You’ve heard of brew pubs and gastropubs – how about a reality pub?
Fat Augie’s, a bar opening soon on Pearl Street near Chippewa Street, will be a working bar that doubles as the soundstage for a reality show.
It’s being outfitted with 20 digital video cameras mounted to ceilings, standing on tripods and attached to employees. Cameras will capture every move made by each bartender, musician and patron who enters the building.
The footage they gather will be edited into short Web episodes available on YouTube that will later be pitched to cable networks as a reality TV show.
Owner Dan Murphy, who has had a string of successful bars and pizzerias in college town Geneseo and near Syracuse University, said his main business concern is the bar itself, and that anything that comes of his proposed reality show will be the icing on top. But because he has been involved with national reality television shows in the past – including a top-rated hit on the Discovery Channel – he’s confident he has enough knowledge about and connections to the reality TV industry to make the show a success.
Murphy hopes the presence of cameras and the possibility of fame will lure people through the door – who will, in turn, ring up lots of drink and food orders.
Once those patrons have filtered in and out, they (and their friends, families and the people they share with on social media) will become a built-in audience for the Web show – waiting to see if they made the cut.
The bar will also host a heavy rotation of diverse musical, comedy and other acts, whose performances will be edited into one- to three-minute Web videos. Those bands’ followings will be another draw for the show, he hopes.
He has already cast a couple of female wait staff who will double as karaoke singers. One is Buffalo bartender GiGi Morrison, who said singing behind the bar is her dream job.
Morrison doesn’t have aspirations to fame, she said, but has always felt like she was destined for something big.
“I’m just rolling with the punches and letting the movie of my life play out,” she said.
Murphy has also hired a video editor who will double as a bar manager. He’s still looking for bartenders, waiters, cooks, dishwashers and DJs – all of whom could end up being part of the show’s story line.
“For whatever reason, there are a lot of people who want to be seen on TV,” Murphy said. “When I was in Nome, Alaska – that’s a small village, but as soon as the cameras started rolling, people would come out of nowhere. Guys would drive by with girls hanging out the windows, just to get a little bit of attention.”
That’s where Murphy got the idea to add the reality TV element to the bar concept that has been his livelihood.
A recreational gold prospector since 1969, Murphy was approached by production company Original Productions a few years ago, which filmed his crew dredging for gold over 100 hours one summer, testing him out for a show that eventually became the Discovery Channel’s “Bering Sea Gold.”
He was deemed “too boring” to make it into the on-air cast, but ended up working with another production company called Stone Circle Films to help secure Inuit subsistence hunters in Alaska for a show in development called “Ice Age Hunters.” He also helped develop a spinoff show called “Bering Sea Gold: Under the Ice,” sharing his techniques for diving under water to dredge for gold underwater during Alaska’s winters.
Though high drama is a key ingredient for many reality TV shows, Murphy is confident he can make and sell a winning show without resorting to scripted antics or outrageous behavior.
“All of my bars have been happy places with smiling people. I think people want to see that. They want to see good people having fun, dancing to good music,” Murphy said. “I’m too old to deal with the baloney of people yelling and screaming and starting trouble.”
The Chippewa District is too old for that kind of negative drama, too.
The entertainment district has made a concerted effort to move away from its reputation as a destination for drunk, frat-house debauchery and has become a more respectable, dining-centered hot spot.
“For a long time, a lot of people who had no background in the business said, ‘I like to drink and I like pretty girls, I’m going to open a bar on Chippewa and get rich,’” said Jay Manno, longtime owner of SoHo Burger Bar on Chippewa Street. “The group of owners that’s down here now is much more interested in the longevity of the area.”
SoHo reinvented itself from a nightclub to a bar and grill. Nearby, the Lodge recently spent more than $1 million transforming the former Bayou bar into an upscale eatery. Bacchus wine bar has been a highbrow mainstay for years. And Uniland is building a sleek hotel on the corner of Chippewa Street and Delaware Avenue.
John Girdlestone, a Buffalo native who will be one of the bar’s managers and video editors, said he thinks the show will “shine a positive light on Buffalo.”
“How many people do you know that won’t go to Chippewa because they think it’s crazy? I was one of them,” Girdlestone said. “But if you can show people a nightlife that can be positive, and show people hanging out responsibly, I think people are going to want to be part of that.”
Patrons entering Fat Augie’s will not be asked to sign a release, but will be greeted with a sign informing them that their choice to enter the bar means they consent to being filmed and having their image used in perpetuity.
That is likely to attract more people than it turns away, according to Elayne Rapping, a professor emeritus of American Studies at the University at Buffalo who is a nationally acclaimed analyst of pop culture and social issues.
“People rate being famous over being rich as the biggest indicator of success,” Rapping said. “The interest of self promotion has really ballooned with social media and YouTube.”
Fame worship has been around since the 1920s advent of Hollywood movies and celebrity magazines, but has intensified over the past few decades as reality television has become an entertainment staple.
In a society where “selfie” was the word of the year, people tweet their every move and document everything they eat via photos on Instagram, a reality bar is the next natural progression, she said.
“It’s a great idea,” she said. “People are going to want to come to this bar to be on TV.”