After Amazon arrives and colonizes Philadelphia, the Applebee’s will be there to serve Mayor Jeff Bezos boneless teriyaki wings. After Amazon’s artificial intelligence takes over and turns the city’s population into servants, the Applebee’s will remain — the 2 for $20 entrees the only thing we’ll have to look forward to after a long day paying Prime Dollars to ride the Broad Street Line on our way to dig ditches at the Navy Yard. The Center City Applebee’s will outlast us all.
This month, along with most every Applebee’s in America, the Center City AB’s started selling margaritas for $1. What a country! And apparently it’s been quite a success. We’ve heard the much-reviled-yet-popular establishment has been even more crowded than usual.
We went to the loved/hated Center City AB’s at 2 p.m. Wednesday, ordered a bunch of $1 margaritas and tried to understand the essence of an Applebee’s located in the middle of the sixth-largest city in America, one that just might be the nicest Applebee’s in the world in terms of architecture. What follows is our best recollection of the experience, including screenshots from our Slack conversation with coworkers back at the home base.
1:55 p.m. — Marg No. 1
It’s past lunchtime on Wednesday, and there are less than 10 people on the ground floor of the Center City Applebee’s. We sit at the bar not far from two people — they appear to be a couple — slurping down what looks like lemon lime Gatorade out of a small beer mug. We’re in the right place.
The bartender asks, “What can I get you guys started with?” As if she doesn’t know.
We order our first round of $1 margaritas, and they’re larger than we expected. They’re slightly sour, extremely sweet and, despite some concern, certainly have tequila in them.
1:58 p.m. — The half-and-half
There are a half-dozen jugs of half-and-half at the bar, next to margarita syrup. Why so much half-and-half? Starbucks doesn’t even need that much half-and-half. Are they making White Russian margaritas? We quickly decide: It must be for Mudslides. Why don’t they have $1 Mudslides?
2:02 p.m. — The Birth
Mark discovers where Applebee’s $1 margaritas are born. They come out of a giant dispenser that could easily be poured on a college football coach after a victory in the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl.
2:10 p.m. — The Mirror
There’s a mirror on the wall behind the taps and bottles. Anybody who dares sit at the bar must own their reflection. (And wear a shirt and shoes. Restaurant policy.)
Anna: “I don’t like that this mirror is here. It’s like…”
Mark: “You can see into your soul.”
2:14 p.m. — Marg No. 2
Anna feels “surprisingly tipsy” after just one. She assumes it’s all in her head — one of those things where you feel drunker when you’re in a situation where you probably shouldn’t be intoxicated. The man nearest us at the bar is on at least his third margarita since we’ve arrived. Champion.
On Slack (yes, we made a new channel for this), we begin discussing Chili’s after Billy Penn culture editor and food writer Danya Henninger confesses she’s never dined in an Applebee’s, and Mark and Anna attempt to describe where the Center City Chili’s is. (The Little Italy reference is a dig at the New York Times. Obviously.)
2:19 p.m. — ‘Is this annoying?’
We decide to engage with the bartender, who tells us that she actually doesn’t hate $1 margarita time at Applebee’s. We ask her if it’s annoying, and she says: “Physically? Yes. Financially? Hell no.” Apparently Applebee’s-goers tip well. Who knew.
She goes on to say the most annoying part about it is people who assume they can order more than one marg at a time (dummies!), and then she tells a mythical tale of a group of six men who consumed six margaritas each.
So has the CC AB’s been poppin’ since this special started? The bartender said they were slammed starting about two days after the announcement, but the crowds died down sometime around the second or third week of the promotion. Nobody needs four weeks of margaritas. Nobody.
2:30 p.m. — The breaking point
We begin discussing: How many of these do we have to consume for Applebee’s to lose money on it? What is the breaking point?
The answer is infinity. Or better yet any integer divided by zero: undefined. Yep, math doesn’t work at Center City Applebee’s. And time is a flat circle. And after drinking any number of these margaritas you’re going to feel undefined.
We look deeper into the mirror and have no idea who’s looking back.
