Michael Horne

How a “Bar Rescue” Created Nick’s House

Reality TV show helps Y-Not Y-Not Y-Not turn into a 70's-themed bar.

By - Oct 16th, 2014 01:16 pm
Inside Nick's House. Photo by Michael Horne.

Inside Nick’s House. Photo by Michael Horne.

Bar Rescue” is a “reality” television show now in its fourth season on Spike, a basic cable network billed as the first to target men. The show’s gimmick is simple and likely inexhaustible: the Bar Rescue team heads to a troubled tavern, all hell breaks loose, the staff and owner are grilled and vilified by host John Taffer, who ultimately yells, “Shut it Down!” Truly, the Lifetime Network has nothing quite like it.

The burly rescuers then work overnight to transform the location into a new bar, changing decor, drink menus, and often even the name of the establishment. Truly, the Lifetime Network has nothing quite like it.

The gimmick seems to work: after four years, 46 of the 60 rescued establishments are still in business. This month the team was in Milwaukee to film two episodes to air later this year, or early next year. The first tavern to be visited was the Y-Not Y-Not Y-Not, and one of the first things to change at the Y-Not Y-Not Y-Not was its cumbersome name.

Welcome to Nick’s House, 1854 E. Kenilworth Pl., one-hundred per cent owned by Nicholas A. DePalma, 37, a third-generation tavern owner who still seems a little bit rattled by the experience of having his bar and psyche dissected, not to mention having to wear the same clothing for five consecutive days for continuity purposes.

As one participant wrote on the Nick’s House Facebook Page, “this experience has been emotional, stressful, hilarious, exhausting, and ridiculous all at the same time.”

The Y-Not Y-Not Y-Not, which insiders called “The Three,” but never the “Y-Not 3,” opened in 1999 under DePalma’s ownership in an 1880 building bought in 1998 by DePalma’s father Tony DePalma, owner of the Y-Not II, which was reviewed here in June. [The Easy-Going Charm of Y-NOT II.]

Ordinarily we’d give the DePalma family a little breather between tavern reviews (sister Monica DePalma owns yet another bar, “Monica’s on Astor,” in a pre-Civil War building, and we’ll get around to her some day), but under the circumstances we figured we’d pop in to see how Nick and the bar have recovered from the TV taping, and to find out exactly what has been changed other than the name.

The answer: not as much as you might think. And that’s a good thing, since the Three was one of your more laid-back taverns and only succumbed to the pressures of a raucous North Avenue crowd when absolutely necessary.

Outside, a coat of paint was slapped on those portions of the building within camera range, while other walls, not on camera, like the prime visible spot facing E. North Ave. remain unpainted. (Lesson one about reality television: reality does not extend beyond the camera’s lens.)

A new sign that looks straight out of a ‘70’s tv game show — that early precursor of reality television — reads “Nick’s House,” and, in smaller print at the bottom, “A Y-Not Bar.” The DePalmas are being branded! On National TV!

On the first floor, the velvet painting of Captain Kirk which had been removed during the taping for copyright reasons, was back on the walls, looking down on us. John Wayne and JFK, effigy-ized in the same medium are upstairs. The glass-fronted beer coolers now have a trompe l’oeil decorative screen of a ‘70’s stereo cabinet and LP collection on them, adding a nice touch. The prop buyer had certainly been busy filling up on ‘70’s furniture and decorations, amply in evidence and some of rather considerable quality, considering the era. Those fiberglass seats you spent 12 years on in school are now the decorative rage. Another ‘70’s sofa, evidently long-in-storage, had already collapsed beneath the weight of a corpulent customer.

The bar at Nick's House. Photo by Michael Horne.

The bar at Nick’s House. Photo by Michael Horne.

So, let’s have a sit somewhere, and grab ourselves a drink.

Among things that have not changed, there are still plenty of fine beers on tap, although the new tap system the producers installed as part of the deal was not working on a recent visit. Never mind, there are plenty of other beers as well. On the spirit side, you will certainly encounter no difficulty ordering a Smirnoff product. The prices are the same, and you can still get those brews in Liter mugs, conditions permitting, but the cocktail menu, which never existed before, now includes specials like “Bell Bottoms’ Collins,” “Dream on Creamsicle,” “Friday Night Fever,” and a Smirnoff Watermelon shot at prices ranging from $4.75 to $6.75 –rather on the high end for a neighborhood where some establishments offer college kids all-you-can-drink specials for ten bucks.

These specialty cocktails were the idea of the TV folks, and people are coming in to order them by name, happy to pay the price, DePalma says.

