Saturday, November 26, 2016

Diva Checked Out The Official F.R.I.E.N.D.S. Central Perk Cafe in Singapore!

The Official F.R.I.E.N.D.S. Central Perk Cafe finally opens to the public today, 26 November 2016, from 6 PM to 10 PM.

If you can't make it on its first day, the cafe (aptly located at the ground floor of Central Mall; the shop front faces Magazine Road) operates from Tuesdays to Sunday, from 10 AM to 10 PM.

After a rousing and successful crowdfunding project, the journey of bringing the fictional Central Perk Cafe to existence has its share of ups and downs. Generally, Red Dot Island fans who remember and watch the TV series were joyous when Jit Min, founder of the passion project, shared that he was looking for a suitable space for the cafe. However, a few months later, the brickbats came fast and furious when a very atas-sounding SGD 1,000 membership package was announced.

"Is this going to be a scam?" cried many cynical folks. With a couple of notably unfortunate incidences recently (*coughHelloKittycough*), Red Dot Diva is not surprised that some people felt that way. Especially when the owners were tight-lipped about providing more details at that time.

Regardless of the naysayers, there were more than enough fans who were eager to see Red Dot Island get their very own Central Perk Cafe.

Red Dot Diva, being a busybody as usual, managed to snag an invite to a soft launch held on 24 November afternoon. She considers herself a moderate fan of the sitcom and remembers the more generally iconic moments.

The location at Central Mall was tricky to find. Having arrived from the direction where most of the public would have come from, i.e. from the Clark Quay MRT or Eu Tong Sen Road, Red Dot Diva walked around the cluster of buildings before finding the cafe facing the busy Merchant Road.

First impression??? This is not a cafe. This is definitely a restaurant! The place is HUGE!

A photo posted by Red Dot Diva (@reddotdiva) on

The venue seats 100 people. Most of the tables are placed around the themed area where the replica of the large orange couch sits. Those facing the couch were made to seem as if these were "off the film set" and were accompanied by black directors chairs. Just past a "Central Perk" sign and window, is an "al fresco" dining area, decorated with fake street lamps.

One of the staff took Red Dot Diva and her Evil Twin around the space and introduced them to the various sections, including the music corner where you can imagine Phoebe singing "Smelly Cat". Red Dot Diva understands that there may be live bands performing in that space in the near future!

The bar area looked very nice but a little too neat. Perhaps if it were a more cluttered, it would have looked more homey and true to the TV show. But it's early times, yet.

Naturally, the prime estate of the cafe aka The Orange Couch was occupied by a group of bloggers for the entire duration that Red Dot Diva was there, so she was unable to sit on it. No worries though, she has already been to WB's Burbank Studios twice and took fun pics seated on the replica couch there.

Towards the back of the cafe were areas specially dedicated to the 6 main characters. These were decorated with recognizable items and props that represent their personalities.

Check out the various character walls below!

Ross the paleontologist has his shelves of dinosaur fossils and a poster regarding his take on Unagi in his dedicated corner.

Rachel's feminity is evident in her feature wall which consists of a cheerleading outfit, a bridal gown from the first episode and the time where she tried to cut up her credit card. There was also a copy of "Little Women" on the set of drawers.

A photo posted by Red Dot Diva (@reddotdiva) on

Red Dot Diva thought Phoebe's section was the most fun - with a stuffed version of Smelly Cat, her art sculpture Gladys, a guitar and aromatheraphy knick knacks. But then, Red Dot Diva is Team Phoebe, so she's biased. :D

Monica's kitchen was meticulously done. Red Dot Diva was pretty impressed with that.

In there was also a Ms. Pac-man arcade machine. It is the same game that had Chandler playing for so many hours till his hand was stuck in the shape of a claw. And yes, the arcade machine is actually playable!

Chandler's and Joey's "apartment" has a foosball machine, Pat the dog and even a copy of Joey's favourite book, "The Shining".

When Red Dot Diva was there, she noticed that there were empty hangers on all of the character sections. Apparently, the merchandise were not ready for display yet.

Red Dot Diva did not have enough time to sample the food at Central Perk SG, but she did manage to enjoy a large cup of coffee. There are six different coffee blended to suit the personalities of the 6 main characters of F.R.I.E.N.D.S.

Red Dot Diva selected a Phoebe Buffay cappuccino, which was lightly roasted and nutty. :D And it was very good coffee. Thumbs up!

