“A place with so much atmosphere you have to push it aside to get in.”
August 21, 2016 9:39 AM   Subscribe

As TGI Friday's goes minimalist, signalling the demise of restaurant Americana kitsch, what happens to all the antiques? Containing a pretty fascinating and comprehensive history of the development of the "good-time" chain restaurant/bar and the antique-picking and design work that created its signature feel. Previously.
posted by Miko (206 comments total) 67 users marked this as a favorite
 
There used to be a TGI Friday's in Paris on Boulevard Montmartre. A proper full one, completely American. I went once, partly for the perversity but mostly because a Parisienne friend of mine worked there. She told me about setting up the restaurant, how these trucks full of kitsch decor just showed up one day with a plan for where everything goes. Americana in a box, a corporate formula to recreate relaxed American good times in a foreign land.

It was actually a pretty good TGI Friday's. American drinks, American burger. It didn't last though. Perhaps it was just ten years too early; American burgers became very trendy in Paris a couple of years ago. And everyone loves fried cheese and sweet margaritas.
posted by Nelson at 9:45 AM on August 21, 2016 [6 favorites]


this is what happens when the horror of realizing your whole life is going to be spent managing and running TGIF really sinks in. kitsch depends upon industrial production and management, which means a whole bureaucracy of people whose job it is to decide exactly how the ugly American decor is arranged. even if you started off with an appreciation for fake Americana, at some point in your career you begin to loathe it, and despise the people for whom the decor of TGIF is something good, something you look forward to.

the corporate management thinks is something to attract millennials or chase upmarket, but actually they just despise their customers and can't take it any more. worked out great for jc penny!
posted by ennui.bz at 9:55 AM on August 21, 2016 [6 favorites]


"... out how restaurants got into the antiques business in the first place. The answer, it turns out, is sex."

Proof that the 65' Harvey Wallbanger is a slippery trope.
posted by clavdivs at 9:57 AM on August 21, 2016 [6 favorites]


I never knew that

a) TGI Friday's started in New York;
b) the random stuff on the wall is actual random old stuff. I always assumed it was manufactured somewhere en masse and was the same in every Friday's.

The new blond-wood version looks like an office cafeteria. Blecch.
posted by escabeche at 9:59 AM on August 21, 2016 [60 favorites]


That’s right, Friday’s, the once-popular singles bars and burger joints found in the parking lots of many a suburban mall.

Wait, what? That's a thing with Friday's?
posted by brundlefly at 10:01 AM on August 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


I didn't think I could hate anything more than the old TGI Friday's decor until I saw the new TGI Friday's decor. I would rather have bad taste than none at all.
posted by xammerboy at 10:03 AM on August 21, 2016 [38 favorites]


37 0 pieces of flair.
posted by Artw at 10:05 AM on August 21, 2016 [23 favorites]


I didn't think I could hate anything more than the old TGI Friday's decor until I saw the new TGI Friday's decor. I would rather have bad taste than none at all.

Yeah what they showed in the article looked like the interior of a generic, 90's budget hotel restaurant.
posted by gyc at 10:06 AM on August 21, 2016 [13 favorites]


That prototype Friday restaurant looks like a photo from a IKEA catalog.

That said, I don't care how a restaurant looks like as long as it's sanitary and clean.
posted by 81818181818181818181 at 10:10 AM on August 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


Well, I guess I'm glad we pawned off all our old antique stuff that was sitting around in the barn and various sheds to one of those restaurant outfitters a couple years back. There was actually some decent money in random old signs and useless rusted metal tools. Somewhere there's an old cream separator sitting in the corner of some faux-rural steak house.
posted by neonrev at 10:10 AM on August 21, 2016 [14 favorites]


Wait, what? That's a thing with Friday's?

Read the Previously, it's a pretty interesting story.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:12 AM on August 21, 2016 [7 favorites]


That said, I don't care how a restaurant looks like as long as it's sanitary and clean.

I just don't want to have to leave a tip for the rats.
posted by thelonius at 10:12 AM on August 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


I've heard the tale for years that TGI Fridays used to be a respectable place. In my life I've never seen it, but apparently at some point it wasn't associated with the Applebees/Chilis/microwaved frozen dinner garbage niche. Which is so completely different from what I know as TGI Fridays.

I recently spent time in not one but three Hard Rock Cafes (same shit food/slightly better novelty items on the wall) since my brother who works there likes to visit them when traveling. And it's obvious no one is going there for the food. You can get salty spinach dip and mozzarella sticks anywhere. It's all about T-shirts and pins.

Maybe Fridays can come back with a really dedicated effort, but there are a million other chains that use the same cheap food/shit to look at formula that I don't see how they break out from the pack. It's like trying to be the McDonalds with the best Play Place. You have to focus on the Play Place because the food is still McDonalds. And no matter how many wraps/salads/artisan burgers they add, it's never going to overcome being McDonalds so even if it improves a lot of folks would never know about it.
posted by downtohisturtles at 10:13 AM on August 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


I've long eschewed the whole Chiles / Applebees / TGIFridays / etc sort of restaurant, mostly because I associate them with terrible food. I once got the worst case of food poisoning I have ever had from a Chiles which caused me to miss seeing My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult because I started vomiting during the opening act. Also, it was obvious to me that the food in these places was not being actually created in the kitchens, but was manufactured elsewhere and heated and served to customers.

BUT, I was fascinated to learn that the genesis of these sorts of places was as singles bars in the 70s. I had no idea! I thought they were just manufactured fake fun places for white picket fence, rolex-wearing boomers in the 80s which kept expanding their market across the decades, the equivalent of a family restaurant from the 50s that got out of control. That they started out as heterosexual pick-up joints is truly news to me.

Also, the article really doesn't talk much about the actual title of the piece -- what does happen to all the antiques? Not answered. But so much of the background given about these places is so fascinating I'm willing to forgive that.

I will say that back in the early 90s, when Cracker Barrel was in the news because of its mistreatment of LGBT employees, I was at my parents' house and they wanted to go out to dinner and they told me they were going to Cracker Barrel and I told them that I would not go there because of what they were doing, and my parents just went there without me and I had a frozen dinner. Sort of shitty on behalf of my parents but to this day I have never been in a Cracker Barrel.
posted by hippybear at 10:14 AM on August 21, 2016 [24 favorites]


The sparse, flat decor is more compatible with AR apps like PokemonGo, which are popular among the millenials I hear.
posted by Pong74LS at 10:19 AM on August 21, 2016 [7 favorites]


what does happen to all the antiques? Not answered

It's answered toward the end of the article, but isn't dwelt on at much length.

It sucks that Cracker Barrel has had all those problems, because I used to find their food actually pretty good.
posted by Miko at 10:19 AM on August 21, 2016


It's answered toward the end of the article, but isn't dwelt on at much length.

Yeah, employees surreptitiously take their favorites and the rest are auctioned off, sometimes in a giant lot.

For an article of that length with that headline, it's basically an aside. Fascinating piece, though. Thanks for posting!
posted by hippybear at 10:21 AM on August 21, 2016


I looked at the TGIF before and after photos. And I thought to myself, "The 20th Century is officially over."
posted by valannc at 10:25 AM on August 21, 2016 [22 favorites]


idea for upscale eatery: The Cartier Barrel
posted by thelonius at 10:27 AM on August 21, 2016 [15 favorites]


I guess now I will have to go to Cracker Barrel to get my antique fix (yes I know its all reproductions)
posted by robbyrobs at 10:31 AM on August 21, 2016


I guess now I will have to go to Cracker Barrel to get my antique fix (yes I know its all reproductions)

There's an article on the use of antiques in chain restaurants that I think you'll really enjoy.
posted by one_bean at 10:37 AM on August 21, 2016 [63 favorites]


I will say that back in the early 90s, when Cracker Barrel was in the news because of its mistreatment of LGBT employees

Huh, I'd always mentally associated Cracker Barrel with grisly robbery-homicides, but that's probably a regional thing. Also, what is it with interstate-exit restaurants and horrible policies of discrimination?
posted by indubitable at 10:38 AM on August 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


the random stuff on the wall is actual random old stuff. I always assumed it was manufactured somewhere en masse

Me too - It's like, I find it hard to believe that there's such a thing as an "authentic" Irish pub anywhere in the world, including Ireland. As far as I can tell you buy this stuff out of a catalog in crates drums labelled "Irishness", and it rolls off an assembly line somewhere. I'd assumed TGIF worked the same for "Americanness".
posted by mhoye at 10:39 AM on August 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


The new blond-wood version looks like an office cafeteria. Blecch.

