Bar Rescue is one of my favorite reality TV series, and what makes the Paramount Network show stand out to me is the experts that Jon Taffer brings to each rescue. Not to take anything away from Taffer, who is the engine that drives the show and has kept it going for so many years, but he’s there every week. We know he’s going to be good. What makes each episode distinct is who he brings along and the series has had a particularly great lineup of mixologists.
In honor of the show’s return, and because I’ve spent the last several weeks of my vacation marathoning classic Bar Rescue episodes, I’m counting down the five bar experts whose work I’ve enjoyed the most. Every expert on the show could mix circles around me but these are the ones who got me excited when they appeared and still make episodes hold up today.
You can find them all in episodes either on Paramount Network (new episodes air Sundays at 10:00 p.m. while reruns air weekdays starting at 8:00 a.m.) or streaming on Amazon Video or iTunes.
5. Mia Mastroianni
Bar Rescue has done a great job of highlighting women in the bartending industry, and Mia Mastroianni is the most prominent example of that. With good reason – she sets an incredibly high standard for bartenders of any gender. I wish I had the confidence with which Mia always carries herself. She has an excellent training style, as well: articulate, clear, and constantly able to get that little bit extra out of people.
One of my favorite random Bar Rescue moments is when Jon sent Mia and chef Michael Ferraro into WildeFire Bistro to interrupt owner Tony’s latest singing performance. Seeing Michael literally pull the plug was laugh-out-loud hilarious, but Mia emphatically telling him “Show’s over, Tony” was even more perfect. She made very clear with her tone that she was not there for any of his shenanigans.
Plus, who can forget the classic moment when chauvinistic Mandala Lounge owner Greg took Mia on in a bartending challenge and she put him in his place with authority? Then she beat him again in a “Back to the Bar” follow-up. That will go down as one of the great moments in show history and as a woman who’s dealt with gender bias it was fantastic to watch. That moment alone makes Mia a legend, on top of everything else.
4. Phil Wills
Phil Wills feels like the OG of Bar Rescue experts. It’s hard to believe he didn’t come along until season 3 because he just seems like he’s been around the whole time. If you watch four Bar Rescue episodes, chances are Phil is in at least two of them. That deserves a round of applause in and of itself on a series where experts seem to last a season or two and then rotate out. Phil’s commitment can never be questioned…especially after the episode where he got sick on the job. Other folks might have thrown in the towel after that but not Phil.
The great thing about Phil is you can see his passion for training. He’s not just a great bartender who’s stepping into a training role for this show. Like a few Bar Rescue mixologists, he has his own company, and it’s clear that he has a knack for working with other people. He’s unafraid to bring the hammer down but what’s even more important is that he’s wonderful at giving encouragement when that’s needed. A lot of Bar Rescue episodes can dwell on the negative (understandably so when you’re starting from the lowest point), but Phil is one of the most likely to also hand out praise, and that goes a long way toward balancing the show out.
Plus, he’s just genuinely cool. If only we were all half as cool as Phil Wills is able to be.
3. Peter O’Connor
I desperately wanted to put Peter O’Connor higher on this list, because I really do love him and his work. But for whatever reason, his appearances on Bar Rescue were very limited; he’s only credited on Internet Movie Database for four episodes. That is a crying shame because he was a rock star every time he showed up.
Peter is incredibly charming and one of the few experts whose cocktails I actually found interesting, which is saying something because I don’t drink alcohol. But he came up with truly creative ideas. What made me a Peter O’Connor fan, though, was that he’s a fighter who stood up for himself and the bars he was trying to save. Most Bar Rescue fans will remember the “Broke Black Sheep” episode where one of the owners tried to throw Peter under the bus – and not only was Peter not having it, but he gave it right back to the guy without stooping to his level.
He’s a true professional who didn’t take any nonsense and always conducted himself with class. And he brought that little extra spark of joy and life to the series whenever he was on screen, which was never long enough. He’s someone I really wanted to get to know better (for example, one episode’s voiceover mentioned that he’s worked in several military bars), because I feel like if Peter had been around for more episodes, he’d have become as popular as anyone else on the show. Every time one of those four episodes he was in pops up, I still miss him.
2. Rob Floyd
Rob Floyd is a relatively new addition to the show, having come on in the fifth season, but he pretty quickly made an impression. Firstly, Rob’s got a great personality, both when he is training and when he’s not. Some of his best moments are when he’s sitting in Jon’s SUV watching surveillance footage, because Rob’s expressions say what we’re thinking. He’s the Bar Rescue expert who feels like one of us.
There’s such a warmth to Rob; I don’t know if I’ve ever seen any expert, mixologist or otherwise, have more fun on the show than he seems to. And that energy and optimism is infectious; it makes the episodes more fun to watch as a fan, and it seems like it rubs off on the people he’s training. He’s honest about the challenges it takes to craft this cocktail or fix that issue, but at the same time he’s so effortless that he makes it all look easy. It seems like he’s rarely stressed in any episode while everyone else around him is yelling and running around in a panic.
And okay, I geek out a little bit every time he shows up because I recognize him from a show called Sliders that I used to watch. I actually think he’s cooler now because he feels like someone we can all learn something from, whether you drink or not. Whether it’s how to engage with the public or how to just take things in better stride, Rob has a lot that he brings to the table (or is that bar?)
1. Russell Davis
Bar Rescue was never the same after Russell Davis left. Russell is the person who made me a Bar Rescue fan and somebody that I would love to sit down and have a drink and a conversation with. That’s because he’s a genuine badass and a genuinely hard-working mixologist.
Russell did things on the show that just looked awesome and he did them with a fair amount of regularity. It’s not like “Hey, remember that cool Russell Davis moment?” There were a lot of cool Russell Davis moments. Every expert has faced some challenge on the show but Russell dealt with more of them than anybody. He was the expert in the first-ever episode where Taffer walked out (only after Russell managed to metaphorically kick the ass of everyone in said bar). He injured his knee in another episode, and was also around for the one where there was almost a riot. And he worked through it all.
Russell was unique in that he was the one Bar Rescue expert where it felt like he wasn’t a supporting player to Jon or anyone else. He could step into and resolve situations on his own. He never flinched from confrontation; this was not a guy you wanted to mess with at all. But at the same time he also earned respect both from the staffs he worked with and the viewers; he was witty and honest, too. Russell made mixology exciting for everybody. And that wasn’t necessarily because he lit something on fire or did anything too tricky; the excitement came just from watching him work.
The show lost a massive amount of spark when he departed; Rob has helped bring some of that back, but Russell had a coolness all his own. Between Russell Davis, Peter O’Connor and Phil Wills all being on the scene, Bar Rescue season 3 remains my favorite season. And if you asked me which one mixologist I want to hang out with in a bar, it’s hands down Russell Davis.
Bar Rescue airs Sundays at 10:00 p.m. ET/PT on Paramount Network.