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September 20, 2017

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Don’t believe everything you see on reality TV


Tom Donoghue /

2014 Tropic Beauty Model Search contestants at D Las Vegas with Corey Harrison of “Pawn Stars” on Tuesday, June 10, 2014, in downtown Las Vegas.

We recently published a cover story in The Sunday focusing on the unreal elements of reality, or reality-based, or unscripted, TV. Several stars, among them Austin “Chumlee” Russell of “Pawn Stars,” talked about how producers shifted, augmented, exaggerated or otherwise recreated reality to frame the shows.

Corey Harrison, Chumlee’s running mate on “Pawn Stars,” has since provided some insight as to how the crisscrossing plot lines in his show are more in line with a scripted sitcom than a documentary-style series.

In an episode of “Pawn Stars” that aired in June (and it might have been a repeat for all I know; all these episodes sort of blend together), Harrison’s purportedly reckless spending habits were addressed — and mocked, for comedic effect.

The storyline: Harrison had bought a mint-condition 1969 Camaro Z28, a stout little buggy for which the “Z” stands for “zero,” in reference to its practical value. The car is a cool piece of nostalgia, a collector’s item, and as the episode reflected, a purchase made by someone with ample disposable income.

But there was such a concern over Harrison’s lavish spending habits that his father, Rick, and grandfather Richard “Old Man” Harrison goaded him into meeting with a financial planner to curtail his spending sprees. When Corey sat down, he was asked to produce his credit card, which summarily was sliced in half. He then was instructed to sell the Camaro, which he begrudgingly did — to Rick, who was shown at the end of the episode grinning while roaring along in his new ’69 Z28.

Move forward to real life, and Harrison has entered into a partnership to buy the controlling interest of Beauty Bar in downtown Las Vegas. His co-investor is Darin Feinstein, owner of the Viper Room in Los Angeles, co-owner of Sapphire Gentlemen’s Club on Industrial Road, and operator of three entertainment venues at the Riviera. Symbiotically, one hosts “Pawn Shop Live,” based on “Pawn Stars” and endorsed by the Harrisons.

Feinstein has the operational experience to handle the challenge of returning Beauty Bar to prominence. The music club, tavern and (yes) salon opened in 2004 as one of the pace-setting enclaves on what became Fremont East. It was a fanciful concept and well received in its infancy, but Beauty Bar has since been overshadowed by a nearby outcropping of groovy hangouts, including Don’t Tell Mama and the Griffin on the same side of the street.

Just recently, I was walking along Fremont East with a friend who asked, “Is Beauty Bar still open?” Yep. It is a bar that needs some love, a marketing push and a vacuum cleaner.

Just after the Beauty Bar sale was reported, I asked Harrison if investing in a tavern that has been largely overlooked for several years and, by his own admission, needs a good scrubbing was another example of him thoughtlessly throwing money away. He chuckled in a way that said, “You watch too much TV.”

“Trust me, I’m very financially stable,” he said. “Our producers like to make a small story into a big one.”

In general, he said, “If the deal’s right, I am interested. But it has to be right.”

Beauty Bar won’t make the man dubbed “Big Hoss” wealthy. “Nobody is going to get rich off this,” he said, flatly.

But his idea is to further expand the Beauty Bar brand. The club is one of seven Beauty Bar franchises in the country, with locations in San Francisco, New York and Chicago.

Harrison also plans to renew the Las Vegas club’s salon license so it will be a functioning hair-and-nails haunt during the day and a music and drinking establishment at night.

“I don’t do anything half-assed,” said Harrison, who takes over the bar July 1. “I have a real stake in it.”

As for that chopped credit card? For Harrison, TV star and now tavern owner, it was merely a prop.

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