No kidding. The kitsch version is horrible, but the new blonde version is...soul-less. Sterile. It feels more like an operating theater than an eatery. I guess the idea is that the patrons themselves will be the color and personality?

...............

...the random stuff on the wall is actual random old stuff. I always assumed it was manufactured somewhere en masse

It all may be authentic old stuff, but it's all supplied from a warehouse. There are companies that specialize in instant-atmosphere using real stuff.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:41 AM on August 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


Every Thursday night at midnight, the Friday’s staff would throw a New Year’s Eve-type “Thank God It’s Friday” party ringing in Friday with champagne and noisemakers. Then, a Friday’s employee in a gorilla suit would burst in and run amuck.

This I could get behind.
posted by Mchelly at 10:41 AM on August 21, 2016 [33 favorites]


That was fascinating. We have some Applebee'ses, but not the other restaurant chains mentioned and I did not know much about them at all.
posted by Too-Ticky at 10:43 AM on August 21, 2016


This is a really interesting article. I had read about fern bars, but hadn't realized that they were in any way connected to modern chain restaurants.
“The lap” was built into the design of the raised square bar area, Treat explains. “From the middle-out, you’d have the bartender, the bar, the people sitting at the bar on the high stools, and then there was about a foot and half, enough room for an outer ring of people to stand. They’d put their drinks on a 12-inch wide elbow-height bar,” he says. “So you had people facing the bar, and people facing away from the bar, and just enough space to squeeze between them. I know this sounds sexist, but it wasn’t my idea: It was designed so the women would have to turn sideways and brush up against people on one or the other side to get by. The spacing of it was almost scientific. If it had been too big, then there wouldn’t have been that physical interaction between the people who were already seated and the people who had just arrived.”
I only go to these places very rarely, but the usual crowd I have seen these days are all families and an occasional table of a group of coworkers. It is hard to imagine the historical version.
posted by Dip Flash at 10:47 AM on August 21, 2016 [6 favorites]


the corporate management thinks is something to attract millennials or chase upmarket, but actually they just despise their customers and can't take it any more.

Yeah, this seems right to me. But in addition there's the weird semantic evacuation, the hollowing out toward the generic, that seems to be a common attribute of corporate-chain rebranding over the long term. (I've mentioned this here before.) The idea of having a specific and identifiable character with well-defined attributes always seems to work in corporate retail only up to a certain scale (in dollars, locations, or just years), after which management decisions seem almost always to tend in the direction of decontenting, trying aimlessly to be all things to all possible customers. After enough time's passed every brand wants to stand only for itself.
posted by RogerB at 10:49 AM on August 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


I'm waiting for Huckabee's. They serve hot wings, but only the right ones!


(also, I kind of like pub grub, but Friday's has always been the worst of the bunch.)
posted by jonmc at 10:51 AM on August 21, 2016 [7 favorites]


Interesting article, Miko; thanks. Makes me reflect on why I have never enjoyed these kind of places--too much visual clutter, too many stimuli, too intensely designed to be organic, too demanding that I should have a restricted range of appropriate reactions to it. Corporately jolly and completely inorganic, like a clown's painted smile. What's the happy medium between that style and the stripped-down industrial look?
posted by MonkeyToes at 10:52 AM on August 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


Don't forget Farrell's Ice Cream Parlours, one of the first themed restaurants. They had one at Almeda Mall in Houston way back in the day.
posted by Beholder at 10:52 AM on August 21, 2016 [7 favorites]


I've heard bar and restaurant owners curse any layout that contains booths. If you have booths, you will have drug dealing.
posted by Coda Tronca at 10:53 AM on August 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


I worked at a popular steakhouse chain (The Keg) for many years in my late teens and then into my 20s. The first location I worked was in New Westminster BC, in a building that had previously been a Canadian Pacific train station. It was a magnificent old place, now closed for structural renovations. The basement felt like a dungeon and our line cooks used to say they were going downstairs to "count lobsters", code for indulging in some illegal herb. Anyway, even in the early 90s they were updating to a more corporate wood panelled look and some of the decorations - mirrors, wooden blinds - were about to be tossed in a dumpster. I scavenged a bunch of things, most of which I've given away or lost over the years. However I still have a beautiful wooden framed mirror, about four feet tall, curved at the top, slats of aged wood with nails covering the back of the thing. I love it, it has followed me all over the country, lived in storage while I was overseas, and been installed in all the places I've lived over the years. 20+ years later I still can't believe they were just throwing this stuff out to make everything look the same.
posted by Cuke at 10:54 AM on August 21, 2016 [12 favorites]


Wow, the new look resembles a cheap hotel lounge.

This reminds me of what happened to the Claim Jumper (primarily a CA chain, although it's in a number of other states). When it first opened, it had, as you'd expect, a mining/saloon theme, with lots and lots of taxidermied beasts staring at you while you ate extremely large slices of chocolate cake (or, rather, while you ate them with the help of six other people). Several years ago, though, they went bankrupt, and part of their regrouping involved jettisoning virtually all of the original theme--decapitated deer included. The results are not quite as bad, but the stripped-down decor is pretty stark in comparison.
posted by thomas j wise at 10:55 AM on August 21, 2016 [5 favorites]


What a fascinating article! I'd heard that TGI Friday's had started out as singles bars, but I didn't understand that they'd started out as hip singles bars - I'd assumed they were always sort of tacky downmarket places.

It was interesting to see that the writer was all "hm, interest in Victoriana must have been in the air in 1969"...when yes, of course, interest in Victoriana had been in the air since the very early sixties, maybe since the late fifties if you knew the right people. I guess it's been long enough since the sixties that even people who know about fashion history don't know what used to be standard periodization. (Actually, there was a little fashion for Victoriana in the twenties, IIRC - the Sitwells were into it.)

I too had no idea that all the clobber on the walls was real.

As I've said here before, I'm glad the millenials just want, like, Ikea chairs and the latest model of tablet - more nice furniture for me, as a young Gen Xer. Although I have to admit that the mid-century trend was completely our fault.
posted by Frowner at 10:56 AM on August 21, 2016 [6 favorites]


About 25-30 years ago, an antique dealer I was acquainted with was bemoaning the fact that everything hanging on the walls in these new trendy restaurants was like being trapped in amber. "They're out of the market, for good!" he said. I feel a small amount of joy knowing they're being released.
posted by valkane at 10:57 AM on August 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


(also, I kind of like pub grub, but Friday's has always been the worst of the bunch.)

What I mean by this is that the other chains had some saving grace. Chili's had the southwestern eggrolls, Applebee's had an OK beer selection, Benningan's had the potato chowder and Dallas BBQ had their margarita's which could knock out a water buffalo at 20 paces. But every time I've been to Friday's both the food and service has been shitty.

But none of them were actually good, especially when you can find bars that serve the same type of stuff, only much better prepared.
posted by jonmc at 11:00 AM on August 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


That said, I don't care how a restaurant looks like as long as it's sanitary and clean.

