Review: London Winter Friendsfest 2019
2019 was the TV-show Friends’ 25th anniversary of its premiere episode and you know what this means?
Lots and lots of events to grab your nostalgic heart and shake that sweet sweet cash out of your wallet.
The enduring popularity of Friends in the UK was manifested in two main events in 2019: FriendsFest in Summer and Winter. This was a celebration of all things Friends with a large space decked out in memorabilia, set recreations, photo opportunities and themed retail and eating areas.
Having recently finished the series on Netflix (because I could) I thought it would be interesting to visit FriendsFest.
I went to the Winter version of the event in Brick Lane in London in the evening of the 28th November 2019. There were similar events in other parts of the country and this was the easiest one for me to reach. My electronic ticket included a 18:40 tour of the set recreations and I had time to wander through everything else before my tour started.
When we entered we were immediately faced with a Christmas tree in mood lighting, so that you immediately knew what to expect, before ascending the stairs to a corridor adorned with the faces of the cast.
There was a little area dedicated to the Christmas tree scene in Friends when Phoebe tried to sell ugly Christmas trees to customers and generally disturbed Joey’s place of work.
I have no particular opinion of that episode except for the thought that Phoebe was kind of rude. I’m sure trees have feelings, but she could have gotten her friend fired from his job when he was already a struggling actor. Why not go to another tree selling place and talk to the customers there without affecting Joey?
Ever since I’ve entered the world of work these are the kind of thoughts that I have.
There were plenty of signs scattered about to orientate ourselves, including one above a burnt orange sofa. There were barely anyone sitting on it though since this was only one of three burnt orange sofas in the building and I bet none of them were the real thing.
I dropped off my coat in the cloakroom next to the retail area before exploring the items on offer. I did note that the placement of the cloakroom meant that the shop was one of the first and last places that you would see. Very clever indeed.
And it worked. I ended up buying a Christmas Armadillo jumper in burgundy for £25, which I thought was pretty reasonable for London.
There was quite a lot on offer including Friends themed rucksacks, Monopoly boards, Christmas ornaments, Lego sets…
Items ranged from the more obvious cash grabs to some genuinely nice quality pieces and there were different price points for all wallets.
New Year’s Rockin Eve and Food
We then went to the next room which contained a recreation for New Year’s Rockin Eve. There was a helpful diagram to show all the moves for Monica and Ross’s routine. The music for the dance was blaring none stop for people to recreate the dance routine on stage.
I remembered that although I knew that they were meant to be embarrassingly bad when they did this dance, I genuinely thought that Monica was great in it and that in any teen movie this would have been a triumphant moment.
This area also housed an eating area with stores called Joey’s Pizza, MAC and CHEESE and My Sandwich selling themed food items. There weren’t a lot of people buying whilst we were there.
A friend of a friend managed to grab a free muffin by boldly going to one of the stores and asking for one because it was their birthday. Pretty cool overall.
I went to the bar area and bought a mulled wine which tasted pretty mulled to me.
Phoebe’s Christmas karaoke corner
Next to the bar was Phoebe’s Christmas karaoke corner where a staff member occasionally came on at intervals to sing all of Phoebe’s songs. Although it was called karaoke she only grabbed some audiences for a sing-a-long for the smelly cat song right at the end.
Say what you will about authenticity, I for one was glad that she didn’t sing in character. Hearing bad singing would only be funny for a few bars before becoming the worst thing ever.
Phoebe at the Mall
I then zipped past the Phoebe at the Mall set where there were opportunities to take photos of you swinging the bells next to the cardboard signs.
Phoebe really did like to harass people didn’t she? Although for this scene I thought she was in the right, because people can be asses about donating.
Central Perk Café
The next room was the Central Perk Café that was more like a themed cinema area where people watched clips from the show on comfy sofas. The clips tended towards the most memed moments on the show e.g. pivot!, Joey wearing layers etc etc.
The Photo Zone
The Photo Zone was definitely the craziest and busiest part of the exhibition with queues snaking everywhere.
You could recreate the heads in the door scene…
The sofa in front of the fountain scene…
You could visit the Holiday Armadillo’s grotto…
I had no idea what an armadillo was before Friends and I think this is true for many other people as well.
After wandering around and snapping photos it was finally time for the set tour and I followed the relevant sign.
