The Palace before Bar Rescue
In 2013, The Palace was purchased by Ghazi Ashkar with the help of his brother-in-law Sam Khalil. The duo revamped the place and gave it a Moroccan theme, but their inexperience in the bar business ensured nothing but zero profit.
Ashkar devised a strategy to attract clientele: give away drinks for free. This of course earned him the ire of Khalil, and the two frequently locked horns. Their fights also affected their staff who found the owners to be unapproachable. As 2015 approached, Khalil and Ashkar did nothing but blame each other for The Palace’s sorry state. Adding to the bar’s failure was a confusing theme, and a roster of employees that weren’t properly trained.
The Palace accumulated a whopping $650 grand in debt, plus an estimated monthly loss of $10 grand. Ashkar and Khalil were also at each other’s throats, refusing to cooperate with each other even if it was for the sake of the bar. With no other choice left, the two had made the call for Jon Taffer and Bar Rescue for help.
The Palace on Bar Rescue
The Palace was situated in the Californian city of Upland, around 20 miles from Los Angeles. From the outside, the bar lacked any appeal and it didn’t have anything on the façade that screamed Morocco. The interior lacked any linens and sofas that were common in Moroccan restaurants, and instead the bar had Roman décor. The bar had no drink menu, no stools on the bar counter, and the belly dancers wore costumes that were more appropriate for a Las Vegas club. Ashkar was walking around the bar, giving away drinks to the customers and munching on peanuts. The kitchen had a filthy cutting board and the chef’s improper handling practices encouraged cross-contamination.
Taffer talked to the two owners and found himself sandwiched between the duo’s feud. Khalil was frustrated by Ashkar’s giving away of drinks, while the latter defended his ways by saying that he was trying to minimize losses and make the clientele happy. Ashkar’s mindset was established in believing that everyone, including Taffer, was wrong. When the Bar Rescue host returned the next morning, he found Ashkar on the same spot as last night, hungover and still wearing the same shirt. Ashkar was still insisting that Khalil was doing a bad job, and that his drinking was saving the bar, causing Taffer to walk out. The rescue only continued thanks to Ashkar finally admitting that the bar was failing because of him.
The two experts for the rescue entered The Palace namely mixologist Mia Mastroianni and chef Penny Davidi. The expert chef introduced Moroccan spices and flavors to Ashkar and the bar’s cook Bobby to familiarize them with how their food was supposed to taste. She also presented harissa, a popular Moroccan ingredient that was made of different kinds of peppers mixed with herbs, spices, and garlic. It was commonly rubbed on fish and meat, or combined with olive oil for a traditional paste. On the bar area, Mastroianni noted the bartenders regarding their ways of whipping out martini, and their inconsistent pouring.
Contrary to the usual Bar Rescue fare, the stress test for The Palace took place in Stein Haus Brau & Brats, one of the bars rescued by Taffer before. The reason for this was for Taffer’s team to begin the renovation because of The Palace’s vast size. The test revealed the inexperience of the bartenders which was described as “beyond amateur”. The owners also suffered from miscommunication issues which exacerbated the issue. The staff insisted that they all train together, including Ashkar and Khalil.
The next day Taffer sat with the two owners and Khalil promised not to blame Ashkar anymore for the bar’s problems. Davidi taught the kitchen staff how to create tajine which consisted of dried fruit, chicken legs, and toasted nuts set on a beautiful dishware. Mastroianni gave the bartenders jiggers so they can finally pour drinks consistently, and introduced cocktails that went well with Davidi’s dishes like pomegranate / vodka mix The Pomaghazi, and The Fig & Honey Sour which had fig and honey, lemon juice, and whiskey.
36 hours later, The Palace was transformed into Menara, with the signage now indicating that it was a Moroccan bar. The name, according to Ashkar, was a light that guided ships to a beautiful place. The exterior now had a fresh palette of bright colors and with rows of plants and trees. The interior was like a portal to Morocco with appropriate furniture, décor, and they now have bar stools. They also now had a menu which was posted on a wall for all to see.
The Palace Now in 2018 – The After Bar Rescue Update
Menara went back to being The Palace and is still open in 2017. However, they use both The Palace and Menara names on their signs and in some images online. They have gathered a decent amount of positive reviews from both Facebook and Yelp pages. People praised the bar’s service, the atmosphere, and the food and drink. Interestingly, on their Facebook page, they label themselves as a “Greek restaurant”.
The Palace included hookahs in their offerings with 30 available house made mixtures. Customers also sang praises for this addition to the bar. Another expansion was a subterranean cocktail lounge which was labelled to cater to sophisticated sensibilities and tastes.
They also have Turkish coffee, shawarma, live music nights, private banquets, and poker games. The belly dancers have also made a comeback, complete with the LED costume they wore before. The videos on their Facebook page show large crowds dancing to the tune of Moroccan music.
The Palace maintains a very active Facebook page, although a majority of their posts are in Arabic. Click here if you want to visit it. Also, you can click here for their Yelp page. Finally, you can visit their official website at http://www.thepalacehookahlounge.net/home.html