As New York flocks to a pop-up replica of Friends' Central Perk and another opens in Liverpool, Word of Mouth asks: which fictional hangouts from books and TV would you frequent?
If you found Phoebe's Smelly Cat one of TV's most excruciating running gags or Gunther's Rachel obsession faintly sinister, the idea of hanging out in a replica of the Friends coffee shop, Central Perk, will be about as appealing as, well, watching five-hours of Friends repeats on Comedy Central. But, evidently, there is a market for it.
A second Central Perk doppelganger - complete with mismatched sofas, salmon and cream cheese bagels - has just opened in Liverpool, one of 300 (!) its owners plan to open in the next decade. Meanwhile, in New York, to celebrate Friends' 20th anniversary, a pop-up Central Perk has had fans queuing for more than an hour for free coffee and a chance to look at "Joey's ceramic white dog" (no, me neither).
If you want to visit the NY pop-up, be quick; it closes 18 October. Me? I'd sooner be (to continue the 1990s Channel 4 theme) in Hollyoaks's Dog in the Pond, surely Cheshire's grimmest riverside pub, stoically downing several pints of unpalatably fizzy lager. It's not much of a choice.
But this apparent enthusiasm for real-life recreations of fictional pubs and restaurants does make you think: which one would you like visit? I can't be the only person who has idly wondered what Newton and Ridley bitter tastes like or, on occasion, fallen into a certain nostalgic reverie over the Nag's Head in Peckham, a pub once typical of a nationwide network of "colourful" boozers, where you could buy three hooky Eaves Saint Laurent (sic) shirts for a tenner. Better that, certainly, than the see-and-be-seen, New York cockfight at Bret Easton Ellis's Dorsia, where, if by some miracle you could get a reservation, you would have to endure the worst kind of 1980s restaurant. Think: tiny portions of nouvelle cuisine on huge black plates and willowy celebrities cooing over its (literally) incredible sea urchin ceviche.
So, where is it going to be? Milliways for pan-galactic gargle blasters? It's not one for vegetarians, as the cows introduce themselves at the table before you eat. Takeout from Big Kahuna Burger (Q: Did Quentin Tarantino sow the subliminal seed for Britain's current obsession with "dude food"?), or eggs, damn fine coffee and a side order of creeping discomfort at the Twin Peaks Double R Diner? Here are four personal favourites.
The Winchester Club, London, 1980s (Minder)
Long ago, before all-day opening, when pubs shut between 3pm and 7pm and bang on 11pm, there was an exquisite thrill in finding one of those few boozy hidey-holes that never closed. Smug in the knowledge that, outside, straight Britain was slaving away, I could think of nothing better than wasting a Wednesday afternoon nestled in the Winchester; drinking large VATs and adding to a thick fug of cigarette smoke, as landlord Dave (a man with a voice so gravelly, it is as soothing as a hot stone massage), regales you with tales of Arfur's latest exploits.
Pie In the Sky, Middleton, Westershire, 1990s
Famed for its signature steak'n'kidney pie, Henry Crabbe's restaurant would surely have won a star had it a) existed and b) not been run by a chef who also worked, part-time, as a copper. Reminiscent of Shaun Hill or Simon Hopkinson, Crabbe was a well-read chef of some refinement - he had spent you imagine, if not a year, then several summers in Provence - yet had boiled down all that learning to create a menu of serious, fuss-free simplicity. Fictional Middleton (the real one in Manchester is slightly different), seemed like a blissful rural idyll where nothing, even kidnap or extortion, could disrupt the more important business of outrageously good eating. A bit like Ludlow.
Satriale's, New Jersey, 2000s (The Sopranos)
Talking of criminal activity ... The Sopranos was a show so layered with provolone, so steeped in pasta fagioli, that its fame was parlayed into two spin-off cookbooks. Artie Bucco's upmarket Italian, Nuovo Vesuvio, might seem like the obvious choice here, but, frankly, the danger that I might pass Paulie the pepper rather than the salt, would put me right off my veal parmigiana. Plus, as Tony eventually points-out to the hapless Artie, no one likes a needy chef who is constantly touring the tables looking for praise. No. The deli, Satriale's, would be the place to eat, takeaway of course. In and out. No eye contact. A slight twinge of fear in your lower bowel. But worth it for one of its chicken parmesan sandwiches. So good, even the FBI love them.
Cafe Magerl, Vienna, early 1910s (The Emperor's Tomb)
Joseph Roth, that sardonic chronicler of early-20th-century Europe's slide into amoral chaos, was a connoisseur of the sanctuary that bars and restaurant offer, not to mention the illicit activity that thrives around the night-time economy. From Tari-Bari, his Paris refuge for Russian emigres (where sozzled diners sleep overnight), to Jadlowker's nefarious border inn, his books feature several dimly lit venues populated by even shadier characters. An example from happier times, Cafe Magerl sounds like heaven, particularly after a heavy, sleepless night on the tiles. Our narrator of The Emporer's Tomb, Von Trotta, is restored by: "Crisp kaiser rolls, poppyseed loaves and salty breadsticks. The new, fresh-roasted coffee, spicy and virginal, smelt like morning all over again." His cousin is even served potato soup. At 7am. Now, that is what I call service.
Which bars, restaurants and cafes from TV and literature would you like to hang out in? Tell us below ...
A Central Perk in Shanghai. Photograph: Imaginechina/REX/Imaginechina/Rex Features