This makes me want to open a restaurant that I decorate entirely with full-wall video panels showing moving stripes to induce constant and conflicting waterfall illusions, and where the waitstaff wear eye-searing dazzle camouflage (including makeup and hair), just to show you that you do care. Enjoy your pulsating food served to you by a constantly distorting cubist nightmare!
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:00 AM on August 21, 2016 [66 favorites]


Is there a corollary to Bettridges Law that says any question raised in the title of an article that isn't a yes/no question will not be answered in the article?
posted by blue_beetle at 11:01 AM on August 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


Also, the new design looks like the cafeteria in a poorly funded hospital that hasn't been updated in decades.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:02 AM on August 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


Potato skins
posted by rosswald at 11:03 AM on August 21, 2016


To be honest, if I were to walk into a restaurant with the new design, I'd think to myself "well, the food had better be damn awesome because this place looks like shit".

I'm willing to forgive a lot of decor failings if the food is good.

But, I'm also one who prefers not to go to big chain restaurants (no matter what the decor) in favor of locally-owned singleton restaurants with no ambition of being a chain. YMMV.
posted by hippybear at 11:06 AM on August 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


Long Island Iced Tea?
posted by Coda Tronca at 11:08 AM on August 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


Also, the new design looks like the cafeteria in a poorly funded hospital that hasn't been updated in decades.

I miss cafeterias.
posted by Beholder at 11:11 AM on August 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


I miss cafeterias.
posted by robbyrobs at 11:13 AM on August 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


It looks like an office break room.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 11:14 AM on August 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


I miss cafeterias.

Oh, man. Remember Luby's? I certainly do. I would eat there maybe only once a month, but the food was always decent and the whole "pick what you want as you go along the line, pay for it at the end" left me feeling empowered about my food choices. I haven't seen a Luby's or any equivalent for quite a few years, and I do miss them.
posted by hippybear at 11:14 AM on August 21, 2016 [8 favorites]


Bimbo's
posted by clavdivs at 11:20 AM on August 21, 2016


It all may be authentic old stuff, but it's all supplied from a warehouse. There are companies that specialize in instant-atmosphere using real stuff.

...the process of acquiring which the writer describes in TFA.

interest in Victoriana had been in the air since the very early sixties

There have been some good AskMe threads about that aesthetic - this is one I could easily dig up.
posted by Miko at 11:27 AM on August 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


God, this was utterly fascinating. As someoke from the UK, exposed to only a few dreadful London TGI outlets and an odd Chili's visit on holiday, these places were a total mystery to me - I had no idea they were so historied, that they had once been so sexy, that the antiques are real!

If you've come - as I often do - to comment without reading, do yourself a favour and rtfa, just because it's great. Thanks for posting!
posted by ominous_paws at 11:27 AM on August 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


Don't miss the great interview with the founder of Friday's, from the days when it was the hottest singles bar in New York. And just linked a few days ago, but too good to miss, is Caity Weaver's astonishing account of her attempt to test the chain's "Endless Appetizers" promotion.
posted by How the runs scored at 11:30 AM on August 21, 2016 [16 favorites]


I haven't been to any of the places mentioned in this thread; I haven't set foot in a Wal-Mart, an Ikea, or a Target.

I have no hope of ever grasping the essence of my own native land.
posted by jamjam at 11:31 AM on August 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


It looks like the Enterprise from TNG, which is to say it looks like Marriott hotel lobby from the 1980s.
posted by entropicamericana at 11:35 AM on August 21, 2016 [10 favorites]


Before I saw the office cafeteria motif I was almost certain they were headed towards the other what seems to be ubiquitous trend of hipster restaraunt decoration - edison lamps, cast iron pipe furniture with "reclaimed" wood, butcher block/raw wood live edge counter tops, chalkboards and Mason jars.
posted by Karaage at 11:36 AM on August 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


I haven't been to any of the places mentioned in this thread; I haven't set foot in a Wal-Mart, an Ikea, or a Target.

Do you even own a television?
posted by hippybear at 11:40 AM on August 21, 2016 [42 favorites]


I've heard bar and restaurant owners curse any layout that contains booths. If you have booths, you will have drug dealing.

I am innocent and naive - can you explain?
posted by AFABulous at 11:40 AM on August 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


I... remember when that first TGIFriday opened on 63rd street because my family lived ten blocks away. Let's not overestimate how 'hip' it was though. My parents were young and liked to go out, and the upper east side was a hot bed of bars, but they made fun of TGIF with their friends.

It was the 60s. Electric Circus opened in 1967 and that was considered pretty hip. My parents used to go there and would tell us great stories the next day.
posted by maggiemaggie at 11:41 AM on August 21, 2016 [5 favorites]


I haven't been to any of the places mentioned in this thread; I haven't set foot in a Wal-Mart, an Ikea, or a Target.

This is something you would need a television to underst—dammit, hippybear!
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 11:43 AM on August 21, 2016 [8 favorites]


As someoke from the UK, exposed to only a few dreadful London TGI outlets

Maxwell's was doing this in the 70s.
posted by Coda Tronca at 11:45 AM on August 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


The Friday's near us had a makeover a few years back in which the antiques were replaced by flat painted graphics on white walls. It looked like a freshman's design project, TBH. I wonder if the whole chain tried that.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 11:49 AM on August 21, 2016


Interesting to think TGIF and all its copiers were trying to emulate PJ Clarke's, an actual saloon that just never modernized since the 1800s and came by all its cruft naturally.

Like how much of American cultural items are just copies of copies.
posted by The Whelk at 11:55 AM on August 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


jamjam: I haven't set foot in a Wal-Mart, an Ikea, or a Target.

I have no hope of ever grasping the essence of my own native land.


So... you're Swedish?
posted by Too-Ticky at 11:59 AM on August 21, 2016 [6 favorites]


Also, since one of my personal hobbies is Broad Design Trends Of The 20th Century I always thought the sudden and very intense interest in Victorana in the late 60s/70s came from both a broad cultural interest in Simpler Times and also cause it was the first era of industrial made antiques that were really, really cheap. Kind of like the mason jars and Edison bulbs of yore, they didn't look like the stuff in department stores and where easy to come by (that is until the department stores start selling knock offs, fakes of fakes)
posted by The Whelk at 12:00 PM on August 21, 2016 [7 favorites]


Maxwell's was doing this in the 70s.

Oh, that's fascinating - I went to the Oxford branch a few times as a teenager, had no idea it went that far back!

I'd murder for an article of the terrible British attempts to emulate American fast food and casual dining culture through the seventies and eighties (and ok, fine, nineties). We seem to be doing better now but man that's be a fascinating history of grotesques.
posted by ominous_paws at 12:01 PM on August 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


(Before the 70s Victorana was considered so behind the pale and unfashionable that Andrew Lloyd Webber amassed the world's largest collection of pre-raelphite Art for like, NOTHING, it was all fire sale prices for anything mauve and brown. Same thing happened to Art Deco/Moderne, but that was mostly due to a flood of cheap imitation products in the 30s and then that mutant 80s version of the 40s which is ...a thing . It lives on in modern form in the hilariously named HOLLYWOOD BARONIAL, which means styles based on classic era movie looks so basically back to the art exposition of '25 that Cedric Gibbons was so fond of and made every MGM set look like)
posted by The Whelk at 12:08 PM on August 21, 2016 [11 favorites]


An alligator wearing sunglasses? Now I've seen everything!

On the one hand I'm really into Victoriana and that sort of thing, but on the other hand I'm sort of forgetting how tacky those places could be, even if the antiques were mostly authentic. When they were talking about how they'd take an antique toy car and then "put a critter in it," I thought "oh yeah, that's why everyone rolled their eyes at TGI Friday's." Still, there's something about the new wave of minimalism that just feels sad and utilitarian, like the customers aren't really worry the effort anymore. Even if the decor was tacky by my standards, it still made people happy, and people still had a connection to it.

