How Reality TV Killed One of the Valley's Most Active Metal Clubs

First, you have to know that Spike TV still exists. Then you'll have to take my word that one of its reality shows is a Kitchen Nightmares clone called Bar Rescue. Then you'll have to know that Tempe's Rocky Point Cantina (subsequently briefly known as Havana Cabana) is the bar that the show set out to rescue in the 21st episode of Season 3.

Then, if you don't live in Tempe or see a lot of metal shows, you'll have to know this: Rocky Point Cantina is closed. It's been closed since shortly after Jon Taffer and his coterie of goofy Bar Business Experts rolled through town, determined to — their words — "run off the metal-head clientele and straighten out this festering mosh pit of failure."

Anyone who's been within a few miles or degrees of separation of a reality show in progress knows that it takes a while to build the kind of narrative you can pitch in a press release. Bar Rescue began crafting theirs back in May, when it made an ersatz casting call for reality TV extras to participate in the bar's "stress test," the part of any good reality show where It All Comes Crashing Down and the amateurs have no choice but to follow the experts' advice.

Havana Cabana: Shuttered after Bar Rescue tried to "save" it.
Dan Moore
Havana Cabana: Shuttered after Bar Rescue tried to "save" it.

The version of Rocky Point Cantina that Taffer and company presented wasn't altogether false. Read the venue's Yelp reviews and you'll see many of the same complaints about surly staff and grimy surfaces. Nobody we could talk to — the owners are reluctant to talk without advice from a lawyer — mourns Rocky Point, exactly.

But the picture Bar Rescue presented was a manufactured catastrophe: a bar that no longer was a bar struggling to keep up with a reality-show audience; a mosh pit spiced in from footage of a national act's show; mic'd-up college girls with names like Alyx and Symphony.

"I thought it was pretty lame," says Jeffrey Robens, whose band, Killing Spree, is the one playing in the chaotic "before" shots. (The crowd in the cutaway shots, he says, wasn't theirs.) "[Filming] was pretty much three weeks after college [let out for the summer], and they're talking about how it's supposed to be a college bar and there's supposed to be college kids there, but they chose to do it when there's no college in session. I thought that was interesting.

"There were very few times I saw that place empty when it was open."

The conversion to Havana Cabana didn't cause Rocky Point's closure; people we talked to suggested Tempe had been hoping to shut it down for some time. But it was what occasioned the venue's final, ill-fated brush with the city of Tempe. The facelift and the new name would have been fine — trivial — except that Bar Rescue didn't bother filing any permits with the city for the work and the new business model.

Which would also be fine, except that the show's producers told the owners they did. Notes from a Development Review Commission meeting held on July 23 say that "the owner was advised by the producer that all permits for work would be taken care of prior to the bar rehabilitation, and was unaware that the exterior modification was done without authorization."

One possibility to consider: This is part of a backdoor pilot for a show called Reality Show Rescue, in which Bar Rescue's sloppy work is taken to task with an even more hidden set of hidden cameras.

Less than a week's worth of minor renovations, then, sent them back to the Development Review Commission. And as it turns out, the minute Rocky Point Cantina changed its name and its business model, it was signing away its own live entertainment permit.

On July 16, Francis Massimiano, the family's put-upon patriarch on TV, applied for a live entertainment use permit on behalf of the new and improved Havana Cabana Bar and Grill. According to the notes from their hearing, they hadn't had one when they were Rocky Point Cantina, either; the original use permit had been granted to Dos Gringos and transferred to the Massimianos when they took over ownership of the bar.

An unfulfilled attempt to perform their own bar rescue — "We are in the process of re-branding the restaurant and diversifying the menu to be a more diverse restaurant that will attract a lunch business and evening dinner crowd with great food and light entertainment," Francis Massimiano wrote back in 2010 — rendered their original permit invalid, but that only jammed them up when they attempted to transfer it, one more time, to Havana Cabana.

When they applied for the new use permit, it became clear that "light entertainment" — not to mention "lunch" and "dinner" — were not on the menu. ("The venue was open only for concerts, and available for booking as an event venue [i.e., no hours of operation as a bar or restaurant]," the Development Review Commission notes for July 16 say.) That's all pretty bad, but here's the damning part: "Bar cover charge is appropriate for live entertainment ancillary to the main use as a bar; a concert venue is not appropriate in this location."

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Seriously ??

You didnt see the bad management ? The gross bathrooms the neglected establishment ??

There could have been better ways to save it, unfortunately arrogance didnt allow for the changes that shouldve been made. Those kids ran it into  the ground.Kim with 13th Floor did excellent shows there. however, tell me in the arts dist there should be a metal club ?? I love metal and have supported the scene for years, but seriously now ?? Blame the show for their lack of knowing how to run a biz ?? ha.


This place was clearly already teetering on the edge of the cliff....all Bar Rescue did was give it a little push.


No comment from Taffer?


Did Bar Rescue help speed up the process of the closing of Rocky Point Cantina?  Most likely, but it wasn't because they gave bad advice.  Rocky Point Cantina was going to end up closed due to its poor management.  It is one thing to purchase a bar/restaurant and staffing it with the right people.  It is something completely different to have your no-experience son manage the place into bankruptcy.


Turning a Dos Gringos that was profitable into a metal club was a dumb move. The rest was all downhill. This article is poorly written and one-sided. Seriously, the New Times needs to hire real journalists.


If you watched the show, the problems at this bar we MUCH deeper than  what you are reporting here.  The bar didn't die because it stopped hosting metal shows, it died because the owners and their inept sons have no idea how to run a profitable business.  I have no reason to defend Bar Rescue or John Taffer, but c'mon - there's only so much someone can do to try and correct another person's mistakes.  The fact that metal bands now no longer have a place to play has little to do with this bar - the concept simply isn't a moneymaker, which is why there aren't other places for them to play.  See how that works?

You've failed to report how this bar was all but dead before Taffer arrived.  Sometimes, you just can't postpone the inevitable.


@krhutton9907 Your right.  Some best bands I saw especially seeing the Casualties, Nekromantik, LCB, and many more shouldn't being playing at that shithole.  It was terrible place hosting concerts.  Those fools did not know jack about running a business.  Good thing they move all the shows to Club Red now which is a better venue.  Oh yea that guy Anthony the bartender in reality was a real douche and didn't know how to make drinks worth a shit.


@incognito69 Wait a minute. There may have been problems but I know many a show that was sold out there. The owners did the best they could with the knowledge that they had. Were they great, no, but they weren't as bad as you make them sound. The bar died because the owners made 1 mistake in regards to their live music permit and because Bar Rescue didn't file permits with the city.

As for the bands, they have all found other places to play like Joe's Grotto and Club Red so that part of your argument is rendered moot.

david_saint01 topcommenter

@incognito69 actually, what Taffer did was a rookie move. Not checking city codes before making changes? what kind of moron does that!? Think what you want, but thats the facts jack. 


@Hotch75 Don't go trying to place ANY blame on the show Bar Rescue LOL! Get REAL! All those bands suck, The owners' were the ones to file permits with the city of Tempe! Their business was a failure from the start sorry to say that.. 


@david_saint01 @incognito69 

I give Taffer credit for trying to fix something that was broken the minute they created this venue. This project was a mess from the beginning. Frankly, when I retire, my goal is not to take my savings and see if I can sell alcohol to people. 

Zoning and construction codes are a basic part of due diligence on the property owner. 

Put all the whip cream on this onion all you want. It was an onion. I just hope mom and dad kept their house.

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