Collage: Cath Virginia
I keep a list of baby names on my phone for my future children. It’s filled with names I find charming but would undoubtedly get a child bullied, like “Thibedeau” or “Malachai.” But this week, I added a new, deceptively normal option to the roster: James. If I ever have a son, I think, I could name him James. But I would call him Jimmy. Am I that big of a Jimmy Buffett fan? Of course not. But after my recent trip to the Times Square location of Margaritaville, the restaurant and resort chain named for the island soft rocker’s most popular song, I realized there’s something deeply respectable about the man whose persona of care-free, tropical alcoholism has ballooned into a billion-dollar global brand. It’s precisely the type of fun yet resolute attitude I’d like to impart to a child.
Margaritaville is most closely associated with snowbird retirees, those for whom the Floridian lifestyle is only appreciated part-time. The vibe is something like a Disney-level recreation of a surf shack, fish shop, and tiki bar, pure simulacra of the concept of a beach establishment. For some locations, like those in the Keys or Bahamas, the nautical theme might come more naturally; for others, like those in Oklahoma City or New York, less so. But as of late, Margaritaville has nevertheless become popular among young people, if only “ironically.” In a recent popular video, YouTuber Eddy Burback visits every location in the country, presenting the journey as a Sisyphean quest through boomer-ish, vacation-esque mediocrity. On TikTok, going to the Times Square location is seen as some tongue-in-cheek venture: particularly if you live in New York City, it’s funny to go to this chain restaurant positioning itself as an island oasis in the middle of Times Square. The subtext is that no real New Yorker would go there with genuine intent—that as you wink to the viewer about the humor of the situation, you’re maybe even a better person than those tourists who would. In other words, it’s become a stunt. And no doubt, there is something funny about Margaritaville, and doubly so for its New York City location that opened in 2021. All of Times Square, in fact, is funny. Living in New York, I don’t particularly like having to go there, but it becomes a bit more tolerable when you play up the ostentatiousness of it all. And for tourists and locals alike, the Margaritaville complex offers plenty of novelty. This particular location boasts 234 guest rooms, Times Square’s only outdoor pool, and five different dining and drinking establishments. Doesn’t visiting it seem, then, to be as worthwhile a pursuit as any—irony or not?
With this in mind, I approached Margaritaville on a recent Tuesday evening. I had just attended the launch party for a new rooftop bar at the Untitled at 3 Freeman Alley, a hotel destined to be a place young people go without a hint of irony, where I was plied with craft cocktails and wagyu glizzies. To visit Margaritaville after felt appropriate. Sufficiently buzzed and relatively full, I thought I might take it easy. This was naive. I could summarize my visit with this: by the end of the night, I had a note in my phone titled “MARGARITAVILLE” with only two things in it. “Shrimps taste like if Taco Bell did shrimp,” was apparently the main anecdote I thought to write down. “Waiters name is OISIN,” was the second. That this is the scope of what I made a point of recollecting—all that I made a point of recollecting—may seem like a critique of the place or proof I’m shitty at my job. But it’d be much more accurate to view it as praise. Head empty? Brain smooth? Buddy, Buffett’s been singing about the human urge to be thoughtless for decades. I walked away with so little written down because I let the Jimmy Buffett experience engross me. There is, of course, more that I recall. The restaurant (of the five establishments in the building, this one is just called Margaritaville Restaurant) was expansive—two massive floors, one of which was almost entirely full. It was surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows, but I was far more occupied by the endless display of Buffett-themed tchotchkes, memorabilia, and music videos lining every inch of available wall space. Every half hour or so, a gigantic bust of the Statue of Liberty holding a margarita lit up as the glass transformed into a 4D television display. “Margaritaville” played loudly and multicolored waves and sharks swam as “Fins Up” flashed on the screen. Every time this happened, about half the restaurant would pay attention. Those who paid attention the most appeared to be people like myself—young New Yorkers, here for the thrill. The rest, who ranged from young families to groups of middle-aged women all appearing to be on vacation in the city, had either already seen the show during their meal or simply didn’t care.
The menu, particularly for drinks, was overwhelming in its selection. There were twenty different margarita options alone. I decided to keep it simple with a “Perfect Margarita.” It was fine! Solid! Boozy! And at $13 each, not actually terribly priced for the area. As an appetizer, my date and I split the “Lava Lava Shrimp,” which is where my Taco Bell note originated. “Erupting with flavor, these plump lightly breaded shrimps are drizzled with our Thai chili sauce and garnished with toasted sesame seeds,” the menu description read. They were perfectly tasty but still suggestive of fast food. If Taco Bell did serve them, you’d probably be impressed. My entree selection, grilled fish tacos, could be described somewhat similarly. They tasted clean, fine, with solid rice and beans on the side, but the grilled fish itself was entirely unseasoned. Somewhere between these two dishes, a second Perfect Margarita arrived, and so did a third friend. He’d been to this location before and ran as fast as he could from Greenpoint to the train when he heard I was there. Soon after, the Statue of Liberty show played again. This is where the evening escalated. By the time the third friend arrived, we’d essentially finished our entrees. So what else is there to do while said third party waits for their meal but order another drink? And how else does one react to hearing “Margaritaville” play inside the titular restaurant after a third margarita but hooting and hollering and clapping along? What else could anyone feel at this moment but pure respect for the Buffett hustle and ideology? He wants you to have fun. So have it.
Brilliantly, the restaurant is not the only place for a cocktail in the building. In fact, both on TikTok and YouTube, many recommend doing the 6x9 bar crawl, where one consumes 9 different drinks across 6 different floors of the resort. After 10PM, gratefully, most of the other options were closed—but not the 5 O’Clock Somewhere Bar on the 31st floor. This is an elevated (literally and spiritually) Buffett venture, where the drinks contain ingredients like egg whites and rosemary. No matter, as I was too deep to discern much of a difference between the spicy mezcal and the Margaritaville Gold tequila used between the drinks here and the ones downstairs. A $17 shot was ordered, but I was too margarita-d out to finish it. An Uber home was called soon after. Despite all this—the Perfect Margaritas and $17 shots, the TikTok-trending bar crawls and YouTube videos—the Times Square Margaritaville still faces trouble. In early July, the resort filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. According to the New York Post, the owners have failed to make payments on a $57 million loan used to fund its $370 million construction. We are told to fear not, however, as the property is to remain open throughout the bankruptcy process as they refinance their debt. Now, it's certainly not the best economy in which to launch a six-story NYC resort. And maybe a tropical-themed restaurant just isn't a great fit for Times Square. But is there also a deeper cultural rift between irony-poisoned 20- and 30-somethings and Buffett’s laid-back call toward easy-breezy chillness with a drink in hand?I think that Buffett wouldn’t worry much about any of this. Even if he didn’t already have a billion dollars behind him, it simply does not align with his public persona. Perhaps I’m projecting a parasocial understanding of the man, but by God, isn’t that what Margaritaville is all about? Who else but maybe Dolly Parton has managed to pivot their music into such material longevity? Bland tacos and average drinks be damned, Jimmy Buffett is someone to admire. Maybe what can fix the Times Square location is even more ironic visitation from the youth. And maybe, if we can stop scrolling, put down our cameras for a second, and let the Margaritaville spirit wash over us, we could be fixed, as well.