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Central Perk Review: The One with the Disappointing ‘Friends’ References But Delicious Chocolate Olive Oil Cake

3 Stars

Central Perk's sign on Newbury Street.
Central Perk's sign on Newbury Street. By Courtesy of Olga Kerameos
By Olga Kerameos, Contributing Writer

Some coffee shops promise visitors more than strong coffee and fresh pastries, and Central Perk does just that. In the iconic sitcom “Friends,” Central Perk taught its viewers that anything is possible in a small, New York café with a quirky barista. “Friends” determined that, even on average days, Central Perk guarantees that one always will get to see a friendly face — or quite often five.

When the opening of the Central Perk coffee shop on Newbury Street was announced, the expectation that it would be a place that blurs the lines between reality and fiction — a place that shatters the TV glass and brings fans into this beloved destination — materialized. And while Newbury Street’s Central Perk provides a warm and cozy environment with great selections of coffee, drinks, and food, it does not really deliver on the “Friends” end.

A beautiful black staircase leads down to the café’s patio, where a couple of tables stand empty as excited visitors rush inside. Upon opening the glass door, visitors see a large orange couch meant to be shared by many at once, while smaller couches and tables with chairs are also available. Visitors are greeted too by a wall tapestry depicting the fountain where the famous “Friends” introduction was shot — a creative decision that inadvertently strays away from the homey atmosphere of Central Perk in “Friends.”

Central Perk offers a wide variety of coffee beans, pastries, and food, ranging from overnight oats to “Joey’s Meatball Sub.” Despite the long line of people waiting to get coffee, the queue swiftly disappears thanks to the employees’ exceptional service.

Central Perk’s matcha is refreshing, strong, and flavorful, and the chocolate and olive oil cake is exactly what it promises to be: a fresh, chocolatey delicacy with hints of fragrant olive oil. These treats reflect the high quality pushed for by Chef Tom Colicchio, who is well-known for his role as a judge on shows like “Top Chef” and “Best New Restaurant.”

While such treats make visiting the coffee shop worth it, the emphasis on the “Friends” theme and the experience of sharing a big couch with strangers can be overstimulating. Whether they are studying, catching up with friends, buying the merchandise offered in the café, or taking pictures of the bright orange wall with the “the one with…” neon sign, patrons coexist in this bustling space.

The references to the beloved TV show are limited, but included in a discrete, tasteful way: A gold duck and a chicken decorate the bathroom door, a lamp similar to the one in the theme song’s music video can be found in a corner of the coffee shop, and the menu features drawings of lobsters and a cartoon version of a turkey on Monica’s head.

However, as the space itself does not resemble that of the original Central Perk, the subtle “Friends” aesthetic does not fully come through, which could possibly disappoint fans looking to recreate their favorite character’s experience. Even more regrettably, most of the obvious references to the TV show are centered in the gift shop, so it feels as if the “Friends” theme is only there to convince visitors to buy the shop’s themed coffee beans and mugs.

While Central Perk is a well-designed coffee shop with amazing food and drink choices, it does not meet the expectations in the promises it makes to excited “Friends” fans. If, however, one can look past the café's disappointing lack of commitment to its namesake, it has the potential to become a go-to spot on Newbury Street.

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