In a bustling district of Beijing, lies an oasis of 90s nostalgia. Central Perk, a cafe modeled after the hit sitcom “Friends.” It offers customers a chance to immerse themselves in the world of the beloved show. The cafe’s owner, Du Xin, has taken his love for Friends to a whole new level by naming his firstborn child Joey and even legally changing his name to Gunther.
Du Xin first discovered Friends during a difficult time in his life. After a bad breakup, a friend recommended the show, and it quickly became his lifeline. “They helped me past the really hard times. I try to persuade more people to watch Friends just like persuading a lot of people to believe in some kind of religion,” he said. “It’s lucky for this generation to have Friends. Friends is my life.”
In 2010, Du Xin opened Central Perk in hopes of creating a community where fans of Friends could come together and bond over their love for the show. The cafe is a haven for those seeking a respite from the strict censorship regulations imposed on Chinese television. “Chinese television is kind of political. They are trying to teach people what our country wants to know. We just don’t have series like Friends here,” said one of Du Xin’s friends.
The cafe is a meticulously crafted replica of the show’s sets, complete with a room modeled after Joey and Chandler’s apartment, complete with foosball and darts. Customers can order desserts named after the show’s characters and sit at tables named after each one. The cafe even has its own Smelly Cat, an homage to the iconic song performed by Phoebe on the show.
For the price of a cup of coffee, patrons can spend hours lounging on the giant orange couch, watching reruns of Friends that are always playing. The show has become a cultural phenomenon in China, providing a glimpse into a world free from the stresses of everyday life. ” ‘Friends’ is a fantasy,” said Yang Gao, an assistant professor of sociology at Singapore Management University. “The show provides a window into a set of lives that appear less controlled, less structured and burdened by test-taking, rankings, family commitments and government oversight.”
Du Xin’s obsession with Friends has become a way for him to connect with others and create a sense of community. The cafe has become a popular destination for tourists and locals alike, all seeking to relive the magic of the show that has captured hearts around the world.