Where no one know your name, but there's always mozzarella sticks

By Alex Heigl and alex_heigl
November 29, 2014 09:00 AM
Credit: Emile Wamsteker/Getty

The day before Thanksgiving is generally considered to be the largest “bar day” of the year.

The World’s Largest Applebee’s is located at Broadway and 50th in Manhattan.

I am inside The World’s Largest Applebee’s the day before Thanksgiving. It is happy hour.

That was my hook for pitching this article. Beyond that, I have no idea why I’m here, other than that the fact the phrase “World’s Largest Applebee’s” captivated me from the moment I heard it.

The World’s Largest Applebee’s is three stories high. I was immediately corralled by a hostess when I entered in off the street, and sort of stumbled to the bar. It looks exactly like every other Applebee’s bar, except for the massive paintings of Manhattan and the large amounts of non-English-speaking tourists. Soccer is playing on the TVs and there are a few people bellied up to the bar watching. Ages are wide-ranging. I ordered a Sam Adams Winter Lager.

There are no prices on the drink menu, but there are calorie counts, which isn’t encouraging. On the drink menu there are certain instances where “margarita” has been shortened to “‘rita,” (e.g., “Cran-rita,” “Mango-rita”) but not others. I can’t really track the criteria(-ita).

The World’s Largest Applebee’s has its own web site – last updated in November 2013 – which for some reason has a link explaining all Applebee’s restaurants are proud supporters of the 9/11 Memorial. It has a two-star rating on Yelp, averaged from 176 reviews.

There is another Applebee’s on 42nd Street; I wonder if this Applebee’s is jealous of The World’s Largest Applebee’s. A January 2013 New York Daily News article says the Times Square location is the top-grossing and also the most difficult: The police are summoned there once a week, usually for customers skipping out on the check.

The weather today in New York has mostly been snow, interspersed with rain and wind and more snow. Most of the patrons here just look happy to be inside. There are two young children rhythmically pounding the window bar where I’m seated to the tune of the generic, kind-of-Motown-sounding song that’s playing. (Update: It’s a Solange song from 2008.)

People occasionally stop in front of the window and peer in: I know for a fact that they are not wondering “Is this The World’s Largest Applebee’s?” because that fact is prominently advertised on the window. They’re probably just wondering what life is like inside The World’s Largest Applebee’s.

Interestingly, The Nation’s Largest TGI Friday’s (the world’s largest is in China) is located a short block away from The World’s Largest Applebee’s. I wonder if they feud. When I ask the bartender this, she looks at me blankly, silently wondering me if this is a serious question and whether she can get back to work. The man next me has a hat that says “Go RV’ing.” It would probably be very hard to drive an RV to The World’s Largest Applebee’s.

Zane Tankel is the CEO and chairman of Apple Metro Inc., which owns The World’s Largest Applebee’s and most other Applebee’s in the New York metro area. He grew up in New Jersey, is a two-time state wrestling champion, and is a third-degree black belt. I am now somewhat afraid of writing this article, especially after reading that Tankel often physically pursues check-skippers down the street.

There is a six-year-old girl sitting next to me, speaking Italian, who just pulled a roll of at least $300 dollars in twenties from her pocketbook. I wonder if she’ll buy me mozzarella sticks.

No one here seems interested in talking to me. I wonder if it’s because I look like a heinous caricature of “a New York writer,” with glasses and skinny jeans and palpable neuroses, or if it’s because my laptop screen is displaying about 2,000 words on the topic of The World’s Largest Applebee’s. (With the phrase bolded every time it appears so I can keep track of how many times I’ve written it out.) I wonder how much more I can drink before I’m in danger of spilling something on my laptop.

They’re playing Tom Tom Club’s “Genius of Love.” I’m pretty happy about that.

My colleague Kelli Bender has joined me. She wonders out loud how many people have fallen in love at The World’s Largest Applebee’s. I hope the answer is “a few.”

I’ve had two beers. She’s ordering a Summer Squeeze, with a mango flavor splash. I elect for a Long Island Iced Tea, because that feels appropriate for a rainy evening in The World’s Largest Applebee’s. Service here has been extremely pleasant and rapid. I have no complaints.

“This almost tastes like a mango lassi,” Kelli says of her mango-flavor-splashed Summer Squeeze. This is a huge compliment.

The World’s Largest Applebee’s advertises a series of “All-In” burgers that “Break All the Rules.” Paradoxically, one of them is called “The American Standard.”

Now they’re playing “An Englishman in New York.” I’ve heard Italian, Spanish and a variety of regional American accents here, but no British. Perhaps the British have an unspoken loyalty to the Nation’s Largest TGI Friday’s.

The Applebee’s homepage identifies “My Applebee’s” as the Applebee’s at 45750 3rd Avenue in the Bronx. Considering that The World’s Largest Applebee’s forced me to enter my first and last name, along with my email address, to access their WiFi, I’d hoped their geolocating services would be more accurate than this.

This doesn’t appear to be a big drinking crowd. Most of the patrons are nursing white wine or bottled imported beer. They look mostly happy to be out of the weather, with that shellshocked, 1,000-yard-stare you get from walking around Midtown all day. Maybe the party is on the second or third floor, but we can’t get up there without being seated for dinner, which is a serious undertaking.

Mozzarella sticks arrive literally within five minutes of ordering them.

We finish the mozzarella sticks and start to pack up. Disappointingly, The Year’s Busiest Happy Hour at The World’s Largest Applebee’s has been something of a non-starter. Here in Midtown West, the most transient, tourist-rich chunk of Manhattan, that probably shouldn’t surprise me, but it does.

I think that I understand the people who crowd into The World’s Largest Applebee’s at Happy Hour on a weekday. I had to remember all the day trips I took to New York when I was a kid, but I get it now. After a day of wondering around – in occasionally awful weather – with classmates or family, sometimes you don’t want a new, adventurous eating experience. Sometimes you want the American Standard, the mozzarella sticks, the domestic white wine.

After you see a man urinate on a subway platform, after you’ve just seen a child curse at another child with the fluency and verve of a drunken cab driver eight times their age, The World’s Largest Applebee’s must seem like a welcoming respite, like your elementary school cafeteria writ large on Broadway.

Even confronted with the terrifying check (PEOPLE did not pay for our five drinks + mozzarella sticks), that idea of comfort stayed with me. “Happy hour,” in terms of discounted drinks or food, does not exist at The World’s Largest Applebee’s. But spending an hour eating food that you recognize, off your feet, with your family, after six to eight hours of wandering around a city actively trying to overstimulate you while divesting you of your money, which almost assuredly does not go as far here as it does where you’re from? That is a very happy hour. Maybe the most happy hour.

And then you can tell everyone you went to The World’s Largest Applebee’s.

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