Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Did Choppers turn out as advertised?

When the owners of Choppers Bar And Grille came to the Tarentum Borough Council in May, they went to great lengths to emphasize that the establishment for which they were seeking a liquor license was going to be different from the previous "Hog Heaven" that had closed in the same location (see here or here). The owners had not been part of the previous bar's operation and did not want to be held responsible for the problems of the past.

They described their dream of having an upscale biker bar -- a place where doctors, lawyers, and bankers who ride motorcycles could bring their families for dinner. They pointed out that there was no restaurant in the borough of Tarentum where one could go out for supper on a Monday night, and that Choppers would make Monday night dining a possibility in Tarentum. A dining area out along the sidewalk was going to be another draw for their desired upscale clientele.

Meanwhile, people who lived in the neighborhood on streets uphill from the bar wondered whether Choppers was going to be a new manifestation of the previous nuisance bar.

As the renovations and decoration of the space proceeded, ambivalent messages kept the question unresolved as to what kind of establishment Choppers would be.

sign announcing "Chopper's Bar & Grille opening soon Under New Management", photo taken June 30, 2007 In June a sign announced that Choppers Bar and Grille was opening soon "under new management". According to what had been told to the Borough Council, Choppers was brand new to Tarentum, and was to open under its very first management in Tarentum. The phrase "under new management" does point to a new reality and a new way in which things will be done, but at the same time, it hints at some degree of continuity with something in the past. The only explanation I can imagine for this phrase is that Choppers wanted to communicate something to the customers of the former Hog Heaven, hoping to get them in the door.

In any event, it is not clear whether Choppers is a new business in Tarentum or just an old business with a new name and new management.

When Choppers opened, the Valley News Dispatch carried a review of the "upscale biker bar", describing in very positive terms a visit by the paper's Lunch Bunch. I visited it on a Monday evening, and did not post anything about my experience, which was not as good. I thought the food was adequate and appropriately priced. The service was extremely slow -- I waited over a half hour for a sandwich. They did comp my beverage, which was a soft drink. It might just have been a problem of getting the kitchen up to speed shortly after opening, but I am not likely to go back. I did not observe any delays in serving drinks, but I saw other people waiting a long time for food as well. Better staffed to function as a bar than as a restaurant, the setting did not feel comfortable to me as a place for family dining.

According to a neighbor two streets away from Choppers, the noise from the bar is very disruptive through the evening and into the night, getting even worse right after closing at 2:00 AM when the customers leave and warm up their motorcycles.

I understand that Choppers has a bouncer carding people on weekends. On the one hand, this points to the clear intention of the owners for the bar to be a place where problems do not occur. On the other hand, it also points to the potential for problems to occur, and raises the question whether Choppers genuinely intends to provide bikers with a family restaurant where liquor is served, or whether it is just a biker bar that occasionally serves some items of food. After all, this is the only restaurant in Tarentum that has or needs a bouncer while claiming to be an option for family dining.

I am interested in how other people see this. I started a poll on Topix.com, asking the question "Did Choppers in Tarentum turn out as advertised?" You are welcome to vote there. What was promoted to the Borough Council back in May was a restaurant that would play a role in the revitalization of Tarentum. I wonder whether Choppers will have that positive influence.

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