I liked the comparisons to tiki bars, too - places that erase any of the history behind the objects on the wall to create an imaginary space full of nostalgia for something that never existed. If a tiki bar is the physical embodiment of a Martin Denny album, I wonder what TGI Friday's would be?
posted by teponaztli at 12:11 PM on August 21, 2016 [5 favorites]


The decor for the new Fridays would fit in perfectly on the space station in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
posted by Splunge at 12:15 PM on August 21, 2016


I find it hard to believe that there's such a thing as an "authentic" Irish pub anywhere in the world, including Ireland.

Oh, there definitely are quite a few in Ireland, but in the UK "Irish pub" means more often than not that you'll get served by an Australian who doesn't know how to pour a Guinness. And more than once I've seen the King's Head turned into Scruffy O'Duffy's overnight by shopfitters, with the authenticity arriving by truck.

(And speaking of TGIs, inspired by a bar somewhere up 9th that has a "miserable hour" between 3-4am - it may be Valhalla, I'm not sure - I once thought about a themed eatery called OFIMondays, but wasn't sure it would fly...)
posted by 43rdAnd9th at 12:23 PM on August 21, 2016 [7 favorites]


My parents (born during WWII, so perpetually getting swamped by Baby Boom trends) remember inexpensive beatnik-ish places in Victorian buildings in the early 60s, because they were cheap but pretty and beatniks had no money and preferred aesthetics to comfort (this was in medium sized Southern and Midwestern cities) and then a turn in the 1970s to Victoriana and Western and reused buildings as pleasant dating or family restaurants. That last mix made a lot of sense in every farming or logging town that had been briefly rich before WWI and frozen ever since. The bandshell era was something to miss.

Heck, in the 1980s-1990s Portland, OR was still like that, ready to be reused at speed by people who had seen it done.
posted by clew at 12:26 PM on August 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


If a tiki bar is the physical embodiment of a Martin Denny album, I wonder what TGI Friday's would be?

The physical embodiment of a Disney barbershop quartet LP?
posted by mwhybark at 12:27 PM on August 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


(see also Craic-in-the-Box)
posted by mwhybark at 12:30 PM on August 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


The second-ever TGI Friday's (and the first franchised location) opened in the 70s in Overton Square in Memphis. Because it was the first place to take advantage of the city finally allowing "liquor by the drink" establishments, it ended up a raucous hotspot, favored by the city's counterculture scene, like proto-indie luminaries Alex Chilton and Big Star and famed photographer William Eggleston.

No, seriously.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 12:38 PM on August 21, 2016 [6 favorites]


It's talked about extensively in the FPP article. No, seriously.
posted by hippybear at 12:41 PM on August 21, 2016 [15 favorites]


like the customers aren't really worry the effort anymore.

It's start up aesthetics, as temporary and blank and ready for the next tenant as soon as possible. The idea of something lasting beyond a year is insane.
posted by The Whelk at 12:45 PM on August 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


How did I miss that, hippybear? All I can say is reading on phones is hard.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 12:48 PM on August 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


At least now Petey Otterloop will be able to eat in peace.
posted by delfin at 12:48 PM on August 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


But if it's well-lit with sparse decoration, customers are going to end up looking at the food. That's not going to do them any favors.
posted by ckape at 12:51 PM on August 21, 2016 [5 favorites]


i am innocent and naive - can you explain?

It's easier to pass cash and merchandise unnoticed between people sitting side by side (or to a lesser extent opposite) at a booth than at a table. They also reduce overall visibility and better contain quiet conversations. Though it's not exactly challenging in either case, a venue's friendliness to certain types of clientele is a bigger deal.
posted by Candleman at 12:57 PM on August 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


I don't normally make predictions like this, but this is doomed to be viewed as equally awful as the kitschy faux-authenticness of the previous design. It's a misguided effort to appeal to a group that the marketers and designers show absolutely no actual understanding of, and will be mocked accordingly.

The tip off is this from the president of Hospitality Solutions Design: 'Jeff Walsh explains, the generation of "the cloud" is not as interested in settling down into home ownership... There’s a whole segment of people from the ages 24 to 35 who don’t even want to buy a house,” he continues. “They want to rent an apartment, and then they have more money to spend on taking trips and having experiences. They have a different lifestyle than the Boomers.'

Trust me, it's not that Gen Y as a group doesn't want to buy a house. The only upside here is that Gen Y is large enough to be able to effectively resist the imposition of a typical Boomer assumptions of how things are with no actual thought or research. The schadenfreude will be delicious.
posted by fader at 1:13 PM on August 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


Traditional booths also encourage people to sit around relaxing and nursing a coffee/beer for longer. So many places (now including TGIF apparently) can't actually make enough money from people sitting around drinking and chatting. You need families, eating 3 course meals, in and out in 50 minutes, repeatedly.
posted by Coda Tronca at 1:13 PM on August 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


I once thought about a themed eatery called OFIMondays, but wasn't sure it would fly..

I'm just quoting this here because I am only allowed one favorite per comment. I would definitely eat there. What kind of food would you serve? (The order of those sentences is not random.)
posted by TedW at 1:15 PM on August 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


This article was very long and detailed and now I know way more than I wanted to know about the history of casual dining chain restaurants. The article did feel a lot like older dudes speculating on what the young people want and why, and not seeming to have a clue. Oh young people and their apps! They seem to care about something I don't understand, therefore they must not care about anything! Quick get all this crazy crap off the walls!

“Today’s younger consumer wants to go to a place that their parents didn’t patronize,” he said, “and certainly not a bar and grill from the ’70s where you could pick up a flight attendant.”

Hey now, something wrong with picking up a flight attendant?? Flight attendants are people too!

Like the tiki bars that flourished from the 1930s to the 1960s, casual-dining restaurants like Friday’s and Chili’s offered customers a getaway from their mundane lives. “It’s about the experience of escapism,” Walsh says. “You can escape into that environment for an event, for a dinner, for a drink. And when you leave, you’re back in the real world.”

I gotta say that this is something that I will fall for every time. I like going into overly designed restaurants, I like feeling like I'm somewhere else. The alternative is just sitting in a big square room at a table. Now I'm sitting in this room. After this I'll get into my moving room and then get out and sit in my sleeping room. After that I'll be in my working room. Just an endless procession of the same 3 rooms until we all die.
posted by bleep at 1:16 PM on August 21, 2016 [23 favorites]


An older friend of mine worked for Limited/Victoria's Secret back in the day told me that "fantasy antiques" were a big part of the business. Someone would find a lovely armoire in an antique shop, ship it off to China, and back would come 700 exact copies, down to the scratches and worn finish.
posted by jfwlucy at 1:19 PM on August 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


All the stuff on the walls and the overly designed railings & the raised bar and whatnot add dimensionality & texture to disguise the fact that you're just sitting in a big room. You're somewhere else now where the normal rules don't apply. At first the normal rules were "There is no space to be feminine and flirt with strangers - you can do that here because the unusual qualities of our decor mark this out as a different space with its own rules" then it was about remembering that time that you were a carefree flirty single as you tried to find something your kid would eat.
posted by bleep at 1:21 PM on August 21, 2016 [8 favorites]


I have no hope of ever grasping the essence of my own native land.

You won't burst into flames if you go into one, you know. I mean, next time you're on a road trip, it's physically possible for you to stop at a truck stop, or to get off the interstate at the exit for the business route through some little-ish town and stop at a barbecue joint or diner or whatever, or to start your morning travel by going to McDonald's or Dunkies/Timmies and just hang out for a while eavesdropping on old coots.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:21 PM on August 21, 2016 [7 favorites]


Looking at the redesign for the TGIFridays and the Taco Bells, being downmarket versions of the hard space white tile restaurant hipster aesthetic of 10~ years ago made me a little nostalgic, not for these super cluttered places, but a chain my mom used to take me to in high school for a treat, that had a kind of tropical palm resort theme I thought was very elegant at the time. I'm tired of cold loud tile restaurants.

I'm ready for some hush and plush.
posted by Squeak Attack at 1:22 PM on August 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


So many places (now including TGIF apparently) can't actually make enough money from people sitting around drinking and chatting.