Typical of any themed cafe, the menu had cute names and dishes named after the 6 friends. The meals are prepared by a chef who has worked at a fine dining establishment before, and Red Dot Diva wishes she had more time to try out a plate of pasta but what she and Evil Twin was having a sweet tooth and they decided to go for the Heavy Fudge Chocolate Mudcake.

Unfortunately, when the plate arrived, the mudcake collapsed. Hahaha. There was a smidgen of liquer in it, and the choc fudge was thick and like Joey, there was zero guilt eating that mudcake!

Who's the real Derek?

One of us is the Real Derek.

Now, the question that many of Red Dot Diva's curious friends have been asking was: Is the $1,000 Membership worth the price?

Red Dot Diva got to chat with both founders Jit Min and Derek Ong for a bit and they said that they wanted to ensure that they could provide the passionate F.R.I.E.N.D.S. fans an experience which they long for by providing them priority access to events. If they had pegged the membership at a significantly lower price, those who really really love the show might find themselves edged out by the general public.

During the time of the crowdfunding, there were already a few fans who had donated $1,000 or more. They had written and implored to founder Jit Min, "Please make this happen. We really do want to see Central Perk cafe happen in Singapore." Currently, there are already 97 people who have signed for the membership, and all of them were met personally and vetted by the founders. "Just because you have an office upstairs, it does not mean that you can get the membership. We want to make sure that they are fans who are really invested in the show and what we are doing here," co-founder Derek said.

As news of the cafe went viral, they were contacted by Warner Brothers Entertainment, who have since given support and assistance, like providing the team with style guides. The cafe is now an officially sanctioned themed cafe, and with that Red Dot Diva supposes that having celebrity-related events in the future may not be impossible.

Jit Min also explained that they could not provide much details about what the $1,000 membership entailed at the beginning, but he assured Red Dot Diva that these fans are going to get their money's worth, including 6 free cups of coffee a day, special merchandise and seat reservations. Events like "The Smelliest Smelly Cat" award, trivia nights, marathon screenings and more are currently in the works. The focus was about building a community and providing fans with a memorable experience.

Red Dot Diva mulled on these explanations for some time, and if she was willing to fly all the way to London and fork out more than SGD 250 to get a signed autograph plus barely 3 minutes' face time with a movie star from Star Wars, she supposes she cannot judge a dedicated F.R.I.E.N.D.S. fan who is willing to put down $1,000 for special perks.

As for the public who are casual F.R.I.E.N.D.S. fans, you will be in for a treat anyway. A lot of effort has been made to bring Central Perk to life, and you will have a fun time reliving your favourite F.R.I.E.N.D.S. moments. Although, Red Dot Diva is not sure if you will be able to nab some precious time on the coveted Orange Couch if you are not a member. Because everyone is going to want to plonk down and selfie themselves on that couch.

If you are unable to make it to Central Perk Cafe today, watch the short video below and follow Red Dot Diva in her venue walk through:

The small and attractive ground crew are all huge fans of the series, and they all wear t-shirts stating which Team they are from. These folks were mere babes during the sitcom's run in '90s to early 2000's, but they could all spout their favourite F.R.I.E.N.D.S. episodes, quotes and moments. Red Dot Diva found them cheerful, well trained and knowledgeable about the show as well as the menu items. She got a lot of good vibes from the crew.

There is one major downside that Red Dot Diva foresees (she's a finance person, after all!). With the sprawling square foot taken up by the venue, this is an expensive venture. To add on to that, the location is not near a tourist spot like DC Superheroes Cafe is, nor a popular shopping mall, nor a walkway with heavy pedestrian traffic. As a personal preference, Red Dot Diva found the large space a little too intimidating. It would be warmer and cosier if the venue was about one quarter space smaller.

In order to sustain the restaurant's operations in the long term, the team has to be constantly on their toes. They will have to be creative and think of interesting programs to keep drawing in members and the crowds. There is no letting up, and as in anything that relates to pop-culture, fandoms can be fickle-minded.

Red Dot Diva found the team running Central Perk Singapore very sincere on making this a place where fans of the TV sitcom can hangout and feel at home. She would be love to see them succeed in every way, and wishes them all the best!

Central Perk SG 
1 Magazine Road
#01-01 Central Mall
Singapore 059567

Do note that the restaurant is non-halal.

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