For the past few years, Applebee’s has quietly been experimenting with a late-night bar and club scene at restaurants around the country. Some, such as the one Pirrone visited in St. Charles, offer karaoke and trivia nights. Others have fashioned themselves into nightclubs where patrons can gobble spinach and artichoke dip under the Day-Glo beauty of black lights. On Aug. 27 the restaurant chain will take its after-hours makeover national, reimagining itself as a destination called bee’s Late Night, where the Bahama Mama cocktails flow and the lights strobe until 2 a.m.
“Remember when McDonald’s used to be called Mickey D’s?” asks Becky Johnson, a senior vice president at Applebee’s. “That was a street slang term, people playing with the name. We found out that ‘the bee’s’ is how the kids are describing Applebee’s.” By “kids,” she means twenty- and thirtysomething singles who may eat at Applebee’s with co-workers or family members, but who generally go elsewhere—like, to an actual bar—at night and on the weekends. “The bee’s is an overt invitation to them,” says Johnson. “We want them back.”