The last time veteran bar consultant Jon Taffer was in Philadelphia, in May 2011, he and a small crew taped two episodes of a never-before-seen makeover show called Bar Rescue.
Taffer visited Downey's, at Front and South Streets, which survived. Swanky Bubbles, on Front Street near Market, did not.
Three years later, Bar Rescue is a runaway hit for Spike TV, and Taffer is back in town.
His traveling crew has swelled to 57 people. Now, Taffer - an industry insider - is finding himself in the ticklish spot of being a celebrity.
Bar Rescue produced 10 episodes each in the first and second seasons and 40 episodes in season three. Season four, premiering in October, has a 30-episode load, including Lickety Split at Fourth and South Streets.
"The celebrity thing is good - and bad," Taffer said Thursday, taking a break in the third day of the makeover of Lickety Split into 2nd State Lounge upstairs - Pennsylvania was the second stte to join the union - and Alleged Pizza downstairs. (Lickety Split, incidentally, bore only the name and the address of a landmark Philly fern bar that closed in 1996 after more than two decades.)
"It's great to have an impact on people's lives," Taffer said, proud that about three-quarters of the bars he's worked with are still operating.
"It's remarkable that people will step out of their way to shake my hand or have a photo taken with me. I can't tell you how wonderful that is. My wife tells me it's made me nicer. It's made me appreciate those around me more. I was personally successful in what I did, but the TV success - that's because of them." He swept his hand around the break room of the makeshift production office, in a former diner near Fourth and South.
Celebrity's downside: "It's invasive," he said. "You're sitting there like you have a third eye on your face. There's no discreetness. It causes me to feel exposed sometimes. I've had 35 years to master my craft in private. Now I'm doing it publicly."
Not complaining, Taffer said Bar Rescue kept him on the road 35 weeks last year. "I came home and the dog growled at me," he said. His wife travels with him about half the time, he said.
Taffer's work at a bar takes five days, from the initial visit and through his recommendations, a 36-hour remodeling job, and the final reveal. At 3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 6, the changeover was complete.
A second Philadelphia-area bar will be made over next week. Producers reject many more bars than they accept.