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Friends: The Untold Truth Of Central Perk

In 1994, "Friends" opened with the gang sitting in  the quirky, eclectic coffee house Central Perk; in 2004, "Friends" ended with the gang heading for one last drink at Central Perk. 

Much like the rest of the main cast of Monica (Courtney Cox), her brother Ross (David Schwimmer), Chandler Bing (Matthew Perry), Phoebe Buffay (Lisa Kudrow), Joey Tribbiani (Matt LeBlanc) and Rachel Greene (Jennifer Aniston), Central Perk became a lead in and of itself. The coffee house was their home away from home. A place where couples got together (and broke up), where pregnancies were announced, people reunited, and where some of the most powerful moments of the show took place. Two of the "Friends" gang worked, there, and they were both pretty bad at their jobs. 

Like the bar from "Cheers" or the diner from "Seinfeld," it is one of the first set pieces that come to mind when you think of this classic show. But there are so many more forgotten easter eggs, unknown details, and secrets behind Central Perk. Here are some interesting tidbits about the coffee shop where the "Friends" hung out, hashed out their day, and got highly, highly-caffeinated.

It was originally supposed to be a diner

The friends of "Friends" weren't always meant to hang out at a coffee house. According to Comedy Central, NBC executives wanted the gang to get together at a diner, sipping coffee, having meals in a booth, not muffins on a couch. Coffee shops weren't a phenomenon just yet, and Starbucks was only just starting to take off nationwide, so the bosses thought it was "too trendy," Buzzfeed writes

As the show was being developed, network execs envisioned "Friends" much like an already-established NBC New York City-set comedy institution: "Seinfeld." But, ignoring for a minute that six people stuffed in a booth is pretty tricky to shoot, it was ultimately way too much of a copy to put another group of buddies in a diner.

Show creators David Krane and Marta Kauffman remember they tried it out for a bit: "We were all going, this is terrible," Crane said.

The duo ultimately pushed back, and thankfully Central Perk remained in place. All these years later, it's simply impossible to imagine the gang hanging anywhere else.

The exact location is never revealed

"Friends" is set in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan in New York City, but where the gang lives and Central Perk's exact location within the village are never actually revealed. What we do know is this: The apartment building used in exterior establishing shots that houses Monica and Rachel and Chandler and Joey's apartments is located at the corner of Bedford and Grove streets. 

The red cafe at the bottom of their building, however, is not Central Perk, despite the fact that many of the friends refer to the coffee shop as being "downstairs." Since 2006, that red cafe has been home to a restaurant named The Little Owl, run by Chef Joey Campanaro.

While it's unclear exactly where Central Perk is located, we do know that it's exactly 97 steps from Joey and Chandler's apartment. In "The One With George Stephanopoulos" ( Season 1, Episode 4), Joey counts all the steps from his apartment, announcing the total with pride. 

Yes, it's pretty weird that a coffee shop nowhere near Central Park calls itself Central Perk — but nobody outside New York knows that the Village is nowhere near Central Park, either.

It used to be a bar

In "The One With The Flashback" (Season 3, Episode 6), the audience learned that in 1993, in a maybe real, maybe imagined time before the pilot, Central Perk was actually a bar. 

While Chandler and Monica were hanging out there one night, Rachel entered with her posh friends from Long Island, celebrating her engagement to Barry. Wanting one last fling before getting hitched, Chandler overheard and tried to take advantage of her mindset, but to no avail. Rachel berated the waitress for getting their drinks wrong, saying, "How hard can it be to get a couple of drinks?" hinting at the awful track record she would herself establish as a waitress. Catching up with Monica, the duo make plans to get together in the future, with Monica later saying: "I'll never see that woman again." 

Ross and Phoebe also had a make-out moment on the pool table after Ross revealed that Carol had come out to him as a lesbian. The whole gang (minus Rachel, driving back home to Long Island yet fantasizing about Chandler) met up for one final night at the bar before it was to be turned into Central Perk the next day.

It had no exterior the first season

If you rewatch the first season of "Friends," you'll notice something about the Central Perk is a little off. The famous orange couch was always there, and the place had the usual quirky '90s coffee house charm. But if you look out that big picture window, you'll notice that the perspective doesn't go very far. That's because the view from the Central Perk window was just a brick-painted street backdrop. 

The show was brand new, and there wasn't a huge budget just yet, so there was no exterior set built for Central Perk. As set decorator Greg Grande told Entertainment Weekly, "In Season 1, there was a partially-frosted window that did not look onto a street outside," says Grande. "That developed in Season 2. We moved from Stage 5 to Stage 24, so we had room to film the street behind that window in Central Perk. In some episodes further down the road, you notice there were quick beats out on the street. Obviously, it was quite small, but we were able to capture a few minutes out there." 

Indeed, over the course of the rest of the season, we saw a lot of the exterior just outside Central Perk — with Phoebe playing music, Ross and Chandler getting into a fight, plus scenes at a newsstand, florist, record store, and restaurant.