I used to say you could always tell how long a cafe had been in business by how comfortable the seating was. If they were to survive at all it was the hardest, meanest seats or nothing at all.
posted by The Whelk at 1:26 PM on August 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


but... but... but... ten dollar endless appetizers!
posted by 7segment at 1:31 PM on August 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


Heres what will happen: TGI Friday's, having spent a gazillion dollars ripping all the crap off the walls and getting that smoooove industrial look replicated in all their locations, will continue hemorrhaging cash and losing their customers. They will go bankrupt, and empty TGI Fridays locations all over the country will get bought up by mom & pop restaurateurs who will take one look at all those bare white walls and immediately begin filling them with pictures of the softball team, their kids ballet recitals, an autographed pic from that guy who was in that thing, a baseball jersey that Hank brought back from Osaka, of all places, and little metal sculptures that the bartender's stoner boyfriend makes in his garage.

And the wheel of kitsch rolls ever on.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 1:33 PM on August 21, 2016 [24 favorites]


I blame Mike Judge, creator of Office Space.
posted by kcds at 1:34 PM on August 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


MINIMALISM HAS GONE TOO FAR.
posted by Going To Maine at 1:37 PM on August 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


Well, based on some of the comments here, it's apparently that old people hate contemporary design the same way they hate contemporary music, fashion, art, and media generally. At what age do people start hating everything new?
posted by LastOfHisKind at 1:38 PM on August 21, 2016


is there anything new?
posted by pyramid termite at 1:44 PM on August 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


TGI Friday's started in New York.

The first franchise location was in Memphis - where, improbably, Alex Chilton had a DJ gig for a while. The post-Chris Bell Big Star used to party there, and it was immortalized by William Eggleston on the back cover of "Radio City" (note the trademark red and white stripes).
posted by ryanshepard at 1:45 PM on August 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


Crystal Pepsi
posted by The Whelk at 1:45 PM on August 21, 2016


Contemporary design or super ersatz cheapo knock-off of 10 years out-of-date design? Anyway I don't hate the way these places look. I hate NOISE. I'm old and if I could hear you out there, I'd tell you to get off my lawn (well, dirt patch, I live in the desert.)

They will go bankrupt, and empty TGI Fridays locations all over the country will get bought up by mom & pop restaurateurs

The only local TGI Fridays I can think of was vacant for a few years and now is an exuberant locally-owned Mexican place.
posted by Squeak Attack at 1:47 PM on August 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


TGI Friday's started out as a hip singles bar? Preposterous! Next you'll tell me that Blondie was originally about a gold-digging flapper and the son of a railroad tycoon!
posted by ckape at 1:49 PM on August 21, 2016 [13 favorites]


ryanshepard, that is some quality rock trivia. Thx.
posted by Lyme Drop at 1:51 PM on August 21, 2016


But what about Friendsy's?
posted by nubs at 2:04 PM on August 21, 2016


I hate NOISE.

YES. The solid-surfaced reverberant no-sound-damping-because-it-make-the-place-seem-vibrant esthetic can fuck right off. I remember one restaurant on a Friday night where by the end of the meal I was sitting hunched over with my fingers in my ears, physically beaten down by the ridiculous noise level. We don't go there any more.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 2:05 PM on August 21, 2016 [7 favorites]


will get bought up by mom & pop restaurateurs

In some markets, yeah. But in high-rent country, they'll sit empty like all the grocery stores that were supposed to anchor strip malls do. Nobody but those chains open restaurants that large out here in LA because the rent and utilities are too high - it's one of those things you have to recalibrate your brain for when you move here and show up to your dinner reservations (where you anticipate clearing $200 with drinks and desserts) to find your destination in between a dry cleaner and a hair salon. There's a valet stand, and you just don't ask where they put your car, you don't want to know. You can tell when Yelp reviews are from newcomers because they actually mention it's in a strip mall. Yeah, of course it is, unless it's a food truck or in a hotel or in one of our rare indoor malls, we're not made out of freestanding buildings out here. Even a lot of your IHOP-type places are in strip malls now.

I am a member of a mostly-monthly Chain Restaurant Lunch Club with a couple of friends, because we share a secret weakness for chicken fingers and frooty drinks. I've proposed we do Friday's for our next meeting, before they remodel. There's really not that many locations here, almost all of them are in the outermost burbs, and I'd be surprised if most of them survive another couple years.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:06 PM on August 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


I went to a TGI Friday's near Tokyo Disney - the waiter said he wanted to study abroad in the US, but his family didn't let him and working there was the next best thing.

It seems like a toned down version of the 'fun' vintage look is coming into style, one that goes along with brick walls and French fries in a shopping trolley.
posted by betweenthebars at 2:08 PM on August 21, 2016


The description of how you bought mixed drinks before they allowed liquor-by-the-drink sounds pretty annoying and I'm glad I've never had to deal with it.
posted by ckape at 2:18 PM on August 21, 2016


I remember people sneering at "fern bars", but I never saw one, and somehow imagined them as dark modernist spaces with chrome and a few gro-lights for the ferns. I wasn't imagining TGIFridays. I went to one once when I needed to talk with someone and that was the only place within walking distance. We looked at the menu and couldn't find anything we wanted to eat. But that article was fascinating.
posted by acrasis at 2:20 PM on August 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


The new Millennial-approved restaurant aesthetic, which Friday’s is attempting to replicate in Corpus Christi, has become the beige-linen wall covering of choice, papering over the scruffier textures of the city’s quirky saloons, galleries, bookstores, and mom-and-pop shops.

This is bullllllshiiiiitttttt.

What exactly makes things "Millennial-approved", and why do people living in cities like NYC and SF love throwing this term around? Because this is wrong, and I don't mean wrong in an ethical way, but in a "this person just proved they're out-of-touch with "the youth" sort of way.

People in and around my age (27, so I'm gonna say 24-32 y/o's) have been going against this style for the past few years now, and in an semi-ironic fashion have embraced kitschy-ness. Taco Bell design, Jazz solo cups, Applebee's, these are all things people in my demographic like, because once we move out from the suburbs into primarily urban areas we don't typically go to these places anymore, and there's a big value in nostalgia. If they wanted to market toward millennials they would recognize that.

People go to Taco Bell (I personally prefer Del Taco). It's caught on big time and has been for years now. I know people that go and buy multiple large baja blasts in order to pour alcohol in them. There's a sense of "hahaha I can't believe we totally just went to Taco Bell!!!" There's also a sense of enjoying it.

Jazz solo cups are definitely "a thing" with this age group, with that design emblazoned on shirts, and PNCA students attempting to replicate that style of design and reblogging them on their tumblrs.

Applebee's has a good happy hour, I don't care what anyone says, and it's the same feeling of "oh my god look at this place, I can't believe we're here right now!" when you walk in as with Taco Bell.

And that's sort of the point. Most millennials have grown up with these places everywhere in their hometowns, and when we've moved to urban areas where there are all these other places, cooler places, our tastes changed, and we of course got older and acquired new tastes, but for the most part this isn't one of them. If Applebee's did this none of us would go there, because it isn't the same. It isn't nostalgic. It isn't like the suburb we lived in.

Just because a bunch of rich yuccies in San Fran like their bougie, shittily designed cafes doesn't mean the rest of us do. Most everyone I know, whether in Portland or LA or Austin or Chicago or ANYWHERE doesn't like this style. Also, millennials are a bigger demographic than "35-year-old tech workers". I'm rolling my eyes so hard over here that I could put a chain around them and roll my ass to Dave & Busters.
posted by gucci mane at 2:22 PM on August 21, 2016 [11 favorites]


Current restaurateurs pulling from the idea of the back-in-the-day fern bars: Oleanders in Brooklyn, The Heavy Feather in Chicago, Laura Lee's in Richmond (from mrs.john m)
posted by john m at 2:26 PM on August 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


This was a really interesting article with a lot of stuff I didn't know; thanks for posting it.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:28 PM on August 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


My favorite 1970's faux-Victoriana restaurant was the McDonald's across the street from the Bank of America building in SF. It was like the movie "Time After Time" in franchise form. That chain-driven paddle ceiling fan was the best.
posted by clorox at 2:31 PM on August 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


People in and around my age (27, so I'm gonna say 24-32 y/o's) have been going against this style for the past few years now, and in an semi-ironic fashion have embraced kitschy-ness.

