Friends has long finished and is still a common staple for many television stations around the world. From English to Mandarin, Friends has had universal appeal, dealing with a group of friends who’s escapades which can be best described as ludicrously realistic, it is little wonder the formula has done so well, even if it does rely on lowbrow humour and plot devices. While traveling in China, I was in Beijing’s Sanlitun district and I found something absolutely amazing. There is a Central Perk Café in Beijing.
Located in a Soho area of Beijing in a business park area called ‘Central Park’, Beijing’s Central Perk is one of the best spots in Beijing for a cup of coffee and a chat. I came across the café completely by accident. The café is an almost life seize replica of the original café in the television series. Inside there is everything from a cat called smelly cat, an owner called Gunther and Friends being shown on a plasma screen television all day long. It was a nice escape from the surroundings, even if it did look like something that would feature on TLC’s My Strange Addiction.
The owner, who I only know as Gunther was extremely welcoming. From the cold winter days to the hot summer evenings Gunther would always welcome people in. The coffee too was some of the best I have had in Beijing, and lets face it, finding good coffee in Beijing is like finding a Filthy Frank video without something messed up, its a unicorn.
The atmosphere inside was unusual for a Beijing café. I had found myself entering into conversations with local people far more easily. Instead of leading the conversation with the same dreary set of questions, the main focal point of conversation was about friends, in Mandarin and English. I no longer felt like a dictionary with hair because most people who came to the café weren’t their to practice English. All together, sitting on the sofa, drinking coffee with Friends on the television, meeting people and of course the owner Gunther, I would recommend anyone who is a fan of the show to visit the café. If you are not a fan, at least go for the coffee, it is better than most. I cannot reiterate that enough, Beijing has terrible coffee.
The owner here Gunther was also kind enough to let us leave with souvenirs from the café. He like many people in China are fans of western sitcoms which are growing in popularity in China through the use of the internet. Foreign television shows are not allowed to be played on television in China and most people from the younger generations find their favorites on Chinese YouTube, Youku and other websites. This Central Perk Café in Beijing was more enjoyable than most of the tourist traps around and I recommend it over most cafes in Wudaokou, Santlitun and Nanluoguxiang.
On the other hand there is also a replica of Monica and Rachel’s apartment from Friends too which can be found in Guomao district. This experience was completely different. The café is located in an apartment complex. When we entered we were greeted by two woman who owned the apartment who placed us into a corner. The sofas had been taken over by a rowdy bunch of Fuerdai’s(富二代) or second generation rich kids who bought wine and didn’t drink much of it. It had felt more as if were in a person’s house asking for a cup of tea and coffee, with the added element that we were strangers who had to pay for it. There was no welcoming feeling from the owners and the entire experience left us not wanting to come back. It was a nice novelty, but there was nothing that would bring us back to Monica’s Apartment in Beijing.
Beijing is a huge city where you are bound to find plenty of cafés which have their own little niche. I have been to everything from a bring your own Cat café to a café where the seats are all toilets. With that said, the coffee was brutal and I really cannot emphasize that enough. Finding good coffee in Beijing is like finding something sensible in what Donald Trumps says. If you hate Friends then this place isn’t for you, but if you can stomach it for a while, run in and grab a cup of coffee and vomit in a bin on your way out.