Travel review: Friends’ Tour, New York

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As water spouts from New York’s Pulitzer fountain, I tot up the number of hours I’ve spent staring at this iconic sight. Yes, this fountain is the fountain. It’s the one from the opening credits of all 236 episodes of Friends.

It’s hard to believe that this September will mark the 20th anniversary since Joey, Chandler, Ross, Phoebe, Monica and Rachel first appeared on our screens, sparking a successful 10-year run. Sadly, there are no planned reunions on the horizon, but it’s still possible to visit several of the locations popularised by the show. Although filmed in LA, the cult comedy was set in New York, and so I set off to the Big Apple to catch up with old Friends...

THE ONE WHERE THEY VISITED THE LOCATIONS

Actually, scrap that about the fountain - it isn’t really in the series at all! Realising the real Pulitzer fountain would dwarf the show’s stars, producers opted to build a much smaller replica. This is one of the many nuggets of information I glean from an On Location Tour of New York, which features a very popular Friends section.

We also stop at the corner of Bedford and Grove Street in Greenwich, outside a very recognisable apartment building. It’s far smaller than I expect, but our guide explains that the film crew used clever camera angles to make it look more like one of Manhattan’s famous skyscrapers.

Better still, it turns out our guide is a celebrity in his own right. He was the hand double for Chuck Bass in series four of Gossip Girl. Joey, who desperately tried to convince a stranger in Las Vegas they were hand twins, would be very impressed!

THE ONE WHERE THEY EARNED A LIVING

Rachel’s office, well Bloomingdale’s, where she was an assistant buyer, seems a good place to start. The massive department store attracts a steady stream of tourists and local fashionistas, many leaving with their iconic ‘little brown bags’.

Just around the corner I spot the Solow Building, which doubled up as Chandler’s office, where he worked as an IT procurement manager (and we still don’t really know what that is).

As I’m by Fifth Avenue, I head north to Museum Mile, frequented by another dependable employee, Ross Geller. In the earlier series, his love of dinosaurs landed him a job as a palaeontologist at the New York Museum of Natural History. The dioramas at the museum are legendary and in one episode of Friends, some scamp shifts the figures into rather suggestive positions. When I visit the Spitzer Hall of Human Origins, I secretly hope someone has done the same...

The other big attraction here is the planetarium. Remember the episode when Ross and Rachel got ‘a little physical’ beneath a simulated solar system display? I must say the show doesn’t make me feel amorous - in fact, quite the opposite. It’s so relaxing, I almost nod off.

THE ONE WHERE THEY ATE OUT

Forget sophisticated eateries - I want something akin to the Moondance Diner, where Monica had to skate around the restaurant and dance on tables when tunes came on the jukebox. Right by Times Square is Ellen’s Stardust Diner, which bears a striking resemblance. Here, staff take turns singing songs to amused guests who regularly pack out the place.

I also discover the more serene Tick Tock Diner, where we sit in retro booths and eat hearty food. There may be no roller-skaters, but Monica would approve.

THE ONE WHERE THEY SAW THE SIGHTS

After spending the day sightseeing with Monica and birth mother of their adopted twins, Erica, Chandler bursts through the front door wearing a Statue of Liberty hat and declares: “New York is awesome.”

I make my way to Liberty Island to see why he was so amazed. Close up, Lady Liberty is absolutely gigantic - 305ft to be exact - and although it’s possible to climb her, you’ll need to join a queue. Most people are happy just to walk around the base, admiring the green (caused by the copper exterior having weathered) statue. Visit the gift shop and for a couple of dollars, you can pick up one of the sponge hats Chandler wore.

THE ONE WHERE THEY HUNG OUT

I’m disappointed to discover there’s no real Central Perk in Manhattan, although I’m told a few do exist in Dubai. So I decide to search for an alternative. The research process begins in the comfort of The Hotel @ Times Square, where I’m staying, conveniently situated close to all the downtown attractions. The Apple Core hotel has - in addition to free breakfast, giant beds and big TV screens - free WiFi. I make the most of it, scouring the internet for coffee house options in New York.

It’s not easy, as most are far too hip. Let’s face it - Chandler’s not cool. He owns two copies of the Annie musical soundtrack and loves Miss Congeniality (to be fair, it is a classic).

But on my final day, I find the Tea Lounge in Brooklyn. It has sofas and a bare brick wall - so far so good. Although the abundance of MacBook Airs is a sign that a lot has changed in the 20 years since Friends first aired.

Unfortunately, my trip has come to an end. As I board the plane home, I recall the episode when Phoebe and the gang were desperately trying to stop Rachel from flying away forever. If only someone could halt my flight by telling passengers there’s something wrong with the left phalange...

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