The famous couch was found in the Warner Bros. basement

What would Central Perk be without that famous orange velvet couch? The central set piece of the uber '90s coffee shop was where the gang of six could plop down, have a drink and gab it out, or make-out, or break up, or meet their parents, or hang with their kids. 

"Friends" just wouldn't be "Friends" without that big orange couch. "The idea was to have it feel like it was kind of a living room, hang out space," set decorator Grande told EW. "Not your typical generic coffee shop with the computers ... So the vibe that Marta [Kauffman] and Kevin [Bright] and David Crane wanted was, let's make this feel like it's truly a comfortable, casual living room."

Every living room has a couch, right? The backstory behind the couch is that it was found in a basement at Warner Bros. studios and rescued. In Kelsey Miller's book, "I'll Be There For You: The One About Friends," Kauffman explains that the couch was supposed to be beige, but NBC execs wanted a different color. Thank goodness someone went digging in that basement.

Their table was almost always reserved

Fans of "Friends" might wonder why the gang was always able to nab a prime spot in their favorite coffee shop – a spot on a comfy couch that could fit six (if they all squished). In "The One With The Bullies" (Season 2, Episode 21), Ross and Chandler battled two dudes who tried to claim that the couch was theirs forever. But more often than not, the gang was sitting in their usual spot. If you look closely, there's often a little "reserved" sign on the coffee table in front of the orange sofa. So, did the friends reserve the spot every day? If not, who did?

Some fans have theorized that it was Gunther who reserved the spot, just in case the love of his life Rachel ever came in to hang. 

"I read about that recently too," Gunther actor James Michael Tyler told the Radio Times. "I never did that! That was probably one of the set designers, I'm guessing, maybe one of the writers ... I'm not sure who was responsible for that ... It never really occurred to me why it was there, but it makes a lot of sense [that Gunther put it there] in retrospect. There are a lot of little Easter Eggs which are in there that people will be looking for for years to come!"

The artwork changed every three episodes

In addition to the couch giving Central Perk a living room vibe, the artwork had to be eclectic and quirky as well. 

To reflect that independently-owned ambiance, the artwork on the walls was changed every three episodes. Grande remembers telling the show creators about a coffee shop he knew of, "It was one of the first interesting coffee shops in L.A. called The Insomniac Café and that was kind of, in my world, the inspiration for eclectic, old, classic pieces of furniture. Nothing really matched, but there was collectible artwork on the wall, so I took that and kind of drove that point in. I made what I like to refer to as the seventh character on the show."

One of those artists was Pittsburgh's Burton Morris, whose paintings adorned the walls of Central Perk throughout the show's 10-year run. Morris' brightly colored, pop-art coffee cups, complete with steam and style, accompanied images of The Statue of Liberty, King Kong and Uncle Sam. Morris eventually put out a book of his art, and even had a gallery show of Central Perk pieces.

Gunther was really a barista

Speaking of Gunther, the dude was the real deal. In 2014, while celebrating the 20th anniversary of the show's premiere at a pop-up in NYC, Tyler told Buzzfeed that he was hired to bring authenticity to the Central Perk scenes because he was a real barista. 

"I had a job at a coffee shop called The Bourgeois Pig in Hollywood, which is still around and one of the last independent coffee shops that hasn't been taken over or whatnot," he explained. "I was one of their first baristas — I think I started there in 1990 or so." 

James Michael Tyler even kept his day job throughout Season 1, as a fallback just in case the show didn't catch on. He could be forgiven for not exactly feeling secure in his big break, as Gunther didn't speak or even have a name during the entire first season. 

As Tyler recalls, one day in Season 2, things changed. "Marta Kauffman actually walked up to me one afternoon when I was outside in between takes and she asked me if I had any acting experience and I said, 'Yeah, I have [an MFA] in acting, actually. I've done a lot of stage, theater stuff, and things like that.' And she said, 'That's really good to know.' With no explanation! But the next week, I came in and she said, 'Your name is Gunther.' I said, 'Excuse me? What?' And she said, 'Your name is Gunther now ... that's your character name. And you get to say, 'Yeah' today. So, we're giving you a line.'" From there, the character was born.

There was real coffee in those cups

Gunther's barista ability also came in handy when adding some more realism to the show. As Tyler told the UK's Express, there really was coffee in those cups the leads were drinking.

But the realism was limited to the six main actors. "The six main Friends, if they actually had to take a sip out of a coffee cup they would actually have a latte or a cappuccino made backstage. They would just bring it out." But Tyler wasn't the one who made the drinks. Despite all his experience, he spent most of the time miming being busy, "I was just moving my elbows and wiggling around back there with my back turned."

The extras, apparently, weren't lucky enough to get a real drink. "As far as the background performers, there was no coffee ever in any of those cups," Tyler added. 

So, all those anonymous folks you saw in the background of so many scenes just did a whole lot of miming, moving, and fake drinking. Perhaps they took some tips from Tyler himself, who perfected the art over a decade spent wiggling his elbows around day after day, "filling" one empty coffee cup after another.

