We Spent a Night at the Taco Bell Hotel, Where Everything Is Supremely on Brand

Here's what we saw at The Bell

With just 70 rooms, reservations at The Bell were in high demand. But what was waiting for the lucky few upon arrival?
Taco Bell

That gong you just heard? You know it as the signature sound of Taco Bell from its commercials, but now it also summons guests to The Bell: A Taco Bell Hotel and Resort.

The over-the-top experiential marketing experience from agencies Edelman and United Entertainment Group is open for just four days in the desert east of Los Angeles, taking over a boutique setting and remaking it in the brand’s own quirky, sauce- and sass-filled image.

(Technically it all kicked off with a ribbon-cutting ceremony to formally launch The Bell, but the gong was ever-present, creating a Pavlovian response from the few hundred people there Thursday and Friday).

On Thursday, the Irvine-based brand packed The Bell for the first of four nights that the pop-up will be operating in Palm Springs, and Adweek was there for all the festivities. The lineup included food tastings (announced, of course, by gong), synchronized swimmers in hot-sauce suits, a poolside concert by Fletcher, a “freeze” lounge, a slew of Baja Blast variations and more selfies than anyone could possibly count.

Taco Bell
Taco Bell

First, a few stats: the 70 rooms at The Bell, usually known as the four-star V Palm Springs, sold out in two minutes to fans from 21 states, according to the brand, which hasn’t announced any future plans for lodgings (a la its permanent wedding chapel in Las Vegas). Temperature in Palm Springs: 110 in the shade. No one seemed to mind.

It’s who you know?

Since tickets were tough to come by (and gawkers who tried to crash were turned away at the door), what did it take to be invited to the hotel on its opening night?

Media—Los Angeles Times, BuzzFeed, Tastemade, local television stations, and yours truly from Adweek—occupied plenty of the space, as did hard-core fans who were extremely quick on the draw when reservations became available.

Then there were mega-influencers like Jeffree Star, a makeup artist who counts at least 40 million social media followers among Twitter, YouTube and other platforms.

T.L. Stanley for Adweek
Taco Bell

But the chain also looks out for its lesser-known loyalists, like the Arizona keeper of an Instagram account called @yoquierotacoballads. On that feed, a genial guy named William Bradford creates songs based on Taco Bell receipts. Go ahead, DM him and see what happens.

Bradford, sitting poolside Thursday night with a just-shaved Taco Bell logo on the side of his head, says he mixes up genres and styles for the witty, one-of-a-kind tunes. Since his account’s debut a year ago, he’s upped his production game, adding effects and backup dancers. (He’s an ad man by day and a musician at night).

“I was really surprised when they invited me,” he says, noting that his social following is modest (a little more than 500 people). “I guess they like what I’m doing.”

Taco Bell

Love is in the air…until it isn’t

A whole flock of lovebirds checked into the pop-up. One couple got married at the brand’s Las Vegas chapel last month, so the Palm Springs jaunt was a honeymoon of sorts. Others say they bonded over their genuine love of the chain’s food, serving it at significant events in their lives like wedding receptions.

That was the case for Tarun Sinha and his wife, Priya Punatar, from Washington, D.C., who tied the knot last week. Sinha’s Instagram handle is @tacobellsommelier, where he makes suggestions to his 1,500 followers about which wines to pair with burritos and Crunchwrap Supremes.

As a bit of a contrast, there was the evening’s headliner, Fletcher, an X Factor alum and part of Taco Bell’s longtime support of emerging musicians, Feed the Beat. The singer-songwriter, celebrating her first gold-certified single and sipping tequila, dedicated most of her set to an ex that she was none too pleased with. It wasn’t entirely clear if she was talking about multiple former partners or just one real a-hole in songs like “Undrunk” and “You Should Talk.” But let’s just say things didn’t end well in that (those?) relationship(s). But the performance, with its vocalist citing pop stars like Lorde as inspiration, was a real crowd pleaser.

Taco Bell

Food and fades

The on-site salon bustled all day Thursday, with manicurists replicating flames and writing tiny words like “Fire!” on nails, while hair stylists worked on braids and up-do’s. Fades were popular for the men, but the artist/barber would not be rushed. (Appointments, scheduled every 30 minutes kept getting pushed back, but customers like Bradford, who got a full-scale hair cut along with his Taco Bell fade, didn’t seem to mind).

The beautifying touches, like everything at the location, tied in with the food (Baja Blast manis, cinnamon twist braids). And the brand used the resort as an experimental playground for items not on its regular menu (will they ever be? We’re voting for the fish tacos!)

Among the snacks: The Bell Crudités (veggies, hummus, Gordita bread, cucumber crema), toasted cheddar club (chicken, jalapeño bacon, avocado on Chalupa bread), jalapeño popcorn chicken, roasted veggie wrap and caesar taco salad. For breakfast, there’s an avocado toast-ada! One influencer, a model from New York City, considered ordering from Postmates because she had a hankering for “OG Taco Bell,” but most everyone else seemed game to try the fusion food, created by executive chef Rene Pisciotti.

Specialty drinks were the order of the day, too, with everything from horchata-data smoothies to many fruity incarnations of the Mountain Dew-based Baja blast, served with or without booze (and some with a mini-popsicle).

Taco Bell

Saucy Merch

Logos abound at The Bell, but the brand, known for its inventive marketing, has turned a passel of everyday objects into facsimiles of its famous single-serve hot sauce packets. Examples: yoga mats, throw pillows, pool floats, wall art, room keys, vanilla cookies (via turn-down service), beach towels and bathing suits.

And a word about the swag, from partners like Chubbies, L Space and DIFF: it’s limited-edition resort wear, made specially for the occasion, and it’s selling briskly at the gift shop. Although there are books available there, too (about the chain’s founder Glen Bell), the swim trunks and bikinis seem to be the most popular items.

Garden spot — or not

After one of the hottest Julys on record, daytime temperatures in Palm Springs are routinely in the triple digits, so August is not the height of the tourist season here. Could that be keeping the mayhem to a minimum? It’s much less like the anticipated Daytona Beach at spring break (in fact, not at all) and more like an energetic house party.

Beat the heat activities have included a beautiful pool, where synchronized swim team the Aqualillies cavorted on Thursday night. (Hats off to them, because they make being graceful, and smiling while diving and flipping, look so easy). Plenty of fans spent the day in the water, but no one, unsurprisingly, touched the jacuzzi. The giant mist-spewing fans have been extremely popular.

The “freeze” lounge, a room with mylar covering its walls, would’ve been much more inviting if it had actually been an ice-filled cave. Alas, it wasn’t. (And kind of stuffy, TBH). But the slush dispensers served up very cold Baja Blasts, with birthday sprinkles in honor of the drink’s 15th anniversary.

Sunrise yoga on Friday morning, scheduled for 7 a.m., was super chill for the 10 of us who rolled out of bed to get our “om” on. But by the end of the hour, the relentless sun had started to encroach on our zen space. There may be just enough time for a little spin on a Taco Bell-branded bicycle before check out.

That’s it for our travel diary from The Bell. Live mas, everybody. Within reason.

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