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13 Things To Know About America's First Boozy Taco Bell Cantina Concept

Taco Bell Cantina has ignited interests and also peeved some people.

Taco Bell Cantina Chicago
Taco Bell Cantina Chicago
Marc Much
Ashok Selvam is the editor of Eater Chicago and a native Chicagoan armed with more than two decades of award-winning journalism. Now covering the world of restaurants and food, his nut graphs are super nutty.

Taco Bell is well aware of who they are, knowing they aren't offering a traditional or pure Mexican food experience. Despite the lack of authenticity, they still manage to trigger fierce loyalties across the globe, with execs mentioning successes in South America and Brazil. Stateside, the company maintains the Taco Bell Cantina concept with alcohol is merely giving consumers what they want. Here's a few facts about Taco Bell's new concept, including bits on liability and why they picked Chicago.

  1. Twisted Freezes come in three flavors: TB's proprietary Mountain Dew Baja Blast (blue), Cantina Punch (red) and Margarita (green). Patrons can add their choice of rum, tequila or vodka. Yes, customers can drink a "margarita" with rum, though it's not advised: "What's cool about Cantina, is depending on what you add into it, it makes the drink taste very different," said Katie Gardiner, who heads the beverage program as a brand manager for Taco Bell.
  2. Pressure from neighborhood gadflies and the local alderman led to the hiring of a security guard who will ensure alcoholic drinks aren't taken off the premises. Staff will also pour spiked Twisted Freezes into a special cup with black lettering so alcoholic drinks can be easily differentiated from the non-alcoholic cups with white lettering.
  3. There's a special device from Berg Liquor Control which measures the amount of booze poured into a Twisted Freeze. This prevents customers from ordering a double — there's only one shot per freeze. The machine also allows ownership to more easily track what alcohol sells the most.
  4. Taco Bell execs give much credit to local franchise owner Neil Borkan for their decision to select Chicago for their first Cantina concept. The new restaurant is Borkan's 40th Taco Bell franchise in the Chicago area and he said the liability at the Wicker Park spot is "much greater" than others: "We looked at every single thing. We considered snow on the sidewalk in Chicago, coming into the restaurant. If someone's slipping, what's the slip efficiency of the tile? We looked at all that when were building the restaurant, because we were coming outside. The biggest liability? The liquor."
  5. Much of the design, including the open kitchen, comes from Taco Bells overseas, where transparency is driven by customers outside the Western Hemisphere where folks don't know what Mexican food looks like.
  6. Everyone working at Taco Bell Cantina is of drinking age, which isn't normal for a Taco Bell.
  7. This Taco Bell Cantina has free WiFi. USB ports and electric outlets line the restaurant for laptops and tablets. The wired mentality lends to a break in Taco Bell philosophy: They want patrons to lounge around the restaurant instead of quickly stuffing tacos into their foodholes.
  8. San Francisco's next on the Taco Bell Cantina agenda and is opening at the end of September. Other markets — yes, including New York — are on the radar. San Fran's boozy bell won't sell Twisted Freezes, Gardiner said. But there should be local beer, including Anchor Steam, on tap.
  9. Taco Bell really wanted to be in Chicago's Wicker Park neighborhood, along Milwaukee Avenue, colloquially-known as "The Hipster Highway" due to the bike lanes and abundance of walking traffic. Corporate waited for a while before closing the deal on the space, which used to be Batteries Not Included, a sex toy shop.
  10. There's a seasonal beer on tap, and the first brew is New Belgium's Fat Tire. Taco Bell is avoiding going with a local brewery so they can more easily emulate operations in other markets. But that might change in the future.
  11. There are no plans for mixed drinks or cocktails at Wicker Park's boozy bell, as there isn't space for a full bar.
  12. Taco Bell has no official comment on specific drink pairings with food items, so there's no suggested pairing with a quesarito. But alcohol has long been a top request submitted by consumers in surveys. And The Bell always listens to its customers, Borkan said.
  13. Although Taco Bell Cantina Wicker Park serves booze, it's not open bar hours. Alcohol sales end at 10 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and 12 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Food sales continue two hours longer.

Taco Bell Cantina

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