I was never one of those bitches who actually came back from spring break with a tan. The one time I attempted to observe this national tradition, at a tacky all-inclusive resort in the Dominican Republic, the result was somewhat pathetic. Instead of flashing for beads at a poolside bar, I hid when I realized my white cotton underwear was glowing through my sheer vintage dress thanks to a club’s black light. Rather than slutting it up with beefy date rapists, my friend and I hung out with a sun-burnt older couple from Germany who later sent us post cards. At least I succeeded in drinking plenty of caipirihnas and one pina colada from a coconut shell.
Now that I’m a “grown-up,” I can’t afford to go on vacation, but, inspired by the particularly lame cast of this season’s Real World (Key West), I decided to carve out a little spring break magic right here in the Big Apple. I braved the bars of Times Square’s biggest chain restaurants, where I figured the mood might be similar, and the drinks as big. It turns out the setting is almost as depressing, but in a totally different way.
At Applebee’s, the bartenders were young and thin and dressed in black spandex—midriffs exposed. One wore a shirt that said “I HEART HIS $.” The other girl had her feathered hair dyed pink at the ends and very smoky eye makeup. My companion and I deliberated intensely before settling on a “Bananaberry Split” ($9.50) and a “Perfect Sunrise” ($9.25). I expected everyone to laugh and point when the pink concoctions arrived, especially because I was with an actual man, but I guess this is normal behavior in midtown. The bananaberry business contains Captain Morgan Spiced Rum, but you’d never know it. “Oh, it’s strawberry ice cream,” my date said. Kids would like it. The Sunrise is slightly more sophisticated—it tastes like orange juice and tequila. The sound system played The Police and Blind Melon. Next to us at the bar was a guy with greasy hair giving condescending business advice to a woman with very long fake nails.
Applebee’s was spring break gold compared to our next stop. The Olive Garden is such a prude! The bartender was showing no lower back action at all—in fact, he wore a button-down black shirt and a nametag. We passed up the “Tuscan Breeze,” which seemed more tropical than European, and the “Frozen Tiramisu”, and went for a new addition to the menu, the “Limoncello Lemonade” ($6.95) and the Bloody Mary ($6.75). The former tasted like partially melted Italian ices, and the latter—well, we were under the impression that it was going to come with the restaurants signature “antipasto skewer,” a stick with olives and salami on it. It did not, and we were too embarrassed to inquire. There was no music here, just low ceilings and a hushed hockey game on the television. Our bar-mates were a blond tourist family and a very young-looking couple who got carded.
Red Lobster was arguably even more of a party pooper—instead of feeling like the Olive Garden’s sad attempt at “upscale,” the ambiance was random and minimal, like a bar in an airport. Only with seafood smells wafting through the air. The bartenders wore white button-downs. The drinks have names that make them sound unique, like the nauseatingly titled “Lobsterita,” which is simply a “gigantic” margarita. Same idea with the “Alotta Colada.” On the bartender’s advice, we shared a regular margarita on the rocks ($7.50). It was sweet. The music was grown-up covers of classic rock songs, and the clientele included a subdued ladies night out.
We were starting to lose hope when we entered the raucous TGI Fridays. A futuristic jukebox flashed its lights along to the catchy and sublimely inane chorus of the reggaeton hit “Rompe.” Unlike the other spots we visited, which all stuck the bar upstairs or off to one side, the booze is most prominent at TGIF. Like two freshmen desperate for a good time, we immediately settled on an “Ultimate Mudslide,” ($11) ultimate meaning alarmingly big. Noticing a sign hanging from the ceiling that featured Starbucks coffee liqueurs, we asked the bartender, this time in a sporty polo shirt, how the “Espresso Martini” ($9.75) was. He thought about it, shrugged, and said “It’s kind of coffee-ish.” We were sold, but when the drinks finally arrived, it was more vodka-ish than anything else. The mudslide, on the other hand, tasted like a black and white milkshake, making it dangerously addictive (my date confiscated it from me eventually). The bar was packed with a range of drinkers, from a bored looking guy sipping beer and watching the muted ESPN to three fat dudes screaming at the bartender. Finally, I’d found my spring break meatheads, but this being New York, the meatheads were gay.