I then lined up and entered a waiting area filled with memorabilia from the show and an ultimate timeline of show events.
I was really interested in the timeline because the continuity of Friends was pretty much shot to pieces as time went on and you could only make it work if some or all of the characters had selective memories and/or were liars/time travelers.
Seeing the real costumes were cool and I especially liked Rachel’s embarrassing Bridesmaid dress.
Pieces from the show were laid out including the real Hugsy and all the engagement rings.
Man…in terms of rings Phoebe really got the short end of the stick; that fake diamond was tiny!
I didn’t realise that Chandler couldn’t spell in the infamous Rachel list and I thought it was pretty cool to see the candid photos from when Chandler and Ross recreated Chandler’s wedding photos.
I really think that if Chandler and Monica didn’t get married in the show it wouldn’t have lasted as long as it had; imagine 10 years of just Ross and Rachel’s mess of a relationship being the big development of the show. Shudder.
Friends really taught me the concept of the Sunk Cost Fallacy…
Before seeing the set everyone in my time-slot were made to watch a video from some of the creators of the Friends show.
Monica and Rachel’s apartment
Finally we were allowed to explore Monica and Rachel’s apartment which was decorated to within an inch of its life. It had Monica’s Christmas tree, the cheap presents, turkey and several little touches which reference many episodes.
The attention to detail was amazing right down to the content of the fridge. There was definitely a lot of love put into this recreation.
It really was a dream apartment and probably set up unrealistic goals for millions of people. That floor space would cost the lifetime salaries of two people in reality.
I liked that it was called Monica and Rachel’s apartment when Rachel lived there for around the same length of time as Chandler did, although she did stay there through the more popular seasons.
The tour was very well arranged where groups of people visit each set in timed slots, allowed to touch everything before some time was arranged at the end to clear the area for taking clean photographs of the whole area. Kudos to the staff who were very enthusiastic throughout and were obviously fans of the show.
Chandler and Joey’s apartment
Next was the hallway linking the two apartments and Chandler and Joey’s apartment. They managed to make the hallway Christmassy via the use of wreaths and it was odd to see the stairs leading to nowhere.
There were so many scenes in the hallway during the seasons that it made sense one possible title for the show was “Across the Hall”
Chandler and Joey’s apartment was always grungier and I remember that Monica really did a huge favour to the boys when she restored the wooden floors. Those asses weren’t even grateful! I would have made them pay me for all that work…
As before the details were painstaking and I was not expecting the tarantula cage at all.
Of course they had a hockey stick through the cupboard handles and some people were told off for taking it out and posing in the cupboard. The staff were quite firm about not moving things around and were on the look-out for potential thieving at all times.
Clean photos of the cleared apartment:
Central Perks Set
Lastly we came to the Christmas themed Central Perks where the staff took hundreds of photos of people sitting on the burnt orange sofa.
The cafe definitely dated much better than the apartments and could be a working cafe today. I mean Wetherspoons have similar carpets…
I appreciated cute little touches like a THICK 90s laptop, old magazines and instruments in Phoebe’s corner.
I wish that I could stay in a café as much as the characters did without being straight up fired from my job…
The wide shots:
The exterior of the café was included with the nice touch of fake snow to fit in with the Winter theme.
FriendsFest was a lovingly created event that was a must-go for any Friends fan. It was well thought out, well executed and very popular. This isn’t surprising considering the extent of Friends mania in the UK despite the poor ageing of certain episodes. Some questionable scenes being:
- The girls flashing the guys to win a match
- Chandler tricking a woman into dating him
- Ross judging a male nurse
- Ross dating his student
- Ross forcing his son to play with manly toys
So yes…a little dated.
Nostalgia being more profitable than ever, there’s a FriendsFest almost every year in the UK since 2015. Note that ticket prices have gradually risen over the years and locations generally differ.
I recommend anyone who is vaguely a fan of Friends to attend, especially if you can rope in a Super-Fan. Although this was a pretty expensive event there was enough heart and attention to detail to tip the experience into something special as opposed to a cynical cash grab.
Address: The Old Truman Brewery, 91 BRICK LANE, LONDON, Brick Lane, London, E1 6QL
Opening hours: 28 Nov 19 – 21 Dec 19 2019, 11:00 – 22:00
Cost: £35.38 pp including booking and transaction fees