Fun Fact: The First Taco Bell Had Live Music

Most of us have probably never delved any further into the lore of Taco Bell than reaching into a bag of Cheesy Bean and Rice Burritos, but fans of the chain might be charmed to know that TB was once a small, owner-operated upstart in Southern California that opened in the early 1960s. The original location looked quite a bit different from the smartphone app-friendly chain we recognize today, including outdoor fire pits and live music.

Taco Bell has always had a little bit of an irreverent vibe, and it's constantly reinventing itself with new menu items like the Cheesy Chicken Crispanada and crispy chicken nuggets. "We've grown up a little, but we have a sense of humor and a desire to not take ourselves too seriously," Marisa Thalberg, chief marketing officer of Taco Bell, told Forbes in 2016. That vibe all started with the original location in Downey, California, where you could walk up to the window and get a taco for less than 20 cents, then stick around for some live mariachi performances.

The first Taco Bell was tiny and had no indoor seating

From the beginning, Taco Bell was a hit. The chain was started in 1962 by a man named Glen Bell (hence the name), who at the time had already owned a few fast-food style restaurants serving tacos and burgers but hadn't quite hit on the right concept until he made his way to Downey, where the company website says, "Glen saw its prosperity and growth as an opportunity to bring his latest vision to life — a Mexican-inspired center with shops, live music and fire pits, anchored by a taco stand called Taco Bell."

The first Taco Bell location was just 400 square feet with no indoor seats. Customers would drive in and park, then walk up to the window to order. People would then sit outside to eat while the bands played music, and the idea was to evoke a feeling of actually being in Mexico. "There was a whole theatre around presenting the brand in this irreverent way," VP for Taco Bell's development and design, Deborah Brand, said to Restaurant Spaces.

Only two years later, Taco Bell's first franchise opened in Torrance, California, and by 1967 there were already 100 locations. Today, there are more than 8,000 locations around the world, which brought in $2.64 billion in 2023, according to Statista.

You can still hear live music at Taco Bell in Nashville

As Taco Bell grew to become the fast-food juggernaut it is today, live mariachi band performances and fire pits sadly fell by the wayside pretty quickly. That's not to say that there's absolutely no live music at any Taco Bell, however. In fact, according to The Tennessean, the two-story Taco Bell Cantina in downtown Nashville, Tennessee, has live music every night of the week.

Live music at the Cantina location is perhaps not too big of a surprise to anyone living in "Music City, U.S.A., though. "I once heard Nashville described as the place where you go to a bar and at noon the best musicians you have ever heard come on stage, at 1 p.m. the next band is even better, at 2 p.m. better, and this goes on until the bar closes early the next morning and will repeat the next day," said a Redditor on a post about Taco Bell's live tunes. As another throwback, you can also order the original Taco Bell menu in Nashville, but all the live music happens inside on a stage. So if you're holding out for a fire pit, you might want to stick to takeout.