Good news, tourists of the world! You no longer have to descend upon Manhattan looking to fulfill your desire to live in a mid-'90s sitcom fantasy and look for Central Perk. Even as Carrie and Miranda, and, to a lesser extent, Hannah and Marnie, begin to eclipse Ross and Rachel and Monica as the international pop culture-driven perception of what living in New York is like, people all over this great planet of our still look to the scripted, laugh-tracked comfort food that is Friends. And the greatest monument they will find to the classic NBC sitcom can now be found not in New York, but in Beijing.
As NPR's Lisa Lim reported, Du Xin, a longtime super-fan of the sitcom who has styled himself as "the Chinese Gunther," who calls the show his "religion," is responsible for the working replica of the iconic coffee shop at which the gang would gossip, discover more about themselves and, in the case of our Phoebe Buffay, perform brilliantly bad folk songs like "Smelly Cat." In addition to the popular Beijing café, which he opened several years ago and features identical furniture and serves menu items mentioned on the TV show, Du recently opened a Central Perk in Shanghai and created a replica of Joey's apartment on the show. No word on whether or not Huggsy, his Bedtime Penguin Pal, is included. "This TV show also told us you have to choose a living way you like… I learned a lot from Friends: how to treat friends, girlfriends, my wife, how to be generous, how to be gentle," Du told NPR of his fixation.
There's something fascinating and comforting about this whole thing, and what it says about pop culture bringing the world together and how people all over the world are introduced to American culture. But this is also unnerving when it comes to imagining the future.
We can see it now, in some bustling international metropolis, some far-flung corner of the world, time zones away from here, lovers of New York-related-television shows the world over creating replica homages to HBO's Girls, where Robyn is always blasting and cupcakes are served to you in bathtub-shaped booths. This is our future, world. (Note: If you're reading this in the year 2025, and this becomes a real thing, I will accept royalties via check, Visa or PayPal.)