Monday, December 5, 2022

Tonic Lounge Update – What Happened After Bar Rescue

Tonic Lounge before Bar Rescue

The owner Rod Bitton

In 2012 Rod Bitton followed the footsteps of his mother and uncle into the bar business. He poured his 401(k) and life savings into the popular music venue Tonic Lounge in Portland, Oregon. Bitton didn’t have enough experience in running a bar, but Tonic Lounge still proved to be profitable thanks to the occasional performances of well-known bands which attracted large groups of customers.

Unfortunately, once the bands left the bar, the clientele followed suit. Barely anyone visited Tonic Lounge when there was no band on the stage. It didn’t help that Bitton ignored what his bar really needed such as a proper menu and better drinks. He was also a very stubborn owner who refused to listen to the recommendations of his experienced staff, and instead relied on his own bad decisions.

With the Tonic Lounge unable to generate profit, Bitton was down to a debt of $250 grand. It was all that he had left as every cent of his savings went to the bar. With no other option left, Bitton called for Jon Taffer and Bar Rescue for help.

Tonic Lounge on Bar Rescue

From the outside, the bar’s signage only mentioned “Tonic” with no other indication that it had live music, food, or drinks. Being a music venue, the bar also had no announcement if there was a band scheduled to perform. The virtually-empty interior had weird décor, and the bartenders served drinks that they made up on the spot due to the lack of a cocktail menu.  The band that was onstage during Taffer’s recon night had an ear-shattering, expletive-laden performance, complete with confusing costumes and a vocalist that was virtually naked. The Bar Rescue host had the performers banished from the location and summoned the staff for a meeting.

The old exterior

The employees straight-up told Bitton that his bar sucked. They also revealed that they were not being paid even though the owner actually had money for their salary. Expert chef Vic Vegas inspected the kitchen of Tonic Lounge and immediately noticed hundreds of bugs crawling on the utensils and equipment. Master mixologist Lisamarie Joyce found the same level of infestation inside the booze bottles, and Bitton defended himself by saying that he was unaware of these problems. Taffer had him and the employees stay up all night to clean their mess up.

The next day Taffer and his experts were welcomed with a cleaner kitchen. In another staff meeting, Bitton was exposed for his refusal to update the bar’s marquee whenever a band was set to perform. The owner was extremely clueless about his business and literally had no solutions to offer when Taffer asked him about the problems in Tonic Lounge. After being threatened by his staff with walkouts, Bitton promised to change his ways and to provide support.

Joyce taught the bartenders how to mix a very basic cocktail to ensure that they no longer made up drinks. Vegas introduced a simple vegetarian flatbread dish with a generous sprinkling of salt. He explained that the salt will make customers buy more drinks as it will trigger thirst.

For the stress test that night, Taffer prohibited live music so the employees will focus on serving, and Bitton on his promised support. The bartenders whipped out drinks that were mostly soda with barely any taste of alcohol in the mix, and a few burgers from the kitchen were undercooked. The bar area ran out of glassware and Bitton was not even paying attention to the needs of his employees. Taffer confronted the owner who still doesn’t know what to do even though his boat was sinking, and who also didn’t know how to shut down his own bar.

The next day Taffer sat down with Bitton and had the bar’s production and entertainment managers promoted as co-managers. The owner was receptive of this idea, and towards Taffer’s plans of turning Tonic Lounge into a rock-and-roll venue. To complement the new theme, Joyce introduced cocktails named Gimme Shelter and Strawberry Fields.

The new exterior

After the renovation, Tonic Lounge was torn down and turned into Panic Room Bar. Now the bar had an updated marquee, and an indication that it was a bar unlike before. The interior had new furniture, from the bar stools to the sofas, with black and grey being the dominant palette. Their revamped stage now had a better lighting, and the vertical trussing system installed by Bar Rescue made the area look bigger. An Orange Door entertainment system ensured that music kept on playing when there’s no live band thanks to its vast library of 50,000 songs. The bar area now featured a lit liquor stand, four POS terminals, and a video wall that transmitted the action in the stage area.

Tonic Lounge Now in 2018 – The After Bar Rescue Update

Panic Room amassed a lot of criticism as virtually everyone hated the new name, including some of the staff. It was also reported that the lighting system installed by the show were on a lease, and the sound system were replaced by the owner after Bar Rescue packed up.

On August 2016 Panic Room was changed to The Raven. It lasted for a few months until January 2017 when the bar closed.

However, it seems that Tonic Lounge is back again last April 06, 2017 with a jampacked grand reopening night. The bar was now owned by Chris Trumpower and Eric Manfre, and both also owned the High Water Mark Lounge. There were only a few changes in terms of the bar’s cosmetics, including a new insignia that resembled an hourglass. They also featured new beer taps, a covered patio, and retained the same sound system it used during its The Raven days. So far this new incarnation of Tonic Lounge is amassing positive reviews on its Facebook page, and it still does not have a presence on Yelp.

The new Tonic Lounge maintains an active Facebook page where it posts upcoming events and performances. Click here to visit it. They also have an official website at http://tonicloungeportland.com/.

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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