fb-pixel‘Bar Rescue’ host Jon Taffer on bourbon and Boston food Skip to main content

‘Bar Rescue’ host Jon Taffer talks bourbon, his favorite Boston-area bites, plus how he’d rescue the ‘Cheers’ bar

‘I have a deep connection in Massachusetts,’ says Taffer, who was in town this week for the launch of his new spirit

Jon TafferHandout

When Jon Taffer first pitched the idea of doing “Bar Rescue,” the hit reality series where the longtime food and beverage expert helps transform struggling bars, he didn’t have high hopes.

“I thought I’d do a pilot and would go home,” Taffer told the Globe in an interview at Encore Boston Harbor Tuesday.

Taffer, who previously consulted on Paramount’s Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. and other ventures, brought the idea to his friends at the studio, but was met with criticisms of his age, his looks, and was told that he’ll “never be on television.” Despite the negative feedback, the entrepreneur-turned-reality TV host didn’t back down and now, more than a decade later, is on the cusp of celebrating 250 episodes of “Bar Rescue.”


“You drive through those big Paramount gates and you’re pretty disappointed, but I didn’t give up,” Taffer said. “I shot my own sizzle reel and kept pitching it and the show got picked up quickly.”

In addition to celebrating the TV milestone, the “Bar Rescue” host launched his Taffer’s Browned Butter Bourbon in the spring, a new spirit he began experimenting with on the set of the show. Taffer was inspired to bottle up the beverage after a cocktail using the spirit became popular at his restaurant Taffer’s Tavern, which opened a location in Watertown last year.

We caught up with Taffer while he was in town promoting his new bourbon line, and he dished on his connections with the Bay State, his favorite Boston-area bites, and how he’d rescue the fictional “Cheers” bar.

Q. What makes a good bourbon?

A. It’s about character, you know, depth of flavor. When we originally made the product, we could have bought Canadian whiskey for about $350 a barrel and then blended it from there. Bourbon was $3,400 a pound, literally 10 times the price. But the Canadian whiskey didn’t work. It didn’t have the depth and the character, and I must say, that in the late 1800s, Congress made bourbon the official spirit of America. The first bourbon distiller in America was George Washington. So there’s a rich bourbon history in America and I think it’s because of that character, the depth of flavor.


Q. Do you have any special connections with Boston and the Massachusetts area?

A. I used to have offices in Newton. When I was a kid, I used to come here all the time. I’m an American history buff, so I love Concord and Minutemen. I love everything about Boston, the history of the city. My family had a house in Lenox, and I even went to summer camp in Pittsfield for eight summers. So I have a deep connection in Massachusetts. When it came time to launch brown butter, we chose two cities: my hometown of Las Vegas and Boston. I had to choose Boston. I just love being here and I love the education level, the sophistication level. It’s a great culinary town. It has, what I would call, a pretty sophisticated palette.

Q. After your experience opening Taffer’s Tavern in Watertown last year, how would you characterize the area’s food and drink scene?

A. If I were to choose one adjective to describe what it’s like to operate a restaurant here, I would say discerning. I think that the Boston audience is discerning. There’s a lot of high-quality options. I mean, every theme you can think of, every conceptual approach you can think of. So coming into a property like Arsenal Yards, where there’s so many restaurants around it, we want to be careful that we don’t step on each other’s toes and that there’s a difference between us all. My dear friend Jason Santos is two doors down from us, so, that’s fun. I get to go to his place and he gets to come to mine. It’s just a beautiful property. That whole area of the city should be very proud of that development and what’s happened in Watertown these past few years.


Jason Santos at Buttermilk & Bourbon at Arsenal Yards in Watertown. Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

Q. You’ve worked with chef Jason Santos a lot on “Bar Rescue” over the years. How did that friendship come about?

A. It’s funny. He just came to us through a casting company, so I had no previous relationship with Jason. By the way, I’m three episodes away from my 250th “Bar Rescue” episode, which in TV is quite a milestone. So I’ve worked with a lot of chefs over those 250 episodes. Jason and I just hit it off. He’s a great chef. He’s a good guy. He has a beautiful new baby, a beautiful wife, and we just have become very, very dear friends. He’s my only friend of all my friends that has blue hair.

Q. That’s a pretty memorable hairdo.

A. He’s created a brand for himself and an ID for himself. I think it’s very smart. Look at a Guy Fieri. If he didn’t have his hair color, would he be Guy Fieri? I’m not sure. But these things are important.


Q. Looking back on your travels to Boston and Massachusetts over the years, do you have any favorite food and drink spots?

A. I’m gonna surprise the hell out of you now, because I could pick some of the nicer restaurants in town. I’m in Boston, so I went to Legal yesterday, had a lobster roll, of course. I can’t come here and not have a lobster roll. But, you’re gonna laugh at me. I love a roast beef sandwich. Just a nice quality roast beef sandwich.

A block and a half down the street from here is a place called Mike’s Roast Beef. When you walk into it, it’s a time warp from the ’70s. I’m not sure how clean it is, but they make the best roast beef sandwich in the city. When I stay here [at Encore Boston Harbor], I always have the car pull in there and I always grab myself a roast beef sandwich. So I like everything from fine dining to a nice little roast beef sandwich. That’s what’s great about Boston.

Q. Do you have any favorite New England-related “Bar Rescue” episodes?

A. We did the Chicken Bone here. We did Angry Ham’s here. There was another one we did, I think it was Bedford. I love family episodes, like when there’s a brother and a sister. That one strikes a bell with me. But all three were tough. I mean Angry Ham’s, those guys were rough. Chicken Bone, they were rough. The rescues haven’t been easy here.


A scene from "Cheers."A. P. files

Q. If they ever did a revival of “Cheers,” how would you rescue that iconic Boston TV bar?

A. If I were to rescue the “Cheers” bar the first thing is I would go at it — you see me do this on some “Bar Rescue” episodes — very respectfully because of its history. There are bars on “Bar Rescue” where you throw it away because it means nothing historically or significantly and you start from scratch.

That’s not the case with the “Cheers” bar in Boston. This is a deep historical property of cultural significance, if I can dare say it that way. Also, a point of pride for the city. You go at it very respectfully. You keep it what it is. You just set it up for the next generation and that’s how I would go about that. And when I was finished, I would want the city to come in and say, “Look at this, it’s still Cheers. He respected us. He didn’t throw history away.”

Matt Juul can be reached at matthew.juul@globe.com.