There is a specific sort of excitement that comes with drinking alone in public. Even as someone who has been legally drinking for a decade, I still get that zing, that proud, grown-up feeling when I order a drink alone. But there’s also a very pointed public shaming that goes along with drinking alone. If, after a long day, you just need one quiet drink by yourself, society, in general, says, go home and do it there where we can’t see you. Bars, society implies, are for friends and dates and finding dates, only. Ergo, if you go to a bar, you will either be looked as if you are a sad, friendless person or someone will try to date you (especially if you are a woman). Because why else would you be at that bar? Now, I am all about changing social norms and pushing the boundaries of what society thinks I, as a lady, should be allowed to do. But sometimes it’s just not worth it. Sometimes I just want to have a drink and a snack and do the crossword on my phone. Luckily, there’s Chipotle.
Chipotle certainly isn’t the only alcohol-slinging fast casual game in town. Places like Taco Bell and Starbucks have recently made a big splash in the news (the news I read, at least) with their alcoholic offerings. Starbucks is attempting to attract the refined drinker with its Aperol Spritzes and Gin & Tonic & Coffees. Taco Bell, meanwhile, is courting more “x-treme” fourth meal diners with neon-colored spiked Freezes. But, through all this press and excitement, Chipotle has been quietly supplying drinkers of all tastes with a modest selection of beers and quality Margaritas. And it remains a better place to drink alone.
I remember one night a few years back when the subway was running particularly quickly and I ended up in the neighborhood of a party I was going to way, way too early. I walked around the block, looking into bars that were already crowded with rowdy twenty-somethings. I was younger then and not comfortable with the idea of sliding onto a stool in one of these packed party spots. I was afraid of being judged or, worse, spoken to. So, I kept walking until I found myself at a clean, well-lit, half-full Chipotle. I stepped in, thinking that I would just get some chips and guac to pass the time, but then I remembered what so many people forget: Chipotle serves alcohol. I walked up to the assembly line of employees, ordered my chips and guac and, after a brief pause, a Margarita. After paying less than I would for a draft beer at any bar in the area (standard Margaritas are just $4.70), I sat down with my snack and drink on a tray. I watched people pass by the window, sipped my drink, ate my chips and felt great. No one looked at me weird. No one spoke to me. I had discovered a small corner of society where a woman could have a solo drink (a good one, at that) in absolute peace for just $5.
Chipotle has been serving beer and Margaritas since it opened its first location in Denver, Colorado, in 1993. “Roughly half of our more than 2,400 restaurants include an alcohol beverage on the menu,” says Hannah Yang, Chipotle’s beverage director. “However, we found that many of our customers had no idea that we even offered Margaritas.” In an effort to boost Margarita awareness, the brand has expanded their offerings, introducing a premium Margarita made with Patron (the standard is made with Sauza) and, most recently, a Frozen Margarita. Rumor has it Chipotle may soon break out of the Margarita mold with a Frozen Paloma.
The original Margarita recipe went through many trials and tasting panels before it was finalized. It’s made with tequila, triple sec, organic agave nectar, and both lemon and lime juices. “The blend of lemon and lime juice gives a more rounded citrus punch and a balanced zest,” Yang says. Employees are trained on how to make the Margaritas, making Chipotle’s restaurant workers some of the most specialized “bartenders” in the biz. “Since the classic Margaritas are made to order, the proper training and discipline are integral to achieving recipe consistency and timely service,” Yang says.
For me, that’s what sets Chipotle apart from other fast casual spots trying to get in on the cocktail game. The Margaritas they serve are actual, real Margaritas—made to order by an actual, real person. There’s no gimmick, there’s no quick-dispensing machine, there’s no crazy name that any sane person would be embarrassed to order aloud. There’s only a simple, well-made Margarita, which you can order alongside your carnitas bowl or side of chips, and take into a quiet corner where no one will care (or, uninvited, try to help you) if you whip out your phone and start doing a timed New York Times crossword puzzle.
Chipotle certainly will never replace a good cocktail bar or even corner dive. But, if you’re looking for a place to pass the time and enjoy a decent solo drink, it’s just the spot. And if you see me there, completing a Monday puzzle in record time, don’t come and sit with me. Because, much like a reality show contestant, I didn’t come here to make friends. It’s not a bar. It’s Chipotle. And it’s my own, private Margarita oasis.