By GUY D’ASTOLFO
The parking lot of The Royal Oaks bar was a melange of trucks, tents and the trappings of a television film crew Tuesday afternoon.
It was day two of filming at the East Side bar for a future episode of “Bar Rescue,” the Spike docu-reality series.
The atmosphere is usually pretty loose and wide open at the bar, but this week it has been anything but.
John and Louie Kennedy, co-owners of the bar, were preparing for the day’s shooting but couldn’t talk about what was about to transpire due to contractual obligations to stay mum. A member of the production team was even more tight-lipped, although she did say that Youngstown is a wonderful city before turning away and getting back to work.
John Kennedy said he wasn’t sure why the show settled on his bar but noted he’s glad it did.
The “stress test” portion of the show was to be shot Tuesday night. That’s a segment of each episode in which patrons are crowded into the bar to see how the staff reacts under pressure. Jon Taffer, the bar-management expert who is the star of “Bar Rescue,” then evaluates the staff and makes improvements.
The parking lot next to the bar was jam-packed with vehicles as people lined up for the chance to appear on the show. Production crew members provided release waivers to those in line and also taped up any brands or symbols on their clothing.
Chris Evans of Niles said he enjoys the atmosphere of the bar.
“I think it’s fine how it is,” he said. “[But] I’m sure the change will be good.”
Grant Hayes said the bar’s local area also needs improvement.
“The neighborhood puts it in a different direction,” he said.
Steve Johnson of Lisbon said it was cool that “Bar Rescue” came to Youngstown because the city is usually skipped over for the Cleveland or Pittsburgh areas.
“I’m excited to see what it is in three days,” he said.
When Taffer came out to welcome people waiting, he received a loud and enthusiastic response from them. He told them to come back later this week when the makeover was complete.
It is not yet known when the Royal Oaks episode will premiere, but it likely will be in at least two months. New episodes air at 9 p.m. Sundays.
Sources have told The Vindicator another Youngstown bar also will be featured on the show.
While shooting at the Oaks, the “Bar Rescue” crew is using the former Immaculate Conception Church, one block east on Oak Street, as a command center.
Fred D’Amico of the Youngstown Film Commission has been assisting the crew with finding what it needs in the community.
D’Amico said the production crew has temporarily hired a handful of students from Youngstown State University and Trumbull Career and Technical Center as production assistants, a ground-level position.
“They are working with the crew and learning about the film industry,” said D’Amico.
The film commission has put together a “crew pass” – a list of discounts and other deals from local establishments aimed specifically at production crew members.
The Royal Oaks, 924 Oak St., is one of the city’s more-colorful establishments, a dive bar with offbeat decor and a hip and eclectic mix of patrons and regulars.
Its pending makeover by the show has elicited concerns by customers who fear it will lose its charm and character even as it becomes more efficiently run.
Most patrons will have to wait until late this week to get a fresh glimpse of the place. That’s when shooting will end and regular bar hours resume.
The following weekend – Aug. 15 – will be another big day at the Oaks. That’s when Pabstolutely 8, the annual all-day rock festival at the bar, will take place. Pabstolutely is the biggest day of the year at The Royal Oaks, attracting hundreds, if not thousands, of people over the course of the day.
Lansing Street, which runs alongside the bar, will be closed, and a stage will be set up in the street for the festival.
Pabstolutely has always been in September but switched to August this year.
The move was made long before it was known that “Bar Rescue” was even considering the Oaks, said Joe Stilson, director of Pabstolutely,
Stilson has been pressing onward with preparation for the festival, working around the shooting schedule.
Pabstolutely, which has no admission charge, will feature at least 12 bands, including headliners Coinmonster, plus Droids Attack and MUTTS.
CONTRIBUTOR: Vindicator staff writer Brandon Klein