I Went to Central Perk Alone and Didn’t Make Any Friends

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Can you believe it was just 20 years ago that Friends debuted and, along with Seinfeld, totally invented the sit-around-and-talk sitcom? Well, it’s true: Friends – and Central Perk along with it – turns 20 next week, and so Eight O’Clock coffee has partnered with NBC to recreate Ross, Rachel, Chandler, Monica, Phoebe, and Joey’s favorite coffee shop, right down in Soho. Even James Michael Tyler, the man who played the perpetually grumpy barista Gunther, is said to be making random appearances. As a mild-to-moderate Friends fan who works a few blocks away, I had to check it out. Unfortunately, my coworkers had yet to arrive at the office, so I embarked upon the journey alone.

9:45 Walking down Lafayette and approaching Broome, I see the entrance to Central Perk. It’s very busy, but not as busy as I was expecting. It’s right on the corner, parked next to Odin, a high-end menswear retailer. I decide, after I’ve had my free coffee, to treat myself to maybe a nice, new crew-neck sweater, in honor of Chandler.

Photo credit: Shane Barnes/Flavorwire

9:47 I cross the street and realize that the line extends to the next cross street and wraps around the block. So many people love Friends!

9:50 It becomes clear that the French couple behind me does not know what they are in line for. I ask them if they know what Friends is, and the woman replies, “No, he is my husband.”

9:55 There are two families in front of me. Both are comprised of a husband, wife, and stroller-bound child. After five minutes, the husbands leave, kissing their wives on the cheek and hailing a cab. I can’t help but ponder the enormity of this, and how it relates to the viewing habits of Friends fans in general.

10:00 The grip of Friends is apparently still strong with people, regardless of whether or not it’s worthy of such nostalgia. Unsurprisingly, most of the people in this hour-long line are female tourists.

10:15 I talk to the mothers in front of me. One is from London and is visiting, the other, who lives in Jersey. They aren’t tremendous Friends fans, but thought it would be a nice way to fill a morning. I find out their husbands went to play golf. The One From London predicts they’ve “already got a few pints in them,” and we all laugh. Are we becoming friends?

10:30 The One From Jersey’s daughter wakes up, crying. The One From Jersey straps a leash onto her daughter’s butterfly-winged backpack and walks her around the block, charming all of the strangers waiting in line for free coffee and a chance at a picture on the Iconic Orange Couch. I’m happy to overhear her calling her daughter “Poppy.”

A group of tourists evacuates the line while The One From Jersey is walking Poppy, and The One From London looks panicked as she scrambles to push both strollers ahead. I offer my help and push her stroller gently, hoping not to wake her sleeping daughter. “Oh my god,” I think, “we are friends!”

10:35 A security guard has segmented a line at the corner of Lafayette and Broome so as to allow for pedestrian traffic. While The One From London and I wait to be allowed into the next and final section of the line, we make small talk with the guard. “I’m here until eight tonight,” he says. The One From London observes that he seems optimistic about his long day. “I’m outwardly optimistic, but trust me. I’m plenty pessimistic on the inside.” He then heavy-handedly waves us ahead to the next section of the line. Before I can cross over, he puts his hand to my chest and asks if I’m with The One From London. I hesitate in answering, but come to my senses and say no. He nods, and still allows me to cross.

10:40 When The One From Jersey returns, The One From London asks if she got them permission to “jump the queue.” The One From Jersey laughs and says, “No, but I got these,” and produces two pins with hilarious Friends quotes on them. One reads, “They don’t know that we know they know we know,” and the other reads, “We were on a break!” The latter is pinned to Poppy’s pink zip-up hoodie.

10:43 The One From London does a dance while singing, “We’re at the front of the queue!” She looks like Lisa Kudrow, but I don’t tell her that.

10:45 We are talking about how lucky we are that The One From London’s child never woke up when I realize I don’t know the names of anyone but Poppy. I ask, but am interrupted by the guard at the front of the line, who waves us in. When he asks if I am with the two women and their children, I still say “no,” even though I think we are basically best friends.

10:47 I am in, and the Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way” is playing over the sound system. It smells like coffee. The wall to my left is lined with Friends memorabilia, the most spectacular of which are Joey and Chandler’s dog statue and the Smelly Cat kitty litter.

Photo credit: Shane Barnes/Flavorwire

Gunther is nowhere to be found, and neither is the singer-songwriter who is supposed to be singing songs in the vein of Phoebe’s “Smelly Cat.” The coffee is OK, but I can’t get my hand on any pastries. There is a lot of exposed brick and neon and advertising for Eight O’Clock. It is not worth waiting in line for an hour.

Photo credit: Shane Barnes/Flavorwire

I realize I’ve lost sight of my friends, and cannot find them anywhere. Finally, I notice them checking out at the merchandise counter, so I get in the surprisingly short line to sit on the Iconic Orange Couch. When it comes to my turn to sit, I see the British mothers leaving Central Perk. I hand my phone to a stranger, ask him to take my picture, and pretend to be happy.