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Cocktails

The Yard Contains Multitudes

March 22, 2021

Story: Aaron Goldfarb

art: Nick Hensley

Cocktails

The Yard Contains Multitudes

March 22, 2021

Story: Aaron Goldfarb

art: Nick Hensley

To understand the peculiar allure of spring break, you must understand its archetypal vessel.

The base is shaped like an Erlenmeyer flask, with a warning: “Consumption may enhance the appearance of others.” In the middle, the cheap plastic narrows to the thickness of a paper towel tube, skying upward some 16 inches, before again widening to an open-mouthed goblet. Maybe it’s colored Tang orange or Mountain Dew green, but most likely, this apparatus is neon pink, adorned with the image of a hard-partying frog in cool shades. This is The Yard, which over the past 30 years has become the unofficial drinking vessel of—wooooooo!—spring break.

The novelty cup first appeared in 1990 at Señor Frog’s in Cancún when David Krouham, then a manager, took a cue from English drinking culture. “It is with great pride to have created a sensation that has spun out of control to become synonymous with partying,” says Krouham, now CEO of Grupo Anderson’s, which owns Señor Frog’s. But before dreaming up this bit of marketing genius, Krouham, a Mexico City native, began as a busboy at the original Señor Frog’s in Mazatlán, a Mexican resort town on the Pacific. By 1989 he had risen to manager. When another Grupo Anderson’s restaurant in Cancún, Carlos’n Charlie’s, began to struggle, Krouham suggested he help transform it into a second Señor Frog’s.

It was a savvy play. If Cancún was originally conceived as an exclusive resort for rich jet-setters, by the late 1980s it had begun to transition into a middle-class spring break destination ne plus ultra, a reputation it has yet to shake. “[It] served as a safe space for American travelers to engage in activities that in the U.S. are legally, socially, or culturally prohibited,” writes Tracy A. Butler in Selling Mexico: Race, Gender, and American Influence in Cancún, 1997-2000. This was especially true among barely legal high school and college kids; from 1984 to 1986, the United States raised its drinking age across most states to 21, while in Mexico, the drinking age remained 18.

As Cancún’s Señor Frog’s was set to open in 1989, Krouham, then 29, devised a plan to attract these nascent drinkers and garner some buzz. Whereas the Mazatlán restaurant exuded a culturally ambiguous, family-friendly vibe, the new location would need to become a dedicated party destination. Krouham installed a karaoke system run by a raucous emcee and hired a Jamaican reggae group as the house band.

But the new Señor Frog’s was tiny—a mere 3,000 square feet in comparison to today’s 22,000-square-foot destinations—and after a few months, he calculated customers were having only 1.7 drinks per visit. “So I looked for a formula to sell more in a smaller space,” says Krouham. While traveling abroad, years before, he had encountered the super-thin, hand-blown glasses, known in the United Kingdom as “yards,” which held up to 56 ounces of beer, and were 36 inches long—literally a yard.

“I thought it could become our brand’s emblem,” adds Krouham, who had already calculated each Yard would deliver customers at least 2.5 drinks per visit. Because the typical Cancún clientele preferred boozier, Margarita-style vacation drinks over beer, Krouham reasoned that a full yard would be overkill, so he cut the vessel to 16 inches with 28 ounces of capacity—perfect for, say, the Bad Mother Frogger (tequila with raspberry liqueur and an array of fruit juices, served frozen) or the Frogasm (tequila with melon liqueur and fruit juices, served on the rocks).

Krouham spent six months working with different manufacturers on a glass mold, but none could quite nail what he envisioned. So, more pragmatically, the vessels were made from plastic in a factory in Mérida, and by virtue of their medium became a takeaway souvenir. (Though it has always been misleadingly called “The Yard”—the name branded today on the vessel’s thin neck—certain factions of the internet insist the original was 24 inches long. Krouham claims that is absolutely not the case.)

Ready just in time for Spring Break 1990, they came in screaming neon colors, cost around 100 pesos (about $5) including the souvenir cup, and seemed to hold a lot more booze than they actually did. (The elongated shape creates a visual trick I suspect is a key to its success.) Almost immediately, The Yard was a hit with the visiting spring break revelers, who brought their unwieldy souvenirs back to American campuses, quickly helping spread its lore; in the first month, Señor Frog’s sold 10,000 Yards.

By the late 1990s, Cancún had replaced Fort Lauderdale as the top spring break destination for U.S. travelers. Eventually Señor Frog’s expanded across Mexico and the Caribbean with roughly three-quarters of each location’s revenue coming from booze, much of it sold one Yard at a time. By the time the company quit counting sometime that decade, they had sold 24 million.

“Every spring breaker who has enjoyed an unforgettable night at Señor Frog’s can return home and keep a memory of the craziest party of their lives,” says Krouham. (The Yard has also enjoyed a viral afterlife retrofitted into a bong.)

While they've tried, Señor Frog’s has been unable to patent The Yard due to its resemblance to products like the trumpet pilsner glass. “[I]t became so popular that restaurants and festivals created imitation versions of it all around the world,” explains Butler in Selling Mexico. Today, countless Yard-like options can be found on Amazon and in tourist destination bars across the globe.

The Yard, it seems, has given rise to a whole category of novelty drinking vessels. This is especially true in Las Vegas, where oversized drinks are de rigueur. Yards can be seen everywhere—including the Señor Frog’s at Treasure Island Hotel & Casino—and just about every Vegas hotel or chain restaurant sports its own shape: Cowboy boots, Eiffel Towers and palm trees regularly bounce along the Strip, clutched in revelers’ hands. At a self-service frozen Daiquiri shop at Purple Zebra at The LINQ hotel, a veritable showroom of yard glasses is stocked with molds in the likeness of legs, saxophones and magnums of Champagne. The open-air Carnaval Court at Harrah’s casino sells yards for a whopping $45, though they might have the longest in the business, with glasses that tower on the bar top at a good four feet each.

But The Yard is still most intrinsically linked with Señor Frog’s, a behemoth chain now located in 11 North American cities, most of which have implemented COVID-19 safety protocols so guests can still get “frogged up safely.” As Señor Frog’s prepares for spring break this year—the Myrtle Beach location is expecting 50 percent capacity—it likely won’t be the same. But The Yard abides, a symbol of a retrograde universe of debauchery—even at a social distance.

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