That is just one example where the Bar Rescue people gave him good advice, he says. After watching him and his crew work, they were chided for pouring cocktails freehand. Now a series of shot glasses and measuring cups ensure consistency for the new specialty cocktails and other drinks, which probably will benefit the bottom line as well.

Another change: the tavern will also open most days at 4 p.m. instead of noon, saving labor costs, although that recommendation might be the first to go out the window if the makeover is a success.

But even before airing of the episode, people are wandering in just to see the place and take a look around, DePalma says, something that never happened before. “Bartenders are making in tips sometimes what we used to ring up in the till the whole night,” DePalma says.

So, that’s good news.

The upstairs, an engineering marvel that is suspended from a wooden truss by massive iron rods, has seen the greatest change. It was a curious spot to begin with, wood paneled and cozy with a little loft space where the attic should have been and a couple of bathrooms the DePalmas expensively added in the early days. It includes an inoperable vintage tile fireplace that the rescue people fortunately did not mess with, along with a bunch of new loungey furniture they hauled in. Think orange, brown, yellow and chartreuse. Think ‘70s.

Isn’t it a bit early for ‘70s nostalgia? Apparently not. Cool kids have often been nostalgic about the era two decades before their birth, it seems, and those of us who lived and hung out at taverns during the decade don’t remember it anyway, so the theme and decor is new for all.

Among interested visitors was the crew from Packy’s Pub, 4065 S. Howell Ave. Their bar was the second stop on the Bar Rescue ambush on Brew Town. It was a Thursday, the evening when the Shut it Down tavern was being remodeled and repurposed by the television series crew. “They all came in and asked me what to expect,” DePalma said. They’ll find out soon enough.

So, when the episode about his tavern airs, what is DePalma’s wish? He thinks the national publicity will be good for the city. “I hope people watch the show at their favorite bar with their friends. I don’t want this to be a big deal about me or this bar. I want it to be a big deal for Milwaukee.”

The Rundown

  • Nick’s House, formerly Y-Not, Y-Not, Y-Not, or The Three if you weren’t into that whole brevity thing.
  • Location: 1854 E. Kenilworth Place, Milwaukee
  • Neighborhood: Lower East Side (just barely) with decided North Ave. vibe
  • Phone number: (414) 224-9668
  • Website: None
  • Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ynot.iii
  • Description: Reality show visits Milwaukee for redo of local tavern housed in interesting 1880 building in busy tavern district. A new ‘70’s theme is drawing customers even before show airs.
  • Hours: See below.
  • Food: Merciful heavens, No! DePalmas have been there, done that.
  • Signature Drink: Smirnoff anything for the time being.
  • Capacity: 99 in 4,509 square foot tavern on two levels.  Could plausibly be increased upon review.
  • Restrooms: Two for men, two for women. TV crew didn’t spend too much time in them, other than applying chartreuse paint.
  • Year Established: 1998. Building was actually a barn, constructed in 1880 and later hauled to the site from a couple blocks east. Was boat storage, Frenchy’s Restaurant, part-time home of Beans and Barley during fire reconstruction and an ethnic fasty-food restaurant.
  • Year Building Constructed: Built 1880, later moved to the site.
  • Estimated Annual Rent: The assessor reckons it at $25,345 for the first floor and $15,561 for the second floor for a total estimated annual rent of $41,906. The real estate is family-owned. The land is assessed at $42,600 for the 2,130 square foot lot ($20 / s.f.) and $363,400 for the improvements for a total assessment of $406,000.
  • Walk Score: 92 out of 100, “Walker’s Paradise”
  • Transit Score 51 out of 100, “Good Transit” Better than “Good,” especially once the streetcar starts rolling by. Lay some tracks, for crying out loud, Mayor Barrett!
  • Games of Chance: 5. Also ATM.
  • Games of Skill: Some.
  • Aldermanic District: 3rd; Nik Kovac

Photo Gallery

Hours of Operation

Is Open? Day Open Close Expected Customers Age Restriction
True Sun 12:00PM 2:00AM 75
True Mon 4:00PM 2:00AM 75
True Tue 4:00PM 2:00AM 75
True Wed 4:00PM 2:00AM 75
True Thu 4:00PM 2:00AM 100
True Fri 4:00PM 2:30AM 150
True Sat 12:00PM 2:30AM 150


0 thoughts on “Taverns: How a “Bar Rescue” Created Nick’s House”

  1. Anonymous says:

    This was a nice look at the place–save for the weird Lifetime bit and the insistence on calling the show “Tavern Rescue.”

  2. Anonymous says:

    So when will the Bar Rescue segment air, and on what channel? (Does anyone know yet?) And, the biggest question – was it worth it? (Well, somebody’s got to put Milwaukee on the map…..)

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