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Wicker Park's Boozy Taco Bell Packed With Tuesday's Soft Opening

By  Kelly Bauer and Alisa Hauser | September 15, 2015 7:02am | Updated on September 15, 2015 8:23pm

 Scenes inside the new Taco Bell in Wicker Park.
Taco Bell Soft Opening Night in Wicker Park
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WICKER PARK — Wicker Park's boozy taco bell will officially debut Sept. 22, but it was packed for a soft opening Tuesday.

A Taco Bell spokeswoman on site said there had been a steady flow of people all day and the restaurant had a "great energy."

When asked how many people had come in, franchisee Neil Borkan wasn't sure but that it had been crowded.

"It's what we expected, this is a soft opening this week to get training worked out. The 22nd is grand opening," Borkan said.

Diamond Brown, 21, of Logan Square was eating nachos and drinking a Baja Blast mixed freeze with tequila in it. Brown made no bones about what brought her to the new Taco Bell when asked.

"Alcohol," Brown said. "Thought that would be really interesting. "


#wickerpark Taco Bell now open @hwkcrz1 @DNAinfoCHI

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The location, 1439 N. Milwaukee Ave., called the "Taco Bell Cantina" because it will serve alcoholic drinks, showed off its "shareable" foods and boozy beverages during a private event Monday.

Meredith Sandland, Taco Bell chief development officer, said Taco Bell officials are making the Cantina different from other Taco Bells in key ways: They tried to cater to Millenials with an "urbanized" design and location, they've "digitized" the eatery with screens and menu boards, they've used local art and kept the building's brick walls and prismatic glass to reflect the area's culture, they're trying to be more environmentally friendly and they're making food prep more transparent.

Here's a sneak peek at the Cantina's offerings:

Boozy Drinks

Taco Bell Cantina offers "twisted freezes," which are similar to slushies with alcohol. Pictured here is Cantina Punch with rum. [DNAinfo/Kelly Bauer]

The Cantina will be the first Taco Bell to feature drinks with alcohol. The menu so far includes "twisted freezes," akin to slushies with your choice of rum, tequila or vodka.

 Wicker Park's Taco Bell Cantina will open Sept. 22.
Taco Bell Cantina
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There will be Dos Equis beer, selected because it is a Mexican beer, and New Belgium seasonal beers.

You'll also be able to grab sangria and red and white wine at the Cantina.

Kelly Bauer got a sneak peek of the much-anticipated spot:

Shareable Foods

Nachos at Taco Bell Cantina. [DNAinfo/Kelly Bauer]

The Cantina will have an expanded menu with "shareable, appetizer-style items," similar to tapas. Options will range from rolled tacos to chicken tenders and nachos, with prices up to $5.

Local Touches

Artist Won Kim, 35, of Wrigleyville, used spray paint to create a mural in Taco Bell Cantina. [DNAinfo/Kelly Bauer]

The Cantina has created more than 40 jobs, all of them local hires, spokeswoman Mary Ann Schoppman said. That's not where the focus on staying local ends, organizers said: The Cantina features brick walls and prismatic glass that were original to the location.

Borkan, who grew up in Rogers Park but now lives in Des Plaines, said he insisted on bringing in a Chicago artist to create a mural that spans one wall. Won Kim, 35, of Wrigleyville, was selected. Kim's done work featured at Whole Foods in Lincoln Park, the Renaissance Hotel downtown and in signs for Goose Island, among other projects. 

Kim said he was given a large degree of creative freedom with his work, joking that he wasn't ordered to paint a taco or nacho cheese. His mural features cool colors and flowing shapes, complete with lone lines and greenery, signatures of Kim's work.

Creating the mural wasn't a challenge, Kim said, though it was different from the type of work he did growing up — that is, graffiti — because he knew it wouldn't be washed away or painted over.

"You have to excel ... 'cause it's not leaving," he said.

The Cantina also has amenities unique to the location designed to make customers' stay cozy, including outlets and USB plugins where people can charge phones and other devices while eating or hanging out. The Cantina gives customers a "different experience" than what they find at other Taco Bells, spokesman Rob Poetsch said.


An open kitchen area Taco Bell Cantina. [DNAinfo/Kelly Bauer]

Taco Bell has sought to cater to customers' desires by become more transparent, Sandland said.

The Cantina features an open kitchen area where customers can see employees preparing food. Taco Bell has also eliminated some ingredients and worked to inform customers about what ingredients are being used, Sandland said.

The menu and prices

The Cantina has unique menu offerings. [DNAinfo/Kelly Bauer]

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