The owner only appeared in two episodes

While Gunther appeared in many episodes of "Friends" over the course of the show's 10 years, he wasn't actually the one in charge of Central Perk. The big boss was a guy named Terry, played by Max Wright (whom some may remember as the dad on "Alf"). 

Terry was kind of a jerk, though. Super fans will recall it was Terry who made Rachel re-take her waitressing training, and he absolutely hated Phoebe's singing. He said to Rachel, "It's not that your friend [Phoebe] is bad ... it's that she's so bad she makes me want to put my finger through my eye into my brain and swirl it around."

But thankfully, Terry wasn't around that much. The character appeared in two episodes: "The One Where Underdog Gets Away" (Season 1, Episode 9), and "The One With The Baby On The Bus" (Season 2, Episode 6). Gunther was a much funnier, and ultimately more popular character, appearing in 185 of the show's episodes, according to the Friends Fandom Wiki

Rachel worked there for two years, Joey for one episode

Rachel Greene worked at Central Perk for two years, from the fall of 1994 until the winter of 1996. Waitressing there was her first job, and she was not terribly good at it. 

Having planned on marrying Barry and becoming a rich doctor's wife, Rachel never really planned any kind of career for herself. So when her daddy cut off her finances and she moved in with Monica, she had to find a way to pay her own bills and take care of herself. Rachel was miserable at Central Perk, but after two years of waitressing pretty poorly, she quit, citing the fact that she wanted to be working in fashion.

But Rachel wasn't the only friend who worked at Central Perk. Joey also took a server position at Central Perk while his acting career was going through a lull. 

Joey was also pretty bad at the job, but what you may not recall is that Joey's stint at Central Perk was much shorter lived than Rachel's tenure. Joey started working at Central Perk in "The One With The Joke" (Season 6, Episode 12), and kept it from his friends. But we didn't see Joey working at Central Perk again. Just a few episodes later, Joey got his role on the infamous "Mac and C.H.E.E.S.E." and quit without telling Gunther. Gunther told Joey he was going to fire him anyway, so things probably worked out for the best.

The cast kept some of the sidewalk

Keepsakes are a traditional way people take home memories from an experience, be it from a vacation or (if you're a famous actor) a long-running hit sitcom. 

When "Friends" ended, the cast members all took home items from their time on the show, they told People shortly before the HBO Max Reunion Special. Matthew Perry swiped the clock-shaped cookie jar and gave it to Lisa Kudrow. Kudrow herself took some of Phoebe's rings, Jennifer Anniston took one of Monica's dresses. But when the show ended, every cast member also got a special Central Perk keepsake to take home. 

According to Uproxx, "The final taping was a bit like high school graduation. Nobody wore caps and gowns, but the production staff had 'Friends' yearbooks made that were given out to the cast just before taping the final episode. After taping had wrapped, the cast and crew were each given a piece of the sidewalk from outside the Central Perk as a keepsake." 

There's a Central Perk Lego set

As an incredibly famous sitcom that ran for ten years, with an intensely devoted fan base and a legacy that will last as long as TV itself, of course "Friends" has its own Lego sets. 

The first was a Central Perk set that came out for the show's 25th anniversary, a strikingly accurate depiction of the famous coffee house. It had the orange couch, Phoebe's stage and guitar, Gunther's counter and coffee making implements, and tons of other intricate details including the aforementioned "reserved" sign.

Another "Friends"-themed Lego set launched in conjunction with HBO Max's "Friends" reunion special. This latest set is modeled after the apartments, featuring Monica and Rachel's place, the hallway, and Joey and Chandler's place. Just like the Central Perk set, there are some pretty amazing details — such as the gang's giant poking device used to wake up Ugly Naked Guy, Phoebe's "art" Gladys, Monica's Thanksgiving head turkey, the chick and the duck, Joey and Chandler's canoe, and even a Janice.

There are Central Perks around the world

Because "Friends" was so popular, Central Perk became an inspiration for quirky little coffee houses everywhere. Not only did the fictional coffee shop result in numerous real-world coffee houses of the '90s trying to emulate its style and vibe, but it also inspired international knockoffs all around the world. 

In 2006, an Iranian businessman named Mojtaba Asadian started a Central Perk franchise. "I am a big fan of ["Friends"] and have registered the trademark in 32 countries. Central Perk, near Spinneys Umm Suqueim, is the very first in what I hope will be a worldwide chain," Asadian told Gulf News at the opening of the Dubai location. Central Perks also opened in London, Beijing, China, Singapore, and Egypt, all with big orange couches, neon signage, brick walls, and eclectic artwork inspired by "Friends." 

For the show's 25th anniversary in 2019, a pop-up Central Perk opened up in New York City. A company called "The Friends Experience" organizes others, with locations not only in New York but also Chicago and soon Atlanta. If one ever pops up near you, be sure to stop in and say hi to your friends.