bartenders, and the business became a recipe for failure.

That’s when Thompson submitted a request to “Bar Rescue.” The reality television show visits struggling bars throughout the country, giving them kick-starts and facelifts. The show’s star Jon Taffer is a bar consultant known for his innovative management techniques and his loud, boisterous personality.

A week of filming took place in June, and the episode, titled “Chase Lounge,” aired Oct. 23 on Spike TV. During the hour-long show, Taffer examines the bar’s failings, providing critical feedback to Thompson, Loria and Myers on how to put “family over finances.”

“Bar Rescue” scenes focus on the financial challenges of upgrading a facility that was falling apart, from torn and ripped furnishings to the failing beer tap system, as well as the fast pace of bar renovations.

They also magnify the family issues, emphasizing them for their dramatic effect.

“We learned that reality television is a perception on reality,” Thompson said in retrospect.

As Thompson acknowledged, “You have to make a story, or no one’s gonna watch it.”

As for working with Taffer, Thompson said the show’s star had a limited role in the off-camera decision making, but nevertheless provided valuable ideas about how to improve the bar aesthetically and professionally.

“He’s a total showman, but he came up with some clever ideas, including giving us a theme,” he said. The new tiki-nautical was inspired by the Tradewinds name and Northern California’s influence in popularizing tiki culture in post-World War II America.

Bright colors, historic maps and sound effects bring the islands to Cotati. Outside, an updated patio and a new, backlit sign provide higher visibility along the Old Redwood Highway. Thompson estimates the show’s producers spent at least $50,000 on the renovations.

“Bar Rescue” staff worked with local businesses to install a new tap system and upgrade Tradewinds’ small kitchen with modern necessities, including a small pizza oven for chef Traci Thompson to use when preparing the homemade calzone recipes created by Taffer’s team.

Signature cocktails include new twists on two classics, the Mai Tai and the Dark and Stormy.

Thompson said Taffer also helped inspire Myers to up his game and bring the maturity and professionalism he needed to operate the business, During the filming, Myers started by cut ting his shaggy hair, but the changes went deeper, Thompson said.

“Since the show, Chase has really stepped up,” he said. “He has a reputation to uphold now. Taffer acted like the big brother Chase needed to get on track.”

The storm appears to have passed. “Bar Rescue” ended the episode with a report that Tradewinds has seen a 20 percent increase in sales. Thompson couldn’t be happier.

“When ‘Bar Rescue’ left, they left the bar with a good foundation, and it was free,” he said.

As for its 15 minutes of fame, he adds, “It was great, other than us making an ass out of ourselves on TV.”

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