We rang Applebee's an hour ago: "Do you guys serve apple juice? Like for little kids?" We're half-laughing, half-wincing as we say it, sure we'll be hung up on by the high schooler who's fielded one too many "Is your refrigerator running?"-style crank phone calls. But she simply says yes, they do, and thanks us for calling. Huh.
The chain made national news a few weeks back when a waiter in California accidentally served a Perfect Margarita instead of apple juice. In a sippy cup. To a two-year-old boy. The news reports say it happened because Applebee's keeps apple juice and margaritas in identical plastic containers. Our curiosity piqued, we've brought a friend to help us investigate. Those television cops always work in pairs.
We go undercover and stake out a couple of seats at the bar so we can watch our drinks being made. CSI: Applebee's. We can already hear the commercials: "How did an innocent little boy go from getting juice...to getting sauced?" There's room for error; in the glass-front fridge behind the bar, bottles of Fitz's root beer are lined next to similarly colored bottles of Bass. Maybe we'll bust this case wide open. We're excited.
"A top-shelf margarita and...an apple juice," we say conspiratorially to our bartender (whom we'll call Bruce), looking square into his eyes. He looks back. "All right. And you?" he asks amiably, turning to our undercover partner. This is the second time in an hour that we've referenced the ripped-from-the-headlines concoctions, wanting at least a slight reaction, and again, nothing. Honestly, we're a little deflated, like we've waited all day to tell a really great joke that no one gets.
He pours the apple juice from a clearly labeled jug of Tropicana into an ice-filled pint glass. Then he mixes our top-shelf margarita: Grand Marnier, Cointreau, 1800 Tequila, sweet-and-sour mix, lime juice and simple syrup. He places the lineup of the marg, its cold metal shaker and the apple juice in front of us. Everything checks out fine, so we radio our backup guys and call off the raid.
Our case officially cold, we ask if he's heard about the California incident. He hasn't, but he does know of one last year at a New York Applebee's, when a five-year-old was served a Long Island iced tea instead of apple juice. It inspired a Late Night with David Letterman Top Ten List: Top Ten Signs You're at a Bad Applebee's (Our favorite: "Walls are covered in whimsically framed health-code violations."). Bruce does, however, have a theory on how it could have happened: Employees sometimes keep a nip in a kiddie cup behind the bar; the waiter must've served that by mistake.
We think about what we've seen on this night: apathetic managers standing around chatting while their crew is swamped. An indecisive cheapo asking about drink specials. The guy picking a fight about his daiquiri being too weak. A waitress rounding up coworkers to sing a cutesy "Happy Birthday" ditty to a back table. Bruce has been nothing but accommodating throughout.
And then we see it a child-size sippy cup behind the bar. There's no evidence it belongs to him, but we really, really hope it does.
Got a drink suggestion?