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Alaskan reality show shakeup

Former Alaskan bartender claims show led to firing

Posted: October 11, 2013 - 12:03am
Lane Taylor says he was unfairly fired from his job as bar manager at the Alaskan Bar during the recent filming at the hotel by the Travel Channel's Hotel Impossible.  Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Lane Taylor says he was unfairly fired from his job as bar manager at the Alaskan Bar during the recent filming at the hotel by the Travel Channel's Hotel Impossible.

Two days before the Travel Channel show “Hotel Impossible” began filming at the Alaskan Hotel and Bar, bar manager Lane Taylor began fearing for his job.

He told Alaskan Hotel owner Bettye Adams in an email that the producers were making him feel like they were going to urge his bosses to fire him if he didn’t show up for particular segments of the filming.

Six days later, he lost his job — on camera.

“I got fired for choosing not to appear on a controversial segment of a reality TV show,” Taylor said to the Empire in an email.

Newly appointed general manager of the Alaskan Hotel and Bar Joshua Adams said Thursday that he would not respond to Taylor’s claim until after the show airs in April of next year.

“I can’t talk about that. It’s too juicy on the show,” Adams said, later explaining that to reveal things now would, “ruin the show.”

Taylor was not present when the firing took place, but he quickly went to the bar to confront Adams about the decision.

He said that Adams told him, “Had you showed up this morning, this wouldn’t have happened.”

When asked about making that statement, Adams declined to comment.

 

Leadup

Weeks before filming began, scouts from Atlas Media Corp. which is behind the show, traveled to Juneau to tour the hotel and bar and meet with the owners and prominent employees.

At that point, several employees told Taylor they did not want to be on the show and did not wish to sign a “Participant Agreement and Appearance Release” form that was required for anyone who would be on the show, Taylor said.

He added that he expressed the same sentiment to owner Bettye Adams, only to be told he would be fired if he did not sign the form and participate.

He agreed to sign the form and appear in a minor role.

In a recent interview with the Empire, Joshua Adams said no employees were forced to appear on the show and many did not.

“There was no impact on wages, changes to shifts or anything like that,” Adams said of employees who opted out of appearing. “Anyone who didn’t want to, didn’t have to.”

He declined to comment when asked if high-ranking employees received more intense pressure to sign the release.

Taylor appeared in two segments during the filming: once during a Thursday night shoot when the bar was filled with patrons, and a second time for several hours Friday to answer questions from a bar consultant brought in by the Hotel Impossible crew.

Taylor and the consultant didn’t exactly see eye-to-eye.

“His idea of success was very different than what we had going on,” Taylor said.

He added that the consultant seemed to like the way the bar was being managed, but was urging him to order new upgrades to the infrastructure and to market the bar with the cruise ships.

“I’m a lifelong Alaskan, and I look at the bar as a local place. Any changes need to be small and casual,” Taylor said.

The consultant asked Taylor to meet him for drinks after the shoot to discuss his ideas to improve the local bar. Taylor said maybe, and then didn’t show.

“I think he got real (upset) when he showed up Friday night and I wasn’t there,” Taylor said.

It was a choice that Taylor believes led to his termination the next morning.

“That’s why I got fired — I didn’t want to do business with big business,” he said.

Making some of the main changes recommended on the show would cause the bar to lose the aura of a local place dedicated to serving the needs and desires of the crowds who frequented the bar year-round, he added.

 

Aftermath

Sara Caring was one of the employees who opted out of participating in the show from the very beginning.

As a bartender who worked just a few nights a week, she wanted no part of the show and so she decided to take the week off while filming was taking place.

“It was either take a week off work — which many couldn’t afford — or agree to be a part of this stupid circus,” Caring said. “Then things would go back to normal after, but that wasn’t the case.”

When she found out via text message that her boss, Taylor, had been fired as part of the show, she quit right away.

“Lane was fired on national TV, and immediately I didn’t work there either,” Caring said. “Lane was the reason I got a job there, and the reason I kept a job there.

“Without him being there it’s not the Alaskan Bar.”

Caring wasn’t the only casualty of the reality show’s visit. Since the filming concluded on Sept. 28, only two bar employees out of about 10 still work at the Alaskan, Caring said. Adams disputes that approximately 80 percent of his staff turned over during the show.

“If the show hadn’t come in, he wouldn’t have been fired,” Caring said. “Because he’s a damn good bar manager.”

Other employees also felt pressured to sign the release, though it was never explicitly stated that they would be fired if they did not, said Ariel Svetlik-McCarthy, the bartender who made headlines recently for yelling at a bear that happened to wander into the bar shortly before filming began.

“It was never direct, but a matter of ‘You are going to do this,’” Svetlik-McCarthy said.

But C. Scott Fry, the assistant general manager of the Alaskan Hotel, said no employees’ jobs depended on signing the release form.

“They were told, ‘You’d be doing me a favor if you did [sign the agreement],’” Fry said.

He added that concerns over the show changing everything about the bar were unfounded.

“Everything would have been the same if they just stuck around,” Fry said.

He declined to comment when asked if the bulk of the staff departing would yield a better bar.

Adams said it’s typical in the bar business for groups of employees to leave together, and that the exodus likely had to do with other factors beyond just the show. Either way, Adams is optimistic about the next part of the Alaskan Hotel and Bar’s saga.

“It’s not something I lay awake thinking about,” he said of the departures. “I don’t dwell on the past, I like to think about the future.”

After firing Taylor, Adams, a former bartender and bar manager, quickly named himself the new bar manager. It was a move that generated more frustration among some of the remaining staff.

“He decided to make changes that were absolutely unnecessary,” Svetlik-McCarthy said. She added, “We’re committed to each other and we weren’t going to commit to some new guy trying to destroy our party — we’ll just take it elsewhere. It’s the end of a chapter.”

The atmosphere between the bartenders and bar manager position instantly changed when Taylor left, Caring added.

“He doesn’t know our names, and hasn’t had a conversation with any of us,” she said of Adams. “It’s been an emotional thing for all of us. Originally, they weren’t going to mess with the bar, everything was going to be fine, but that wasn’t the case at all. It sucks.”

Changes are needed if the Alaskan Hotel and Bar is to continue as a profitable business in the future because it is a “dying breed” of business, Adams said.

“This is because we live in a culture that is radically different from what it was at that time my parents came onto the scene,” he said in a followup email.

Things are beginning to return to normal at the Alaskan, with live music scheduled for this weekend for the first time since the filming, he added.

Still, there may be lasting impacts stemming from the change of guard on the bar side of the operation — particularly when one of Juneau’s most beloved bands comes to town.

“We will definitely be thinking twice before we head back to the Alaskan,” said Lahna Deering of Deering and Down.

Deering and co-performer Rev Neil Down first heard about Taylor’s firing while in Memphis and called the move “disgusting.”

“We feel like a very large wrong has been done, and something needs to be corrected,” Down said.

At press time, Deering and a Down were in New York, and said they are working with other Alaskans in the Big Apple to possibly protest the outcome of the filming at the show’s headquarters.

“If they wanted to polish it, that’s great, but we love the Alaskan the way it is,” Deering said.

To date, Taylor has only been given one reason for his termination: he failed to appear on set for the final day of filming for Hotel Impossible.

Adams said his reasoning will be clear to all who tune in when the show airs next April — perhaps as a season premier, he added smiling.

“This is Juneau,” Adams said, “There’s going to be drama no matter what happens.”

• Contact reporter Matt Woolbright at 523-2243 or at matthew.woolbright@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/reportermatt.

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