Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Friends Central

When I first came to China, many young Chinese asked me if I watched the show Friends. I had to confess that I didn't watch it regularly, much to their dismay, as they download the episodes and watch them online or buy the DVD set of all the seasons.

And so it should be of no surprise that a cafe inspired by the hit TV show has opened in Chaowai SOHO.

On the sixth floor of a nondescript office building is "Friends Cafe", but the outside looks almost the same as Central Perk, the coffee house in the comedy series that starred Courtenay Cox, Jennifer Aniston, and David Schwimmer. It has the wooden panelling on the outside in forest green, complete with a bike rack, supposedly for Phoebe's bike. There's even a stool with a guitar next to it for impromptu performances.

And inside this Central Perk looks very similar to the original, though smaller due to space constraints. There's a bar filled with bottles, and a small prep kitchen to the side, while customers sit in sofas or bar stools. There's even the famous giant orange couch facing a giant-screen TV showing... Friends episodes with Chinese and English subtitles.

So we sat, on the orange couch... watching Friends. It was quite surreal.

The owner, surnamed Du, a young 30-something Chinese, recently opened Friends Cafe in April and already word has spread quickly about the place. He was very keen to point out that realizing his dream of opening up a place like this was not necessarily going to make him money, which is why he uses the next door space as a mini grocery store to keep things afloat.

Du said that when he started watching Friends, he immediately loved the show and doesn't have a particular favourite character. For him, this venture was a labour of love, making sure the colour used in the interior and the fabric and the couches all looked as close as possible to the coffee house in the show.

And so he gets a kick when people come in, thrilled to find the place very similar to their favourite show, bringing back memories of episodes and how they used to watch the show to learn English and American pop culture.

On the table are some blank notebooks where customers can write comments. Many of them say the are happy to be in the cafe, or talk about what true friendship is. There were even people from Greece, France and Spain who wrote in the books.

The cafe offers mostly drinks, including coffee, cappuccino, milk tea, fruit teas, juice and smoothies at moderate prices.

Friends Cafe seems like a novelty place and its location may not bring in regulars so it remains to be seen if the cafe will catch on.

But for now it's interesting to note that perhaps finally, Friends fans have a place to gather... with friends.

Friends Cafe
Building A, 6/F
Chaowai SOHO
6B Chaowai Dajie

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