What do you get when you mix Applebee’s, karaoke and a mass of drunken college-aged adults?
Every Thursday night, the Applebee’s on Route 1 transforms from a wholesome family restaurant with the slogan, “See you tomorrow,” to a raunchy late-night karaoke club with the (unofficial) slogan, “Get in here right now!”
Hordes of university students and locals flock to the restaurant to enjoy half-off appetizers and fruity alcoholic drinks — and of course, for their crack at “Baby Got Back” or “Drunk in Love.”
And as the night roars on, so do the students, arriving from whichever bar or party they were just at to sing, dance and wreak havoc. In just three hours, Applebee’s turns into a zoo with animals that have just been released from their cages for the first time to roam free.
The Pregame: 10 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Nothing out of the ordinary here. The restaurant is a bit more than half full of smiling customers; servers navigate the restaurant taking and delivering orders. “Let me know if anyone’s got a request,” the DJ says. A man approaches the booth and asks for the song book.
“Now up, we got Lara,” the DJ announces. Two women approach the DJ booth and grab microphones. They giggle at each other before the music comes on. It’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” The women are shaky — clearly nervous. Their eyes are glued to each other as they sing. They trip over some opening lyrics, laughing. By the time the chorus arrives, though, the women are full-blown superstars. They deliver a wonderfully off-key rendition of the famed hook. They have reached the top of the mountain. Some other people sing along, bopping their heads, while waiters pass by, some smiling softly.
After the performance, scattered claps and cheers can be heard. “Thanks guys,” the DJ says. “Where’s Luke? You’re up,” he then announces. A man excitedly approaches the front of the restaurant and takes the mic. He’s ready for his performance. He’s been waiting for this, impatiently and eagerly. The music begins. He jumps into Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” without hesitation. It’s evident this isn’t his first rodeo. He has every lyric down and delivers a confident (albeit boring) ditty. Next.
“He killed it,” the DJ proclaims.
For the next 45 minutes or so, customers enjoy other perfectly amateur renditions of classics. Laughs and claps continue to fill the room between performances. The fun is PG and tame.
Prime time: 11 p.m. to 12 a.m.
The restaurant is almost at capacity. Customers continue to flood in, all dressed for different occasions. Some women are wearing dresses and heels, while some men are wearing T-shirts and jeans.
A cluster of people stand at the DJ booth, pushing forward to get their song requests in. A woman is performing a drunken attempt at Britney Spears’ “Toxic,” her intoxicated murmurs are competing with the loud chatter of customers.
“Well,” the DJ says after the woman finishes. “Nice.” Waiters laugh as they scurry about the restaurant. They move faster now, jumping quickly from table to table, but making time to watch a minute of each performance.
The restaurant is packed now. Patrons line the bar and groups of friends fill tables. An older man takes the microphone, and Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon” begins. The man sings with a voice straight from the 60s. He was once a professional singer — or maybe he wasn’t. Either way, his performance is a standout one as he breezes over the lyrics with Old World charisma and charm. The audience sings and claps along throughout the ditty, setting a glowing smile across the man’s face. The last note is hit (mostly) on key, and the restaurant erupts with hollers and claps.
The end of his performance marks prime time at Applebee’s. The air is full of laughter and the sense that anything can happen. The DJ calls for “Alex” and a group of four guys stumbles to the microphone. Giant smiles are plastered across their faces and they push each other jokingly. TLC’s “Waterfalls,” starts and the men erupt into laughter, as does the entire restaurant. Their performance is a full-fledged hum-along to the melody of the song with the occasional proclamation of “Don’t go chasing waterfalls.” Waiters and other customers watch closely at the sidelines with their phone cameras pointed at the group of guys who are now swaying with their eyes closed.
Things are about to get weird.
“What is Going On?”: 12 a.m. to 1 a.m.
Several groups have left the restaurant. While the door is no longer blocked by a stretching line of customers waiting to be seated, the restaurant is still thick with the smell of various bodily odors and alcohol. Only Applebee’s most regular Thursday night customers remain.
A group of seven girls takes the stage. “It’s my birthday!” one of them proclaims, pointing to the plastic tiara on her head. The girls break out into a choreographed rendition of Ciara’s “1, 2 Step.” Halfway through the performance, two guys approach the girls, ready to dance. The women giggle and laugh as they do their best to avoid the men’s advances.
The restaurant’s manager watches on, his face serious and stern. Another woman seated across the room dances alone in her booth, shaking her hips off-beat. She suddenly steps up onto the cushioned seat.
The manager leaps forward. “Get off!” he shouts. The music abruptly comes to a stop and a sharp silence falls over the room.
“Let’s keep going,” the DJ says, but it’s too late — the mood has been killed and the good vibes are gone.
Until next Thursday.