Royal Oaks gets rescued


and Kalea Hall


A film production crew is camped out this week at The Royal Oaks filming an episode of Spike’s “Bar Rescue.”

The crew began moving in equipment Sunday and began filming Monday at the East Side bar at 924 Oak St.

As is always the case when a TV show is being shot, the director, cast and others involved are contractually obligated to remain tight-lipped, so details are hard to come by.

But the documentary-reality show will be at the Oaks for most of the week, said a member of the production crew at the bar Monday afternoon.

The show, starring bar and nightlife management expert Jon Taffer, visits struggling bars and gives them a physical makeover and also identifies and reverses poor business practices.

The Royal Oaks will be closed to the public most of the week for filming.

Believed to be the city’s oldest continuously operated bar, the Oaks – as it’s known – is a funky and eclectic place with a mix of regulars that ranges from rockers to hipsters and professionals to neighborhood residents. It is also notoriously dive-ish, with an offbeat decor and grungy restrooms.

In Facebook chatter, some longtime patrons of the bar expressed concern that the Oaks will lose its character after the makeover.

Billy Bowser, head chef at the establishment for the past two years, found out last Tuesday The Royal Oaks would be a part of “Bar Rescue.” It was a bittersweet moment for Bowser because of his connection to the bar. He was there Monday admiring the bar from afar, taking some photos in his Royal Oaks T-shirt.

SDLqIt is hard for me to see some of the stuff on the walls go,” Bowser said. “At the same time, it would be hard to see things not get fixed up.”

Bowser, 45, has been going to the bar since he was 16. He, like many other patrons, fell for its relaxed, dive-bar scene.

He hopes the sign that reads “Youngstown’s finest beer cooling system” painted on the brick exterior of the building is not removed, saying he loves seeing that sign when coming down Oak Street.

“The place holds so much nostalgia and history,” said Bowser.

John and Louie Kennedy, who are brothers, are the owners of The Royal Oaks. Neither could be reached for comment.

Customers have had mixed reactions about the changes coming to the bar, said Bowser, but he reminded them the bar is what they make it, and those “loyal to the Royal” will keep walking through the door.

“If you really love it, then you will keep coming,” he said.

Tonight’s shooting schedule will include a “stress test,” said Fred D’Amico of the Youngstown Film Commission, which has been helping the production crew. In the stress test, a crowd of patrons is invited in so Taffer and his crew can judge how well the staff reacts under pressure.

The reveal of the bar’s new look is expected to be shot Thursday evening.

A segment of the show in which the bartenders are taught some new drinks and techniques will be shot at another Youngstown bar this week for the Royal Oaks episode.

The crew from “Bar Rescue” was in the city several weeks ago, scouting potential locations. A second area bar also might be featured in a future episode.

It has not yet been announced when the Royal Oaks episode will air, but it probably will be in at least two months, said a member of the production crew. New episodes of “Bar Rescue” air at 9 p.m. Sundays.

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