This homage to the American sitcom Friends first opened up in Beijing back in 2010. That's six years after its final season, probably closer to 10 years after it jumped the shark. And yet it's proved to be something of a cult success up north. A month ago, the coffee shop expanded to a newly-gentrified office hub just a couple of blocks west of 1933.
According to CNN, the owner "scrutinized thousands of pictures of the show's set, watched endless reruns of the sitcom, and spent five months laboring over furniture designs with manufacturers." I never expected to say this, but it shows.
This is the first thing you see when you walk in the front door...
That's right, roughly a third of the floor space is devoted to a simulacrum of that street in Greenwich Village, home to so many establishing shots. That's what I call commitment...
The interior is all faux brick dotted with all of the familiar quirky neon light fixtures and other assorted tchotchkes. There is even this.
The coffee menu. Down to the letter. It's a detail that even I, an erstwhile inveterate couch potato, never noticed. Sadly, though, not one of them is available here. They do, however, serve Illy brand coffee, and seem competent enough to make everything from an Americano to a latte.
And then check this out...
It's the piece de resistance, the orange sofa! And, as you can see, no detail is too small. They've even thrown in those festively-colored, over-sized cups.
They don't have a Gunther. But they do have a Steve, and he's much friendlier. He tells me that they're even thinking about setting up a small stage with a microphone and a stool. You know, so somebody can sing "Smelly Cat" (Cf. S02E06, S02E17, S03E14 and S09E07)
And just to prove to you how faithful a recreation it all is, there's a flat screen overhead playing all Friends episodes all the time.
There's a small food menu too. They make their own pizzas; there are two of them, which, I might add, is just enough for a "Joey Special." But they're a dicey proposition -- thick, over-leavened, quasi deep dish-style crust with a choice of two toppings: chicken or salami. I ordered the former. They failed to warn me that they put sliced peaches on it too. Pretty rough.
They also offer a small selection of sweets, like brownies, scones, carrot cake and muffins. None are arbitrary selections either. Each one alludes to a specific instance of dialogue on the show. They've scoured ten seasons to bring you their dessert menu. It's even annotated.
...I tried the carrot cake. It could've used some cream cheese frosting.
Conspicuously absent, however, is anything made with "mockolate." Remember mockolate, guys? It was that synthetic chocolate that Monica was hired to create recipes for in S02E08. I mean, Central Perk has brownies on the menu. That was a missed opportunity, if you ask me.
And while we're on the subject, why not a turkey sandwich with that extra slice of bread in the middle that's been soaked in gravy? I believe Ross referred to it as the "Moistmaker" in S05E09. That would have been awesome.
And yet, as strong as my initial impulse to mock this place may have been, despite all of the minor "Monicas" (Cf. S04E03) that they pull with the food, I have to say it: I actually like this place, if for no other reason than the sheer earnestness of it all. If you're going to do something gimmicky, you might as well go full bore. These guys definitely do.
Not only that, the staff are all super friendly. That goes a long, long way with me. Manager Steven Lu is a warm and gracious host, and he speaks excellent English. Come to think of it, he probably has hours and hours of watching Friends to thank for that.
It's in Hongkou, so if you live and work out there, why not? I guarantee you it's got more character than the nearest Starbucks. But for the rest of us, it's a bit of a trek just for coffee. I mean, if we were in Manhattan, it would be like going all the way to... I don't know... Queens or something.
Still, there are those times, for example, when I feel like my job is a joke, or maybe if I'm broke, or even in the highly, highly unlikely (can't stress that enough) event that my love life is D.O.A. Sure. Why not? I'll be there.