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River North Bar Owner on 'Bar Rescue': 'I Wouldn't Treat My Dog That Way'

By David Matthews | February 17, 2015 5:34am
 The Underground Wonder Bar in River North opened its doors with a new name and look Tuesday.
Underground Wonder Bar
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RIVER NORTH — Lonie Walker said she was "absolutely traumatized" when she was forced to upend her Underground Wonder Bar last year on Spike TV's "Bar Rescue."

Since the episode ran Sunday, she said she views that process differently: "Uproariously funny."

Underground Wonder Bar, 710 N. Clark St., has been busier since "Bar Rescue" host Jon Taffer forced changes and reopened the live music venue in October, Walker said. But she also bucked Taffer's authority and brought back many of the bar's peculiar charms that he dropped, including crayon drawings on tabletops, the Wonder Bar name, and Walker's own singing on stage.

David Matthews says some of the old charms are back:

During Sunday's episode, Taffer renamed the River North haunt "Clear Bar" and aimed it toward the neighborhood's upscale residents, to Walker's chagrin.

"I was pretty convinced I was going to have to keep that stupid name for a year," Walker said. "I can laugh about it now because the editing makes it look comical."

Open since 1989, Underground Wonder Bar is depicted on the show as a funky hangout that's out of place amid River North's vibrant nightlife scene. The bar can't cover its $18,000-per-month rent, with outstanding debt that's soared to more than $500,000. 

Walker said many of her friends were upset about her own portrayal on the show as a clueless "has-been" musician who refuses to look past her old ways to save the business. Taffer's "bullying," she said, was even worse behind the scenes.

"I wouldn't treat my dog that way," she said.

When Taffer told her during taping that she was the most difficult barkeep he's dealt with, Walker said she wore the distinction "like a badge of honor."

Walker said she also inherited some new problems because of the show: new tables that are too big, and more money to be spent soundproofing the bar because "Bar Rescue" only fixed one-eighth of the sound system. Still, she appreciated some of the work done, including clearing booths out of the bar to create more space, and renovating its lower level.

"I really was grateful to [Taffer] for that," she said.

The show's selective editing, including a profane sign-language exchange between Walker and her son, Jordan, toward Taffer, also elicited some laughs Sunday, she said.

Underground Wonder Bar still isn't making enough money to cover its rent, and Walker said some "good people" are keeping it afloat. The bar is hosting a Mardi Gras event Tuesday, but Walker said her business has suffered from recent winter storms. 

Still, she plans to carry on. 

"They targeted me as incompetent and out to pasture," Walker said. "But the trauma I experienced during taping made me stronger." 

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