PUEBLO, Colo. – Ten years ago today, PBR history was made.
The building’s energy level was high. A bull was ridden, the get off rather ugly, and the crowd roared.
But there were no bullfighters or safety man around.
Flint Rasmussen was missing, though the assemblage laughed and hooted and hollered in the recognizable ways of people having a great time with the PBR.
The bull was actually of the mechanical variety. And the building in Kansas City was located across from the Sprint Center where the real bovine athletes bucked.
The milestone event on April 10, 2008, was the official opening of the first PBR Bar.
A decade later, as PBR sets attendance records on the dirt (nine so far this season), the league is hitting pay dirt outside of the arena with its working-class cowboy honky tonks.
There are now nine successful PBR-branded bars, with locations in Las Vegas, Baltimore, Louisville, Hampton, Virginia, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Atlanta, and Norfolk, Virginia.
The biggest one yet will debut at Arlington’s Texas Live! sports entertainment complex later this year. It will feature a 7,000-square-foot balcony over a 5,000-person event space called Arlington Backyard.
PBR’s bar partner is The Cordish Companies, and Texas will be the real estate company’s biggest project yet. (The PBR Rock Bar in Las Vegas on the strip not too far from T-Mobile Arena where the sport crowns its World Champion is independently owned.)
Sports-branded sports bars are a very difficult concept to sustain. NASCAR, for example, has shuttered seven NASCAR Grilles, and an equal number of ESPN Zones have closed, according to Sports Business Journal.
Meantime, Cordish says PBR Bar is its most successful concept. The company is eyeing further expansion in possible markets such as Detroit, Denver and Nashville, though no commitments have been made.
Success lies in simplicity. PBR stuck to its fun-loving cowboy brand and didn’t try to be all things to all people.
“In the arena, PBR is one big party. The bar is also a place for people to go have good time,” said Sean Gleason, CEO, PBR. “We were comfortable with our establishments offering a full-throttle, non-stop entertainment atmosphere all night long.”
As The Cordish Companies National Brand Manager Mike Rostek puts it, “Jack and Coors taste exactly the same in the PBR Bar as in any other bar. It’s what happens between the drinks that makes us special.”
What happens is part Urban Cowboy remake, part performance art and a whole lot of Jack Daniel’s.
The PBR Bar staff is trained in 48 choreographed line dances. They have about 100 costumes to draw on, Rostek says.
The bar staff will re-enact the scene in Top Gun where the bachelorette is serenaded by three sailors singing “You Lost Your Loving Feeling.”
They’ll emerge in fake beards, straw hats, overalls and hillbilly teeth for a hilarious “Dueling Banjos” take off.
A few songs later, it’s dazzled vests, jean shorts, and cowboy boots for the Village People’s “YMCA” in another moment tailor made for social-media.
In the spirit of PBR’s Celebrate America initiative, “Freedom Friday” celebrates returning active military and first responders, cranking “God Bless America” by Lee Greenwood.
Cordish puts a premium on staff-customer interaction, regularly training and retraining bar staff on line dancing, skits, and customer engagement.
They’re taught to spot the one person who might be skeptical and turn their mood around.
“If you can conquer the one person not having a good time, everyone will have a great time,” said Rostek, who keeps meticulous notes of what works and what doesn’t, and could probably teach an advanced theater production class.
Some of those patrons turn into PBR fans, Gleason says.
“We are reaching a lot of people who don’t know what PBR is as an event or sport. We can entertain people in association with our brand and convert them into fans.”
While The Cordish Companies and Jonathan Fine in Las Vegas are world-class operators, Gleason has had a strong hand in the PBR Bar’s development and success, dating back to planning the Kansas City launch in a proverbial “cocktail napkin brainstorm” with Cordish executives.
The group cracked open a bottle of Jack Daniel’s and started sketching on cocktail napkins, including the outfits for the “Buckle Bunnies” who’d serve drinks and entertain clientele out for a fun night.
Those initial outfits – black chaps, red shorts, and a tied up PBR t shirt – are still seen today.
The bar’s simple mission also remains the same.
“We want to be a place you don’t want to leave and somewhere you want to come back to,” Rostek says.
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