Look. I’m about to speak some truth, and the truth is gonna be hard. But we need to talk about bars. Sure, they can be fun, and they’ve become a cornerstone of socialization, especially if you live in a big city. But they’re a problematic fave. We’ve all allowed bars their foibles so that we can get all hot-looking and limit our brain’s capacity to function for a bit, but at what cost? Standing all night? Having to shout over ironic remixes of 2014 pop hits that are literally all bass? Paying $8 for a Michelob Ultra???
I’ve got a salvo for the bar problem, and friends, it’s Applebee’s. The anchor for this heavyweight advantage is, of course, Applebee’s absolutely incredible drink specials. When Applebee’s first rolled out its now-infamous Applebee’s Neighborhood Drink Special, it did so with $1 Long Island Ice Teas (L.I.T.), which Vice covered in an incredibly in-depth investigation last July. Since then, they’ve hosted a menagerie of $1-$2 drink specials that rotate in and out on a monthly basis. And upon this thrifty foundation, Applebee’s has crafted a superior going-out experience. (I wish I was kidding.)
1. You’ll never wait in line again.
How many times have you stood in the cold, waiting in line for a bar that was probably overrated anyway? (Even if you’ve only done it once, the answer is “too many times.”) Applebee’s, under-the-radar going-out choice that it is, doesn’t have this problem. Don’t get me wrong—the Atladena Applebee’s location my boyfriend, Danny, and I decided to explore last Saturday was definitely bumping. And we experienced a brief moment of hesitation when we saw the handful of families waiting for their tables. But we quickly realized we could breeze past this line and head straight to the curved bar—technically what we were told was, “There’s seating at the horseshoe”—and sit down right away.
Which brings me to point number two:
2. You get to sit down! The whole time!
Sure, I’ve been to bars where I’ve been lucky enough to snag a table—or capitalize on a put-together friend’s ability to get there early and strategically mark her territory with jackets and bags. But I’ve also been to plenty of bars that are standing room only, where getting one of the limited seats at the bar means men shouting their drink orders directly over your head all night.
Not so with Applebee’s. We slid directly into two comfy tall chairs with bountiful room between us and the other patrons. The second we sat down our incredibly sweet bartender asked what we’d like to drink, which brings me to my next point of superiority:
3. You can actually hear the things other humans say to you.
Just like any classic staple of Americana, Applebee’s likes to have a little fun and crank the Tom Petty. But at no point did I have to compete with Tom to be heard by either Danny or our sweet bartender. This offered a stark contrast from probably every bar I’ve ever been to, because things to get so loud my only recourse is usually nodding and laughing at everything that’s been said to me (while desperately hoping I haven’t just entered into a sex cult or murder pact—or both).
Regardless, we were able to have an extended conversation, which was mostly about the menu, because:
4. The food is low-key great.
The ability to sit and order full meals to accompany our alcohol—and have those meals be way cheaper than the average meal in LA—is a small miracle in itself. I have a searingly clear memory of Danny looking over the “3 Course You-Pick Deal” leaflet in the menu and saying, with awe in his voice, “This is fascinating.” He got a full Caesar salad, mozzarella sticks and a burger with fries. Try ordering that at your local dive bar.
5. You’ll feel like you’re living in a modern-day Norman Rockwell painting.
Sitting inside an Applebee’s somehow makes you feel like you’re a member of a nuclear family in 1992, or something, and that simplicity is intoxicating all on its own. (Especially in LA, where I’m never more than a stone’s throw from someone wearing a Tweetie Bird sweater ironically or rollerblading indoors.) It seems like every bar I encounter is either Aggressively Cool or Extremely Themed, and Applebee’s offered a breath of fresh (yet very burger-filled) air. I’m not kidding—within a 4-mile radius of my location at this exact second, there is a Bigfoot bar, a bar shaped like a barrel, a Tim Burton pop-up bar, and at least three tiki bars. With all that free-floating irony, pageantry and raw coolness, it can be nice to reserve a moment or two for some Normal Tourism.
Also, I can’t make a blanket statement about this because of the hellscape we currently occupy, but Applebee’s offered a nice change of pace in that I didn’t get harassed while being out of my house at night! That’s no small feat, considering how even when accompanied by my dutiful male escort Danny, I’ve had a man grab my shoulders from behind and tell me, “You’re going to have a wonderful week, I just know it.” The number of men I didn’t know who talked to me for the entirety of Applebee’s night? Zero, unless you count, “There’s seating at the horseshoe.” Five stars!
6. The bathrooms are immaculate.
I didn’t have an organic place to put this part, but I just have to take a quick aside here. I can’t think of the last time I went to a bar bathroom and thought anything other that, “How can I spend the mathematically smallest increment of time interacting with these truly stomach-churning surroundings?”
The Applebee’s bathroom (#Applebathroom)? Immaculate. They approach the cleanliness of their facilities with, well, probably the amount of vigor almost any mid-tier chain dining establishment requires, but honestly it’s head and shoulders above any bar bathroom I can think to name. They’ve even got that funny door handle that’s shaped like a hook so you can open it with your forearm, which I’m definitely going to implement in my own home because bathroom doors account for a surprisingly significant portion of my daily-anxieties pie chart.
7. The drinks are very photogenic—and very cheap.
OK, let’s get down to brass tacks here. Did Applebee’s iconic drink specials live up to the hype?
March’s drink special was The $2 Absolut® Rainbow Punch. As you might be able to guess from the name, it was two dollars as opposed to the previous months’ $1 Hurricane. This is a 100 percent price increase, but in their defense, each drink comes with a gummy rainbow, which probably messed with their profit margins. The drinks were aggressively green, pretty tasty and not as stingy on the alcohol as I’d anticipated. Danny was curious about the exact proportions and tried to watch our bartender when she prepared our second round, but she almost knowingly did it with her back to us. Here’s the thing about the drinks though—they are, and I’ve confirmed this with a friend who went last month for the Hurricanes—prohibitively sweet.
Even though I’m a lightweight (which I would highly recommend in this economy), I had a feeling I would be destroyed by the pure sugar content long before the alcohol ruined me. I hadn’t even considered the fact that the sour-patch-esque rainbow was just dissolving in the drink over time—Danny smartly scarfed his rainbow down right when it arrived—and I’m pretty proud of my teeth and internal organs for not giving up on the spot.
If attempting to poison yourself with sugar in the name of thrift isn’t your thing, no need to fret! Applebee’s also offers a fine selection of Sutter Home wines (which I’ve never seen outside of Target before) and also a larger variety of less funny drinks somewhere in the range of $6.