2:42 p.m. — Marg No. 3
Bing Crosby is playing over the loudspeaker and the TVs feature a replay of the Jets game and televised poker. At Applebee’s you don’t just get the anguish of watching the Jets. You have to watch a replay of them.
Our waitress asks if we want appetizers, as though an answer other than “yes” could be delivered. We ask for chips and salsa. Then she warns us: Wait 20 minutes. They’ll be half off. She is wise.
2:45 p.m. — Drink responsibly
After Anna typed the word “condominiums” instead of “consuming,” Billy Penn Editor Shannon Wink told the two competitive drinkers to “drink responsibly.” That ship sailed the moment we entered AB’s, AKA the Upside Down.
2:56 p.m. — ‘Mozz’ sticks
We decide it’s time for some salt. It’s close enough to 3 p.m. The bartender asks if we’d like something else in addition to chips and salsa, as though an answer other than “yes” could be delivered.
We know what we want but aren’t sure how to best express it. After downing three glasses of sugar water with a shot of tequila in them, we begin to argue about the proper way to order mozzarella sticks. Mark claims it is mandatory to use the phrase “mozz sticks,” which Anna finds to be insane and tacky. Mark orders the “mozz sticks” anyway. The waitress punches in the order. “Mozz sticks” works.
We begin to wonder: Who is the most famous person to have consumed a $1 margarita at Applebee’s? We come up with a list of possibilities: Russell Wilson, Danny DeVito, us, the founder of Barstool, Bill Murray and Carrot Top.
3:04 p.m. — Cheesecake Factory
The conversation turns next to the Cheesecake Factory, which we all agree is the cream of the crop when it comes to chain restaurants. We wonder: If we go to the Cheesecake Factory and demand price-matching, can we get sloshed there for $5, too?
3:07 p.m. — Chip time
We’re delivered a plate of warm chips and a side of salsa approximately four minutes after we order them. So fast!
3:10 p.m. — Mozz time
Just moments later, we receive our mozzarellas sticks, which were half-price for some unknown reason. We decide Applebee’s slogan should just be: Wait an hour, and something will be half off!
3:19 — Marg No. 4
After watching the bartender deliver to someone a margarita that’s a different green color than the yellow-green we’ve been consuming, we wonder: Is there more to this?
There is more to this. The bartender tells us that for a whopping 25 cents you can add a flavor to your margarita, and the choices are strawberry, raspberry, mango and some other fruits we can’t remember because we’d had three margaritas at this point. We go with strawberry and climb aboard the flavor train.
3:45 p.m. — Empathy gagging
We realize at this point — four margaritas in — that we never really came up with a game plan here. How many would we consume? We’re starting to feel kinda drunk. We decide we’ll drink two more to keep up with the mythical bros and leave with our dignity intact. Six margs! Pfft. We know we got this. In reality, we do not got this.
3:59 p.m. — Marg. No. 5
The bartender knows it’s the middle of the afternoon on a Wednesday and we’re four deep at this point. She reluctantly asks if there’s anything else she can get us. “We’ll try another!” Mark tells her. She laughs.
We receive margarita No. 5 (this one is mango!) and we are unsure if it has any alcohol in it.
4:28 p.m. — The status quo has changed
Something happened between margarita No. 4 and margarita No. 5. Maybe the sugar was catching up to us. Maybe a bizarre hangover was starting to kick in. Those men who got six apiece have a skill we don’t — one that is best not to have. We decide that perhaps five margs is just enough to ensure we don’t disrupt the time-space continuum and end up in a chain restaurant for eternity.
We get the check. With tax, our 10 margaritas and two appetizers cost a whopping $19.62. We are shook, but thrilled.
As we’re about to leave, we notice how the bartenders and servers have really been pouring these margaritas. They fill up the glass perhaps one-third full with the green, sugary concoction from the cooler. Then they add ice up to the brim. There’s almost no liquid.
Did we even drink alcohol? We’re not sure. Probably not, in fact. All we know is Center City Applebee’s won. The house always wins.