Back in the day, I was a huge fan of the NBC comedy Friends. The show debuted my freshman year of college, which was really the opportune time for a show like that to come along for me. Not only did it chronicle the relationships of a group of twenty-something year old people, which provided a (fictionalized) glimpse of what life after college might look like, but it was a great show to watch with a bunch of people. Friends became appointment television for my group of friends; every Thursday there would be at least 7 people crammed into my dorm room to enjoy NBC’s Must See TV line-up, which Friends kicked off. The tradition continued when I moved in to my sorority house. Friends was highly quoted within my circle of pals and the Ross and Rachel story line eerily paralleled what was going on with my own romantic life at the time (minus the baby part – don’t worry mom). Chandler was always my favorite, though I had a soft spot in my heart for the rest of the gang too. Even Ross, who in retrospect was kind of the worst. Seinfeld was my favorite show, but Friends best represented that era of my life.
Though my enthusiasm for the show has waned as I’ve gotten older and my tastes in comedies have evolved, I still have very fond memories of Friends. So when I heard that in honor of the 20th anniversary (!) of the show’s debut a pop-up version of Central Perk – the coffee house where the gang hung out and Rachel occasionally worked – would be in New York City the same time that I would be in the City for work, it was a no-brainer that I’d work it into my itinerary. So Tuesday, when my grant writing class had wrapped for the day, I hopped the 6 train to So-Ho for a quick trip down memory lane.
My biggest concern going in was the line to get in; when Central Perk first opened, people were waiting for over an hour to get in. I wasn’t necessarily looking forward to standing around that long, but I was hoping that since it had been open for a while and I was going on a week night that some of the crowds would have died down. In the interest of pop culture I would have waited for however long that it took, but when I finally found 199 Lafayette Street the line didn’t look all that daunting. The end of the line was wrapped around the corner, but that was because they had a system in place to control the flow of people. There wasn’t one long line, but a bunch of smaller lines that were staggered so as to not obstruct the sidewalk; you moved from one small line to another at the discretion of the many employees that were scattered around the block. It only took me about ten minutes to move around the corner and the staff was generally pretty friendly. The pop-up was sponsored by Eight O’clock coffee and all the employees wore shirts that were a twist on the classic Joey line:
Despite starting around the corner, within 15 minutes, I had finally made it inside Central Perk. Could the line BE any quicker?
The Central Perk experience can be broken into three components: memorabilia from the show, free coffee and getting your picture taken on the couch from the show. You can do these things in any order, but the first thing that you hit when you walk in is the first display of costumes and props from the show. The space is a little crowded and you are right near the entrance, but people were pretty courteous and no one seemed to mind the close quarters. New Yorkers are not the ogres that they are portrayed to be.
I grew irrationally excited to see the first item in the exhibit, which I almost missed because it was near the window – the white dog statute that Joey bought with his money from being on Days of Our Lives:
That episode was from my favorite era of the show and it was one of the episodes that I remembered best, so it was really cool to see that in person. I think that statute would look prettyawesome in my apartment, though I imagine I would have had trouble getting it out of the coffee house, let alone on the subway.
Next up were costume from the show:
Everyone was represented – Joey, Rachel, Phoebe, Ross, Chandler and Monica – and it was a reminder of what 90s fashion comprised of. I miss that style – so easy and comfortable.
Here’s some Smelly Cat cat litter:
Then there was the Geller Cup, which I actually had no memory of from the show:
The second display had some smaller artifacts. Here’s Ross’s Science Boy comic book, Phoebe’s porno and Rachel’s sonogram:
A closer look at the crib tag for Ross and Rachel’s baby, Emma:
Joey on the cover of Soap Opera Digest:
Chandler and Monica’s wedding invitation (and part of Dr. Drake Ramoray’s name tag):
Monica and Chandler’s wedding vows and Monica’s engagement ring:
Ross’ laminated celebrity “hall pass”:
I had exhausted all the stuff to look at along that wall, so to get some coffee I had to heed the words of Ross Gellar and
All visitors to Central Perk get a free cup of coffee. I decided to go with the Central Perk Roast, since that was a new flavor made especially for this momentous occasion. I figured when in Rome Central Perk, I might as well sample the Central Perk coffee. Service was quick and I was handed what had to have been the hottest cup of coffee that I’ve ever had in my life. Like, this made the coffee from McDonald’s that scalded a woman look like tap water. I couldn’t even hold it, let alone drink it. Seriously – the coffee was burning my fingertips through the cup. I was terrified that I was going to drop it. I took the tiniest of sips and completely burned my mouth. I drink my coffee black, so perhaps some milk or cream would have helped, but they really should turn the temperature down a bit. I get that it’s free coffee and I shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth, but I also shouldn’t have to go to a burn unit either.
While I gingerly held my cup, I hopped on the line to get my photo taken on the Friends couch. While generally the pop-up version of Central Perk didn’t look a ton like its TV counterpart, the area by the couch was the closest that it came to replicating the experience. Sure, the couch should have been facing the other way if you really wanted to get picky about it, but logistically the set up was worked best for the space. There was a parallel line near the couch line that was for merchandise, though at that particular time of day a lot of items were sold out. I think all that was left were some Friends ball caps and some stickers, neither of which I deemed all that essential or desirable. If I didn’t wear a Friends hat when the show was actually on, I certainly wasn’t going to wear one twenty years after the fact. There was also so coffee to purchase, but since I still had barely tasted my cup of java I wasn’t really looking to procure more of the stuff.
The line for the couch also moved very quickly. You don’t get to sit on the couch for very long – maybe 20-30 seconds – so you have to make the most of your time. First your picture is taken by their photographer and then they will take a photo with your camera. Without even having to ask, the woman took two photos with my cell phone and zoomed in on the second one, which was nice. You can have multiple people sit on the couch and strike whatever pose you want – the person in front of me sprawled out a bit – but I wanted a nice photo and I was wearing a dress, so I went for a pretty traditional option:
After that, the Friends Central Perk experience was basically over. There were some table over in the corner in case people wanted to stand around a bit longer and watch whatever episode of Friends was playing on the big TV, but there wasn’t much more to see. They give you a business card that gives you instructions on how to download the photo that they took of you online, though I wound up liking the photos from my cell phone more because they were at a better angle. Minus waiting in line, the whole experience took only about 15 minutes, but I think it was worth it. After all, how many people can say that they have sat on the Friends couch? The photo alone was time well spent. If you enjoy Friends and are in the area, I’d say it is worthy of a visit; I’d just caution against thinking that this is a truly immersive experience that will take a lot of time. Even if you pour over every piece of memorabilia and savor your coffee (after it cools off), I can’t imagine spending more than 30 minutes in the coffee shop.
I’m glad that I carved out some time to check it out. I certainly felt a lot of nostalgia and though Central Perk doesn’t necessarily physically resemble the TV version, I think that it still managed to capture the Friends vibe as much as possible. It’s clear that this show still means a lot to people even twenty years after it debuted – everyone that I encountered that was visiting seemed tickled to be there and was smiling. That’s the mark of a show that makes people happy.
Central Perk is at 199 Lafayette Street in NYC and will be open until October 18th.