I'm very close to your age and I don't know anyone like what you're describing, so I'd be wary of generalizing your experiences to an entire generation.
posted by crazy with stars at 2:52 PM on August 21, 2016 [13 favorites]


Applebee's has a good happy hour, I don't care what anyone says, and it's the same feeling of "oh my god look at this place, I can't believe we're here right now!" when you walk in as with Taco Bell.

Are you telling me that the kids are into ironically liking things
posted by Going To Maine at 2:54 PM on August 21, 2016 [6 favorites]


That's just something millennials do.
posted by ODiV at 2:54 PM on August 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


I know that I've been in a few TJIFs/Applebees/Chilis/Ruby Tuesdays but I couldn't tell you which one was which. I'm really amazed that the "Nail shit to the walls" esthetic has lasted this long; it seemed pretty sad and dated by the nineties.

It is fascinating that these things started in urban areas but became such icons of suburbia.
posted by octothorpe at 2:57 PM on August 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


There's a sense of "hahaha I can't believe we totally just went to Taco Bell!!!"

That sounds incredibly ...snotty and spoiled.
posted by jonmc at 3:21 PM on August 21, 2016 [5 favorites]


This reminds me of Bombay Bicycle Club--does anyone else remember Bombay Bicycle Club? No, the restaurant, not the band--but anyway, the same sort of random antique decor. I went there for my combination college graduation/22nd birthday party, and the blackened fish had so much blackening spice mix slathered onto it that that's what I blame for me putting away nearly an entire bottle of champagne by myself. Of course, that was only the beginning of a loooong night of drinking, and... I'm not even sure where I'm going with this. Maybe I should have gone to a better school.
posted by Halloween Jack at 3:21 PM on August 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


The first franchise location was in Memphis - where, improbably, Alex Chilton had a DJ gig for a while. The post-Chris Bell Big Star used to party there, and it was immortalized by William Eggleston on the back cover of "Radio City" (note the trademark red and white stripes).

There is an article on TGIF's and a related MeFi thread that I really recommend you check out. I think you'll like them a lot.
posted by one_bean at 3:33 PM on August 21, 2016 [7 favorites]


Me too - It's like, I find it hard to believe that there's such a thing as an "authentic" Irish pub anywhere in the world, including Ireland. As far as I can tell you buy this stuff out of a catalog in crates drums labelled "Irishness", and it rolls off an assembly line somewhere. I'd assumed TGIF worked the same for "Americanness".

We used to call these places, "Irish Bar Starter Kits." Your guess is pretty good.

Explaining the faux Irish pub revolution
posted by ActingTheGoat at 3:41 PM on August 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


You need families, eating 3 course meals, in and out in 50 minutes, repeatedly.
The acoustic aesthetic of these chains (i'm lookin' at you chipotle) is no doubt engineered to drive you the fuck out (once you pay).
posted by j_curiouser at 3:44 PM on August 21, 2016


This is making me terribly homesick for Spats in downtown Berkeley. And not the new Spats that serves brunch, the old one with too many tables and ice cream cocktails and a very relaxed attitude toward checking I.D. Interesting to know that it was part of a larger trend.
posted by corey flood at 3:45 PM on August 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


BUT, I was fascinated to learn that the genesis of these sorts of places was as singles bars in the 70s. I had no idea! I thought they were just manufactured fake fun places for white picket fence, rolex-wearing boomers in the 80s which kept expanding their market across the decades

What do you think those boomers were doing in the 70s? Playing backgammon?
posted by jonp72 at 4:03 PM on August 21, 2016 [5 favorites]


I remember people sneering at "fern bars"

Now that you mention it, I do too! It was always something guys said. By the time I was old enough to drink, it was normal for a bar to have some plants around and some light-colored walls. If a fern bar is soulless, at least it's a place you can step into without getting a walleyed stare from someone who's been camped out since 10 am, and be reasonably confident that no one will be beaten with a pool cue.
posted by Countess Elena at 4:04 PM on August 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


What do you think those boomers were doing in the 70s? Playing backgammon?

It never occurred to me that places like TGIF and similar even existed in the 70s. As to what the boomers were doing in the 70s, I assume they were mostly dancing to disco and fucking a lot.
posted by hippybear at 4:07 PM on August 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


does anyone else remember Bombay Bicycle Club?

I had no idea it was a chain! There was one on the Mississippi gulf coast when I was a kid, I only really remember it for being the place I learned that "flatbread" just meant "pizza with a shitty crust". But I never, ever saw one anywhere else, so I assumed it was a standalone.
posted by solotoro at 4:08 PM on August 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


solotoro, thank you for sharing your flatbread opinion. I assumed it was just me, and that I was just a philistine who was not sophisticated enough to appreciate hot gloopy cherry tomatoes transposed on a thin carbon layer
posted by Countess Elena at 4:14 PM on August 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


We went to all of those restaurants many many times. Early Chevy's, too. From wherever they spawned they were certainly past their initial significance by the time we were going there, but until probably 1990 I would hear of people going to party at the bar at these places and it wasn't howls of laughter so much as "all the way to Cupertino?" By then if I was going that far I would go to The Peppermill, which coincidentally also had a chain style that closely matched the Vegas original.

I'll say this for TGIFridays, Chili's, and a restaurant chain of unknown range called Spoons: a high school girlfriend and I went off to the same university together and they provided us with ways to go on dates. We each had food cards for the university and an allowance of like $100/mo, so for $20 in mid-80s dollars we could go out and get a big ol burger, fries, and an orange milkshake or whatever, then go back to the dorms and have sex. That would be one weekend night, and the other we'd go to a movie, then go back to the dorms and have sex. The decor was already kind of a built-in amusement having already been inoculated by Wendy's tables with olde tyme newspaper ads printed on the formica.

It was better, more relaxed, and more fun than dorm food, it was going to eat at a place where you chose from a menu, and as pretty sheltered 18 year olds it felt like an important step to adulthood. We didn't drink (yet) so the normal dorm party scene was not particularly compelling.

When I drive around the areas we used to haunt I still remember those restaurants fondly. They were also supremely easy to give up once my tastes moved on, so there was never any bad experiences that kept me from going back. It was simply that eventually, if I was hungry or going out and I didn't want to spend a lot of money, there were more specific things I'd rather eat, and if I simply wanted that kind of food, I'd learned by then how to make it myself.

There is still an original Victoriana fern bar in SF called The Royal Oak, which used to be frat boy garbage but I believe it's been rebooted in the last few years.
posted by rhizome at 4:17 PM on August 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


"fantasy antiques" were a big part of the business. Someone would find a lovely armoire in an antique shop, ship it off to China, and back would come 700 exact copies, down to the scratches and worn finish.

I have had a paralyzing suspicion for some years that such businesses exist; it dates back to the time I saw a sign in Bali advertising "Antiques Made to Order." I flipped a mental coin between it being a strained command of English or someone who could make you a Victorian pedal-driven sewing machine in a week if you had the rupiah.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 4:18 PM on August 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


"Flatbread" always reminds me of those Lunchables pizzas I ate as a kid with the tasteless cracker crust and plastic cheese.
posted by downtohisturtles at 4:19 PM on August 21, 2016


does anyone else remember Bombay Bicycle Club?

Bombay Bicycle Club was the first place I ever experienced that most exotic menu item: fajitas. But yes, when I think fern bar, Bombay Bicycle Club was the ferniest. I miss it!

