I Ate This On Purpose: Applebee's $1 Long Island Iced Tea

Welcome to I Ate This On Purpose, one food writer’s quest to try the viral, occasionally terrifying, often hilarious, head-scratching foods that fill our newsfeeds and capture our imaginations. No fast food mash-up is too monstrous, no cheese-encrusted dish too intimidating.
Containing a host of spirits that should never comingle in a glass (gin, rum, vodka, triple sec, tequila, and vodka), Long Island Iced Teas somehow manage to go down way too easy, often with disastrous results. Which is to say that, until Applebees started offering $1 Long Island Iced Teas for the month of December, I truly had no intention of ever ordering one at a bar again.
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There are things I happily left behind in my college days: a wide swath of mixed alcoholic beverages and showers that require flip-flops for safety reasons are at the top of that pyramid. But, when the news spread that, following its $1 margarita offer for November, there would now be $1 L.I.T.’s, I was filled with equal parts dread and intrigue. Like soon-to-die characters in a horror movie, I just had to know: What was behind the $1 cocktail?
The Applebees I walk into immediately feels familiar: dark wood, large TVs, and giant plastic menus. I had enlisted my coworker to go with me, and we decide to sit at the bar, climbing not-so-gracefully onto the oversized stools. We are handed a stack of menus detailing a litany of deals: pick-two lunch specials, half-price happy hours, and appetizer platters. Presumably, the $1 drink is supposed to get diners in the door so they’ll then splurge on food. But, everything here seems to be on special.
As I scan the menu, I notice something worrisome: nowhere do I see the fabled $1 L.I.T. Having read absolutely zero fine print before heading in, I am gripped by fear that this is one of those asterisked deals, at “participating locations” only. Embarrassed, I lean over to the bartender and whisper, “Do you have… the $1 long islands?” like I’m asking for condoms at a gas station.
She isn’t fazed, however, and quickly mixes up our drinks. Into large plastic mugs she pours a clear liquor, tops it off with a neon green mixer, and a shot of coke. The resulting beverage is the color of something that would be in a cartoon version of a toxic waste dump and also tastes like a cartoon version of a cocktail – overly sweet, with no hint of whatever the clear, alcoholic liquid poured in could be. It’s like someone took a green Gatorade and upped the sugar content. One sip and I’m transported right back to college: it’s the kind of treacle-y sweet beverage that sends my body into red alert. I am the Titanic, and I am barreling straight for that iceberg hangover.
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Nevertheless, I polish it off and order a second. We also get appetizers, because you have to do something while you sit there and drink $1 cocktails. The bartender proves a bit hard to wave down as we place orders for half-priced mozzarella sticks and artichoke dip.
“Sorry, things have been crazy here,” she tells us, motioning to a stack of dishes and glasses she’d only just cleared from the rest of the bar.
“Oh, any idea why?” I ask. She points silently at the brightly-colored drink I hold in my hands.
“You should have seen it this weekend,” she tells us, recounting waits for tables, a backed-up kitchen, and half-hour waits for drinks. “I didn’t get home till 4 a.m. that night,” she says.
Our bartender confirms that the booze is indeed a mix of vodka, rum, gin, tequila and triple sec, but they have it premixed because of the constant stream of orders coming in. A giant tub of sweet and sour mix is then added in large quantity, giving the drink the overwhelmingly sweet quality that sent my hangover-sensors into overdrive. The Coke on top goes mostly undetected, though it creates what my coworker describes as “pretty curling tendrils” of dark amber in an otherwise fluorescent green beverage.
I’m now on my third drink, determined to get at least a little buzzed. While I have a pretty high tolerance, the drinks aren’t very strong. But while weak drinks are often called “watery,” I can pay no such compliment to these: They are mixy. I made that term up, but what I really mean is I’m mostly drinking sweet and sour mix, which apparently is like sour mix, but with sugar. I order a fourth, because four dollars is less than any singular cocktail I’ve ordered since I moved to New York City, four (plus) years ago. And here, my adult brain finally silences my college brain: Yes, I could keep going, but that’s not the same as should keep going. I throw in the towel, pay the bill, and leave .
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While waiting for the bus home, I am disappointed. After a brief walk in the brisk December air, I don’t even feel that nice, warming haze of a stiff cocktail, like an Old Fashioned or Martini served straight up. I am also confident that, if asked, I could pass a sobriety test.
“You should NOT be able to drink four Long Islands and walk a straight line!” I gasp to my co-worker.
Of course, the goal here is not to get so drunk I am sliding on the floor on a weeknight. The goal is to enjoy myself and relax after work on a Monday. And while I paid a mere $4 for the experience of four drinks, it didn’t really fit the bill.
I would go back for those mozzarella sticks, though.
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produced by Christina Dun; edited by Christina Dun.