With its weathered wooden floors and well-worn bar, there’s no doubt that Downey’s was in need of help before Spike TV’s forthcoming Bar Rescue showed up at the South Street watering hole this week. The fact that the upstairs still rocks a mirrored-wall, cocaine fabulous vibe and it’s perhaps the only Irish pub on the planet that serves Italian food, verifies that the situation was dire. The show, which is kind of like Kitchen Nightmares meets Clean House with a dash of The Biggest Loser thrown in, follows bar and nightclub consultant Jon Taffer as he helps struggling barkeeps turn their failing “outmoded” businesses around. Tonight at 8:30 p.m., the public is invited to come check out the reveal after Downey’s extesive makeover. “Bar Rescue is a format where what I normally do in three months, I do in five days,” Taffer told Grub Street between takes at Downey’s earlier this week. “When we’re done we will increase sales by at least eight percent and knock points off food costs overnight.”
“Downey’s is too well known in town,” Taffer said of his decision to not rename, rebrand and completely reconceptualize what he told us was one of Philly’s first Irish bars (we’re guessing McGillin’s, which opened in 1860 doesn’t count?). Since chef-owner Domenico Centofanti bought the place from founder Jack Downey eight years ago, business at the bar has been dwindling. “So we’re taking it back and making it an authentic Irish pub with really great food.”
Kind of like in old episodes of Mission: Impossible with each episode, Taffer assembles a crack team of experts to take everything that’s wrong with a bar and make it right. For Downey’s he tapped Kildare’s top toque Brian Duffy and Keith Raimondi the resident whiskey guru at Jose Garces’ Village Whiskey to tackle shortcomings in the kitchen and bar, respectively.
With every facet of Downey’s operations subjected to intense scrutiny, Taffer and his crew overhauled the kitchen, the menus, the beverage programs and just about everything else. Next week they will do the same with Old City’s Swanky Bubbles, a erstwhile nightlife destination whose bubble of swankiness has long since deflated.