What's so hilarious about that new TGI Fridays aesthetic is that it looks exactly like the offices I worked in in the late '90s and early aughts. It's like they were trying for the stripped down, sleek Ikea aesthetic permeating startups and coffee shops then thought they could get away with it by buying a bunch of 15 year old used office furniture and calling it a day. I seriously wonder if their design consultants were playing a joke by submitting the same floorplan and furniture they had worked on for some faceless financial company that was trying to seem hip.

I don't want to go out to eat at an office. No, the restaurant trend that needs to come back is dark and quiet, which died out in the early '80s and seriously needs to come back.
posted by eschatfische at 4:22 PM on August 21, 2016 [19 favorites]


I don't want to go out to eat at an office. No, the restaurant trend that needs to come back is dark and quiet, which died out in the early '80s and seriously needs to come back.

My parents still favor these joints, insofar as there are any left.
posted by thelonius at 4:34 PM on August 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


This was a much longer read than anticipated, but really worth the time. Thanks, I would never have discovered this on my own.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 4:34 PM on August 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


the restaurant trend that needs to come back is dark and quiet

Amen, brother.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 4:42 PM on August 21, 2016 [5 favorites]


This is a fascinating article from the perspective of the "shit on the walls" industry, but not very insightful in terms of the societal trends that they seem to be tying the Friday's remodel to.

E.G.: The article, "What prompted this cultural shift from raucous young singles in the 1970s delighting in bars and grills that were jam-packed with antiques to the Millennial foodies who want to dine in austere, rustic minimalism? "

If I walk into a restaurant that looks like the new Friday's remodel my immediate thought will typically be "this place is desperate." I can't imagine Baltimore is really that cutting edge, but that look has been extremely passe for at least six years or so. Come to think of it, I wouldn't even mind eating in a chain restaurant if they could guarantee minimally decent food (like, cut your menu by 5/6ths, get fresh ingredients, train your line chefs to knock simple dishes out of the park) and cheaper drinks. If you're charging me eight dollars for a fucking Sam Adams' draft in the middle of no-where suburbia, then I'm not coming back any time soon.

And then, “I think back then the cluttered décor was to young people what video games are to my grandkids,” he says. “Back in the ’70s and ’80s, the antiques gave customers something to occupy their minds when they were waiting for their food. If you go into a restaurant today, you see any kid under 12 is on an electronic device—or actually, anybody under 50. The adults are looking at Facebook, and the kids are playing some game, so they wouldn’t know what’s on the wall right in front of them.

Ah... no, dude. "A bunch of crazy shit on the walls," aesthetic is pretty much just a dive bar without a real history. isn't it? The style isn't the problem. Bland (or outright bad) food, expensive drinks, and a lack of any real social context or history are the problem. To my mind these are all add-on effects of being family restaurants. You make food bad and mass-producible to have gigantic menus that are budget friendly (that is: microwave junk) and can meet many tastes (that is: bland and greasy). Drinks are expensive because mom and dad are getting one or two as a weekend treat, and are willing to pay for a fucking 15 dollar cosmotini, or way marked up domestic draughts. If you're going out with the family you don't really care about running into friends, or having an interesting conversation with strangers, or having to risk your kids seeing a bar fight, you want each little booth to be its own cocoon that elides the presence of other diners.

I think that what's really hurting sales here is probably that local restaurants are getting better, more people are moving to cities, and the brand-names people associate with the TGI Friday's style are all seen as old fashioned. Unsurprisingly, and per usual, it's not the kids with their smart phones. It's places that were maybe once hip and cutting edge, scaled up by focusing on family dining, and then have coasted over the past few decades on bad product buoyed by brand recognition and a lack of better options.

RE: Taco Bell, I don't ironically love Taco Bell, I just plain love Taco Bell. Unfortunately if I ate it as much as I'd like to eat it, then I'd be even fatter than I am, so it's a once a month treat instead.
posted by codacorolla at 4:55 PM on August 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


crazy with stars: I'm very close to your age and I don't know anyone like what you're describing, so I'd be wary of generalizing your experiences to an entire generation.

You're right, I shouldn't generalize my experience across my generation, especially when railing against pieces that are doing the same thing.

I tend to automatically presume that when these articles are talking about "millennials" they're either talking about "hipsters" or "yuccies" (being "young urban creatives"), with the latter typically being people in the older rung of the demographic, and hipsters being, well, hipsters, and my friends and I definitely fit in this group when looked upon with a marketing lens. I also tend to find my experiences generalized across a broad spectrum when I meet people like me: people who grew up in suburban sprawl in major metropolitan areas, where things like Applebee's, Taco Bell, Chilis, Baja Fresh, Olive Garden, Outback, TGI Fridays, etc. were every few blocks away. Across the board I tend to find that my friends in California have the same experiences as me despite us growing up entirely separate from each other, or people in Florida describing similar experiences to ours (sometimes with different places).

But on top of that I also tend to find that my friends in AZ who never left and still go to these places regularly are never explicitly figured into the equation in these articles about "millennials", and I've figured it was because "millennials" was really code word for "hipsters". Even though a lot of my friends would obviously be considered millennials (they're the same age as me) they aren't being spoken about as if they're millennials. It's like these articles are often from the outside looking in, analyzing what the "cool, hip, urbanites" are into, and using "millennials" as short hand for hipsters, but perhaps I'm reading too much into it.

jonmc: That sounds incredibly ...snotty and spoiled.

It does? It's a matter of nostalgia, how is it snotty and spoiled?

These broad experiences that I'm mentioning are part of a common thread that I find with a lot of people around my age who would be construed as hipsters. I keep finding that a lot of people have incredibly similar experiences to me, ones involving hanging out at places like Taco Bell or Chilis, so we're accustomed to the design choices and menus of these places, alongside memories we've all made at them. After moving away to cities where these places just aren't around, or nobody wants to go to them, it's fun to relive being a teenager and go to them. For example, I recently jumped in my friend's car before we were driving to the river on a hot day. We were talking about where to get food when I mentioned I wanted to go to somewhere that wasn't expensive and was easy. I said we should go to Jack In The Box. Everyone laughed at first, and then agreed. We all then brought up individual stories about going to Jack In The Box when we were younger and living with our parents. It's not about being snotty or thinking we're better than anyone else, that's not it at all. It's a feeling of familiarity in a nostalgic manner. I can go to Taco Bell and know I can get a double decker and how much it costs and I can always count on the inside having a particular style, which is nostalgic because it reminds me of a simpler time, before I lived in a place where I was inundated with grass-fed this, locally sourced that (not that those are bad at all).

codacorolla, I unironically like Taco Bell as well, but as I've gotten older a lot of the food does a number on my stomach, I'm not sure what it is. When I was a teen my friends and I went to Del Taco all the time, and I still prefer that over Taco Bell. Unfortunately the nearest Del Taco is a long ways away so I go to Taco Bell a bit more often than I should.

Also, is there a name for the style that Taco Bell interiors are typically designed? It's along the same lines as the Jazz solo cup, as well. They all seem to fit into that same style.
posted by gucci mane at 5:03 PM on August 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


"90s Corporate Fun"?
posted by codacorolla at 5:07 PM on August 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


Once again, good ol' Canadian inertia triumphs when it comes to Americans seeking a respite from arbitrary trend-chasing. I refer, of course, to Montana's Cookhouse, with its faux-American-West decor, modestly dressed female wait staff, and food, that for some reason, has always come up shorter than I would have expected.
posted by morspin at 5:29 PM on August 21, 2016


I forgot to add that each of the 700 fantasy antique armoires would then be shipped off to each of the VS stores across the country along with maybe a fantasy antique chandelier and fantasy antique chaise-longue, and detailed instructions on what sorts of lingerie to drape on its hooks and drawers, and how. A planet-wide multi-million dollar industry creating identical 3-D interactive art works. Walter Benjamin would have been proud.
posted by jfwlucy at 5:35 PM on August 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


LastOfHisKind: "At what age do people start hating everything new?"

