I made the American pilgrimage: what to know about Central Perk in Shanghai

Sometimes I really don't feel American. I feel like I was born there, but that it's not home. And that's a very strange feeling to have. Then, I'm suddenly reminded of the parts of America that feel familiar, born in me. Little things like baseball caps or hearing people ask questions in the office about Native Americans set off little memories of the good ol' red, white, and blue. I get excited and almost...proud?...when I find Brooklyn Brewery's green bottled beers in a Shanghai bagel shop or when people ask silly American Lit questions I know the answers too.

Then, there are very American things  like the T.V. phenomenon that was Friends. 

And, man, if I am not oddly transformed into a blue passport wielding American by 90s sitcoms and Chandler Bing. 

When Amy, Katie, and I began looking for cafes to hit up while in Shanghai, finding a Central Perk made me not only the giddiest version of myself, it made me the most American version of myself. 

There isn't an episode I haven't seen, so I knew I'd be intolerably obnoxious in the cafe before we even arrived. I knew it wouldn't be this deeply profound cultural experience. That wasn't what I was looking for though. I just wanted to drink coffee with my own friends at Central Perk and ignore my cell phone like it was the 90s.

Here's the scoop for all my fellow Friends fans...


The details + atmosphere //

While the cafe isn't an exact replica, it does a damn good job. You walk into the coffee shop and are greeted by a coat rack, just like on the T.V. set. There is a television playing re-runs of the show and the menu is based on the series {Joey's Pizza, Rachel's Trifle, etc.}. Napkins have lyrics from the opening song printed on them. Every coffee {other than standard drip} comes with either a quote or reference from the show, or your favourite character's name scribbled on it. An orange, vintage couch {though good luck getting to lounge on it} sits near the big window, ideal for watching people stroll by. Oh, and don't forget Huggsy! You can cuddle up with Joey's famous penguin doll while you let your food settle. And, obviously, there is a Central Perk sign on a window near the entrance. 

picture from Katie's camera

picture from Katie's camera

The food + drink //

The menu is themed to the show. There are vegetarian options, which I found easy to come by in Shanghai {my pizza was made veggie upon request}. If you aren't one for coffee, you can order a cup of tea or a hot chocolate. Oddly, despite offering full meals, there are no cold beverages available, something I don't understand given the intense Chinese summers I've heard so much about. If you're visiting with someone who doesn't like hot drinks, you'd be wise to warn them to bring their own bottled water. The food itself is decent value for money, but the taste wasn't anything I'd write home about. Yum, but nothing mindblowing. It's the atmosphere that makes the place worth a stop, not the flavour of the food. 


The location //

The cafe is a bit hidden away for a first-timer in Shanghai. it's important to know that the actual name of the place is 'Friends Cafe' and not 'Central Perk.' It's located near the 1933 area of Shanghai. There is a metro station not far away, but a taxi might be your best bet if you're finding the city hard to navigate or you get lost on the way. 


Other bits worth mentioning //

The staff speak fantastic English, so there's no need to worry about translations. The establishment is QR code + cash only, so no cards are accepted. The cafe gets very crowded very quickly and seating is limited, though this makes the place truly cozy. 


I could have stayed in that cafe watching Friends and sipping from mugs for much longer than the 2.5 hours we did. It was comforting to hear English in a public place. There are expats in China of course, but I'm one of about three Americans working in my company across the entire city of Nanjing. I hear many South African, Australian, New Zealand, and British accents, all of which are lovely. But sitting in Shanghai, listening to Ross have a neurotic meltdown in an American accent...it was surprisingly nice. The whole trip was made extra special, obviously, because I got to visit with my friends. 

10/10 would go again.