TUCSON, AZ - The Bashful Bandit, Tucson's rough-around-the-edges biker bar, was softened up a little this month courtesy of a Travel Channel makeover show.
The bar was hand-picked by producers of "American RoadHouse" to be featured in an episode set to run in April 2014.
Chuck Zito, a former boxer turned actor and former president of the New York chapter of the Hells Angels, hosts the new reality show that helps renovate biker bars.
Given Zito's background, Bandit owner Brenndon Scott expected the show to keep the makeover consistent with the bar's biker history.
Instead, much of the biker memorabilia -- like bike parts salvaged from patrons' crashes and the framed Dirty Dozen Motorcycle Club bumper sticker -- was taken down. "These guys came in and really put a new spin on it," Scott said.
The gray walls were given a fresh coat of pale yellow paint, with orange trim. The top of a metal table -- a favorite hangout for some of the "old-timers" -- was refinished with tiny glass tiles. One of the areas previously lighted only by neon signs now features strings of multicolored paper lanterns that hang from the ceiling. The bar's stools were replaced with metal stools in orange, yellow and green. The liquor display behind the bar was de-cluttered and lined with copper panels. And the stripper pole was taken down to make way for a seating area.
The bulk of the renovation was cosmetic. Areas where more intense work was needed, like the bathrooms and floor damaged from years of customers riding their bikes into the bar, were left unchanged.
Zito's idea was to make the dive bar more appealing to the college crowd to drive business, Scott said. For a few years, the Bandit hosted a college night that was its biggest night of the week but fell apart because of competition from newer bars closer to campus, Scott said.
The Bandit needs bigger, diverse crowds to come in during weeknights to stay afloat, Scott said. "I think this is a great opportunity for us to re-evaluate what this bar can be and go forward with our old customer base and our new one that we're developing and make something really special out of this place," Scott said.
For longtime patrons, the makeover is going to take some getting used to.
"I'm having twins tomorrow, and my nursery is cooler than this bar," said Kristin Hernandez, who popped into the bar last Tuesday to check on the renovations. Hernandez, known by the nickname "Texas," was scheduled to be induced into labor last Wednesday.?
Hernandez, 33, has been frequenting the Bandit for about six years and tended bar there for two.
"If you've been coming here for years, there's something that you own that has been put in this bar, whether at one point it was your bra or whatever," she said.
Most of the stuff left by patrons, including signs and flags, is now in storage.
Also missing is the memorial wall, which used to have photos of customers who have died. Now, the photos are hung in different spots around the bar.
"Great, the pictures are still up but they kind of took away the meaning of the wall. You don't take apart memorials and like throw them all over the place, and that's kind of what they did," Hernandez said. "So that's kind of a bummer to me."
Robey Straight, 44,? has been going to the Bandit for 11 years because she likes the atmosphere and the people. She understands the desire to change things but is disappointed that a lot of the biker memorabilia is gone.
"It's like they didn't even consider the biker aspect, the history here; they came in and it's like they took all the history out," she said.
Longtime patron Daniel Manuel Martinez, 68, who goes by "Chopper," considers the bar "a work in progress."
Starting in the 1980s, Martinez was part of the Dirty Dozen Motorcycle Club, once a dominant, violent club in Arizona. The Bandit was the club's home bar in Tucson, and Martinez painted two murals on the front of the bar.
"That box has memorabilia. Some of it I'm sure will come back and it'll start looking like a biker bar again," he said, pointing to a storage unit.
Scott, while happy about the makeover, already has plans to make some changes. The paper lanterns will go soon, if not by staff, patrons will probably tear them down during a rowdy concert, he figures. "We are going to put some of the gas cans back and remind people that this is historically a biker bar, and I want to pay tribute to that," he said.