On our quest to visit a church and a bar in every state last year, we were amazed by how many times the name “Applebee’s” came up. At the very first bar last year (at Aureole in Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas), Dave the bartender told us that his second bartending job was at Applebee's. He some praise for their good, consistent product, but he did say there wasn’t much room for self expression.
We talked to people in other bars who praised local bars with local character, but spoke disdainfully of bars in national chain restaurants, often mentioning Applebee’s specifically. We were sympathetic to that attitude. We wanted to get local flavor at the bars we visited throughout the United States.
At times while visiting churches, we asked about bars in the area. On a number of occasions, people told us, “I think there’s a bar at the Applebee’s.” We’d made a firm decision that we wouldn’t go to an Applebee’s bar last year, so we never went to Applebee’s on the trip. (We did drive by Applebee’s headquarters in Kansas City, MO, but we weren't able to get pictures.)
This year, though, as we were considering themes for this month’s bar visits, we decided to give Applebee’s a break. A little research showed that there are four Applebee’s in the Fresno area (including one in nearby Clovis), so we decided to make February Applebee’s Month here at Dean and Mindy Walk Into a Bar.
This week we went to the Applebee’s on North Cedar, which is very near the Fresno State University (or more properly, California State University, Fresno) campus. Verging on irony is the fact that we avoided going to Applebee’s because we wanted to go to neighborhood bars -- and Applebee’s call themselves a “Neighborhood Grill and Bar.” Anyway, the restaurants’ decor is often customized to the location.
At the Cedar Avenue Applebee’s, there’s a sign acknowledging that we’re in Fresno over the entrance, and there are decorations throughout saluting the city and the Bulldogs (the mascot for Fresno State). This is all very helpful if one gets fuzzy on what city one is in.
Since we’d heard people talk about how consistent Applebee’s drinks are, we decided to order the same two drinks throughout our Applebee’s month. A friend from Healdsburg (hi Sara!) told Mindy she needed to try a Mudslide, and Mindy doesn’t need her arm twisted too hard to order chocolate. The Long Island Ice Tea was quite cheap during Happy Hour, so that’s what I chose. We plan to stick with these two drinks, which were pleasant, and we’ll let you know how consistent they are throughout the month.
We noticed people of a variety of ages in the restaurant, which wasn’t terribly busy on a Thursday evening. There were maybe half a dozen others at the bar with more at the surrounding tables. Behind us a group of young to middle-aged women discussed the current season of The Bachelor. (“Don’t say too much, I’m a couple of episodes behind.” I could understand that. I’m way behind myself. I’ve never seen an episode.)
When I’m describing these bar visits, I usually mention that we ask two questions at bars, but actually we ask three. Before we ask, “What makes for a good bar?” and “Whether or not you go, what do you think makes for a good church?” we ask, “What name should we use for the bar post? You can lie if you don’t want your real name used.” The bartender took us up on this and gave us an alias in honor of a relative, “Paisley Rose.”
Paisley’s answer to what makes for a good bar was initially one word, “Service.” She expanded on this, explaining when she says service she’s including such things as “how often they check on you, also how much they know, but service over everything.” Paisley said she does go to bars and she’s happy to pay more for good service. She said noticed that though Applebee’s has a Happy Hour with discounted drinks, there are people who will come in and order draft beers that aren’t discounted -- so for some people it seems that price isn’t a deciding factor in their bar choices.
At this point, our conversation got off onto a tangent about beer, because Paisley says she hasn’t developed a taste for it. She wondered if she would sometime acquire a beer taste. We bonded with her over this, as fellow beer disdainers. We agreed that cider is a good alternative, but it is difficult, at times, to drink with others when beer is the beverage of choice for the majority.
We asked her what makes for a good church, and she admitted that she doesn’t go to church any more, but she used to. “When I went, I felt like no matter what kind (of church) I went to, it had cliques. I’d like it if they didn’t have cliques at all, that would be good.” She told us about a church where the pastor took people skating, which she thought was nice, “but still there were cliques of who went and who didn’t go.”
Two men were sitting next to us at the bar, Anthony and Jeremy.We weren’t surprised to hear that Jeremy had worked at this Applebee’s in the past, because of the familiar relationship he seemed to have with the staff. They were willing to answer our three questions (though they didn’t take up the option of the aliases).
Anthony answered first, mentioning that they had just been talking about a recent trip to San Diego and what they’d liked about places they visited down there. For him, what makes a good bar is “atmosphere and people, ambience. An empty bar is just sad.” He appreciates “the energy of friends.”
Jeremy said he had “a similar answer: community. I admire bars that are like Cheers. I prefer places that are chillaxed.”
Jeremy was the first to answer about what makes for a good church, using the word he’d used for bars, “community.” He said he prefers a smaller congregation with around fifty people rather than a “super church.” Jeremy admitted he didn’t go much to church much anymore, “I should.”
Anthony said, “I hate to cop out, but I’ll answer like him.” He also preferred small churches and a sense of community.
We had a good time in the Applebee’s neighborhood. We’ll see how different the experience is during each of the next three weeks. Perhaps it will be so consistent we can copy and paste this same post throughout the month and just change the address and the names. But I don’t think that will happen.