Saturday, February 4, 2023

Handlebar Cafe Update – What Happened After Bar Rescue

Handlebar Cafe before Bar Rescue

Handlebar Cafe in Pawcatuck, Connecticut, was put on sale in 2001 and Betsy Mitchel-Cipriano made the save by fulfilling her childhood dream of owning a bar. Cipriano’s local reputation as a popular bartender ensured a steady flow of patrons into the Handlebar Café, and as business boomed she hired her own son Dean and sister Stephanie to help around the bar.

Betsy and Stephanie

The popularity of the sisters eventually had an adverse effect on the bar. The spotlight shone on them the moment they set foot into the establishment and when the patrons hungered for their attention the pair happily complied at the cost of their duties in the bar. Cipriano was too focused on her extracurricular sideshow that she neglected the kitchen, forcing patrons to look for other places to eat, and refused to upgrade the outdated décor. Dean was not very supportive of their act and looked at his mother’s childish antics as a foolish endeavor.

With the once-famous haunt now a deserted landscape Cipriano decided to call for Jon Taffer and Bar Rescue before Handlebar Café is again put up for sale.

Handlebar Cafe on Bar Rescue

From the outside Handlebar Café looked like a store than a bar as it had no pertinent exterior décor. The bar is situated near one of Pawcatuck’s busiest roads, not to mention the existence of motorcycle clubs and dealers nearby, but patrons barely come into the establishment. Taffer, along with mixologist Russell Davis and chef Brian Duffy, observed the intoxicated Cipriano and Stephanie inside the bar while the bartender JP lifted dumbbells behind the counter out of sheer boredom.

The old exterior

Contrary to Taffer’s usual recon of one to four spies, this time he sent 60 bikers to test the waters. The employees panicked at the huge wave of customers and Cipriano got pissed as she saw the patrons as more of an inconvenience instead of profit. The bombed-out Stephanie flipped the bird at the customers when they asked if Handlebar Café had any food items and she was sent away as she was too drunk to work. JP solved the gastronomic problem by serving a bowl of cheese puffs that went along with the overpoured booze.

Taffer and his experts went into the bar to begin their work. Duffy went into the abandoned kitchen and noted the existence of grease in almost every nook and cranny, while Davis was intercepted in the bar area by Cipriano who, according to her own words, was not drunk enough. Taffer’s breath analyzer revealed that Stephanie’s intoxication level was on .20, way past the legal limit of .08. When she was sent behind the counter Stephanie instead hurled profanities towards Taffer and her own sister right in front of the patrons. An infuriated Taffer walked out with his team and vowed to end the rescue if Cipriano won’t straighten things up by tomorrow.

The next day Taffer was greeted by a much cleaner bar and sober personnel. Taffer brought up the importance of a kitchen in prolonging a customer’s stay and Stephanie volunteered to work with the fryers despite her lack of cooking experience. Duffy trained her how to whip out hamburgers and hotdogs but when temperatures flared Stephanie’s hangover got the best of her and she had to get some air outside the kitchen. Taffer assigned bartender Artie as her substitute. On the bar area Davis noted the overpouring and hospitality problems of the employees and he taught them basic cocktails and a trick on how to gauge pours. Later on Stephanie recovered and she went back in the kitchen to complete her training.

That night Taffer opened Handlebar Café for a stress test to uncover additional weak links in the bar. Davis hovered behind the bartenders and whenever they made a mistake he dumped the cocktails into a bucket to see how much liquor they wasted in a single night. The test revealed the faulty design of the bar area as a lack of another service station on the other side ensured that none of the patrons there get served. In the kitchen Artie and Stephanie tried their best to keep up the pace without setting the place on fire and their efforts were praised by both Duffy and Taffer. At the end of the stress test the liquor dump bucket was almost filled to the brim which almost equated to $200 down the drain.

A day and a half before the relaunch Taffer had Cipriano and Stephanie sit down with therapist Dr. John Carbo. During the conversation Cipriano revealed her tragic past and she hoped for a fresh start. Afterwards Taffer had the kitchen cleaned from top to bottom and equipped it with new cooking appliances. Duffy trained Artie and Stephanie the creation of basic dishes like toasted hotdog buns and French fries so patrons can easily pack them behind their motorbikes for takeout. Davis came up with concoctions that focused on whiskey and tequila as these two are a hit among bikers. Dean, hoping to one day take over the family business, learned how to serve drinks to expand his bar knowhow.

The new exterior

After the renovation Handlebar Café was now known as Handlebar and Grill. A huge pair of motorcycle handlebars adorned the roof which, coupled by the brightly-lit signage and wall art, can easily attract passing clientele. Inside the leopard carpet was replaced with wooden flooring and biker-related décor filled the place. Behind the counter premium liquor bottles replaced the outdated decorative trinkets and the addition of another service station and cocktail on tap systems enhanced serving times.  When another flood of bikers came in for the grand reopening they were now met with better service, professional employees, and commendable food and drink.

With the bar rescued and the family business saved Taffer roared off to the highway, leaving behind Handlebar and Grill on a road to success.

Handlebar Cafe Now in 2018 – The After Bar Rescue Update

The bar went back to being Handlebar Café and is still open, although the huge handlebars above the roof were taken down in 2013 after the town of Stonington filed a lawsuit against the bar due to safety concerns. The owners had it removed instead of fighting the lawsuit and enduring a daily fine of $100.

The handlebars removed

The Bar Rescue follow-up revealed Cipriano and Stephanie back to their drinking ways, some of the old décor and the leopard carpet returned, and the owner explained that the specialized cocktails did not click with the locals. She said that the boost in sales was due to the people’s curiosity after watching the episode, and that they kept around 10% of Taffer’s changes. Taffer invited the two for an interview in Back to the Bar where Cipriano said that sales went up to 30% and that the locals missed the leopard carpet that’s why they put it back.

The bar has a good amount of positive reviews on their Facebook page. Click here to visit it.  Their TripAdvisor and Yelp pages only had few reviews.


Anthony Coyle
I write about anything and everything that catches my fancy, but mostly I try to provide the answers to the questions our readers ask every day. I'm also the guy who's always glued to an LCD screen of some sort.


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