"DO NOT LEAVE THE PREMISES WITH YOUR DRINK," says the woman behind the counter at the Taco Bell Cantina in Chicago. I can tell by the way she looks me in the eye that what she means is this: We finally have booze at Taco Bell. Don't be the guy who ruins it for everybody.
This is the first Taco Bell in the world to serve alcohol, and I am here for its Grand Opening. The moment you walk in, it makes perfect sense. Alcohol and Taco Bell! This is your two friends who you always knew would get together.
The premises in which I am required to stay until I finish my drink — a Twisted Mountain Dew Baja Blast Freeze With Tequila (TM) — do not look like a normal Taco Bell. It looks like Taco Bell saw how Chipotle dressed on the first day of junior high and begged its mom to get it the same clothes. The tables are wood. There is art. There are people waiting for tables. There are people taking pictures of their food.
Nick Keenan and Nick Maker sit together at a long table near the door. The last remains of bright red Twisted Cantina Punch Freezes With Tequila slowly melt in front of them. "It's like drinking a 7-Eleven Slurpee," Keenan says. "If you add liquor to anything, people will come," Maker adds.
My friend Kirby and I sit at a bar along the storefront window. Nearby, there's a couple lingering at their table after they've finished eating. To people passing by, we look like the painting Nighthawks, except everybody has Meximelts and Twisted Mountain Dew Baja Blast Freezes With Tequila.
The Twisted Mountain Dew Baja Blast Freeze With Tequila is delicious. It's a slushie, supersweet with a vaguely Mountain-Dew-like flavor — exactly the daiquiri you'd make if you were 8 years old and given the chance to bartend. With it, Taco Bell has added ice cream headaches to the carnival of humiliations you can experience at its restaurants.
Kirby orders the Twisted Margarita Freeze With Tequila. It differs in color from my drink by only a shade, like we're deciding between two paint samples for the walls of a torture dungeon. His tastes like the powder you use to make Lemon-Lime Gatorade before you mix it with water. He points out they could have salted the rim with mashed up Doritos at least.
Love it or hate it, Taco Bell is often just food purgatory. It's a place you go on your way to somewhere else: right off an exit ramp so you can eat and get back on the road, or a stop between last call and passing out with your clothes on. But this is different. You can see it on the face of every person in here: Taco Bell is the place we planned to go tonight.
[Epilogue, and a warning: The copious sugar in the Twisted Mountain Dew Baja Blast Freeze With Tequila far outpaces the alcohol in its effect on the body. Later, when I get home, I'm wired. I can't sleep. Or maybe, just maybe, what's keeping me up is the residual thrill of being there for Taco Bell history.
[No, it's definitely the sugar.]
Ian Chillag is senior producer of Wait, Wait ... Don't Tell Me!