If they enjoy their dad's music collection, age 16. If they don't like their dad's music collection, age 24.
posted by Bugbread at 6:02 PM on August 21, 2016 [13 favorites]


In re ironic/nostalgic visits to TGIF: this is not just a snake people thing; I have eaten nostalgic/ironic meals at Perkins and gone nostalgia/irony bowling. Admittedly, when I was growing up, TGIF et al were both expensive (by my family's standards; we rarely went out to eat except if we were going somewhere actually fancy a couple of times a year) and trashy (because booze) so I have no nostalgia associated with them.

Actually, what I really remember thinking when I was in my late teens was "Fuddruckers? Really? Really? Is that supposed to sound vaguely naughty in some way?" They seemed embarrassing.

Admittedly, in the mid-ring suburbs of Chicago you were never too far from a leftover fifties or sixties bar and grill with a neon sign and some kind of name in neon like Pheasant Run Inn or Peacock Room. The food at those was usually pretty bad too, but the cake was generally good and you could pretend you were in the parts of movie like The Krays before the shooting and tragedy started. When I was back from college for summers, I'd get all dressed up in my platforms and weird dresses and fishnets of a weekend evening and my remaining area friend and I would drive around, maybe hit a record store and end up getting dessert at one of those places. The vinyl would always feel cool and sort of erotic in an alienated way against the backs of my legs.
posted by Frowner at 6:05 PM on August 21, 2016 [8 favorites]


Gucci mane, I agree that "millennials" is often used to refer to "hipsters", but that's in articles talking about new trends and what's cool. Cool = cutting edge = hipsters, et al. When, on the other hand, the articles are about large chains or businesses, they're talking about the mass market. Mass market = not cutting edge = your average millennial living in Topeka or Cincinnati or Tacoma.
posted by Bugbread at 6:06 PM on August 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


Oh, and, as a few people have mentioned, if you see the topic of the thread and immediately think "Oh, TGIF! To the comment box I go!" read the link first, both because it's interesting and because it might save you a little embarrassment.
posted by Bugbread at 6:10 PM on August 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


I read the whole the link first, that's why I pulled a quote directly from it :3 I only took issue with that particular part, and the framing of "millennials like it when suburban places redesign themselves!" But like I said, perhaps I'm totally reading into this wrong. In my experiences, the millennials I know living in "uncool" cities don't seem to think much of these things.

I guess I should just say I'm offering up major anecdata 8)
posted by gucci mane at 6:22 PM on August 21, 2016


Oh! Sorry, my phrasing sucked, that wasn't directed at you at all! That was a general comment aimed at people who haven't commented yet!
posted by Bugbread at 6:23 PM on August 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


Admittedly, in the mid-ring suburbs of Chicago you were never too far from a leftover fifties or sixties bar and grill with a neon sign and some kind of name in neon like Pheasant Run Inn or Peacock Room.

Those places are still everywhere. I've been in quite a few over the last couple of years in small towns, and they are like entering a timewarp from the 1970s. The menus predate the "local and artisanal" fad by decades, as do the alcohol options. The food is actually ok if you order with some care and don't mind 1970s salad and well-done vegetables, and you don't have any complicated modern dietary issues. The waitstaff always seem to be either 16 or pushing 80, too, rarely in between in age.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:29 PM on August 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


That was a wonderful, informative, remarkably comprehensive article. The video of Uncle Moe's Family Feedbag is a great touch.

I came in thinking I'd focus on restaurant antiques, instead I got a broad, sweeping panorama of late-20th-century history that I never know even existed. The details in the writing got me quite curious about what else the author -- Lisa Hix -- has written. One click away, I find this article with a picture of a space-race themed playground that I remember, clear as day, climbing and sliding on many times in my youth.

...which is to say, I'll be over here in this rabbit hole, getting my nostalgia on.
posted by Theophrastus Johnson at 7:19 PM on August 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


I got through about 30% of this article a couple days ago. I came away very thankful I don't have the collecting bug.
posted by aerotive at 7:26 PM on August 21, 2016


Admittedly, in the mid-ring suburbs of Chicago you were never too far from a leftover fifties or sixties bar and grill with a neon sign and some kind of name in neon like Pheasant Run Inn or Peacock Room.

Is the Beef and Brandy still downtown?Er, for that matter, am I remembering the name right? Beef and Barley? Anyway, a friend of mine always loved that place for being a total time capsule. Not necessarily exciting food, but it did capture something.
posted by teponaztli at 8:08 PM on August 21, 2016


Is the Regal Beagle from Three's Company a fern bar?
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:11 PM on August 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


Beef & Brandy is still there, yep.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:13 PM on August 21, 2016


Is the Regal Beagle from Three's Company a fern bar?

I think of all of Three's Company as taking place in a fern bar.

I remember reading the description of Perry's in Tales of the City and thinking that it sounded a lot like Applebee's, and then having an Ah Ha Moment about the aesthetic the chain restaurants were trying to create. It was neat to read here that some of them actually originated it!
posted by lazuli at 8:28 PM on August 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


What would the food have been like at a fern bar, anyway? The article glosses it, but since it's Collectors Weekly, doesn't really go into detail.
posted by codacorolla at 8:34 PM on August 21, 2016


Just an endless procession of the same 3 rooms until we all die.

Four rooms, I think. It appears to me you may have neglected to enumerate the big room.
posted by mwhybark at 8:34 PM on August 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


What would the food have been like at a fern bar, anyway?


Basically tavern food, but the best fern bars had one weird trick like:

Nutty Cheesy Salad

Iceberg lettuce with avocado, tomato, shredded white cheddar and fontina, banana, cashews and almonds, puffed wheat cereal and honey-mustard dressing.

You think I'm fucking with you but this is [true].
posted by jeremias at 8:53 PM on August 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


Yeah, but I mean what's tavern food in 1974? Like I'm pretty sure you're probably not getting nachos, despite the fact that would be a staple for any similar restaurant today.
posted by codacorolla at 9:10 PM on August 21, 2016


(clew somehow dug up and faved an old comment of mine in the 2014 faux Irish pub thread and you know, those were good times what with the wisecracks and beer recountings and so forth)
posted by mwhybark at 9:35 PM on August 21, 2016


Hey, alright, here's their 1980 menu. I was wrong by the way, Chicken Nachos front and center.
posted by codacorolla at 9:42 PM on August 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


"I know this sounds sexist, but it wasn’t my idea: It was designed so the women would have to turn sideways and brush up against people on one or the other side to get by." Apart from the rest of this whole discussion, which I really like hearing about, that quote keeps skeeving me out. "I know this sounds sexist, but it wasn't my idea." Yep, it does. I don't care if it wasn't your idea. Don't do it if it sounds sexist, 'cause this human would rather not have to turn sideways and rub my boobs on some stranger to just move through a space. Ugh ugh ugh.
posted by lauranesson at 10:31 PM on August 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


Given that we're talking about something that happened over 30 years ago, I think there's a non-zero chance that he is saying that he realizes now that it's sexist but didn't have that outlook at the time. I mean, think of all the MetaTalk threads of people talking about how much their opinions on gender and equality have changed in a decade at MeFi, and triple that amount of time.
posted by Bugbread at 10:38 PM on August 21, 2016 [10 favorites]


I was very confused by the recent unlimited appetizer ads and this article's discussion of the remodeling, because I thought they had all closed. At least here in the SF Bay Area, they are all gone, except for maybe one out in the boonies, even the very first here and most popular in San Bruno that they have a lot of pictures of in the article.

The article mentions that the new manager didn't care about the food, so I'm not surprised at their apparent rapid downfall, even ignoring the generationally out-of-date decor.

One thing not mentioned in the article: when I talked to the waiters, they were all from 1000s of miles away. The company encouraged waitors and waitresses to get jobs far from home and to occasionally switch locations to other locations far away. I can only guess why. Maybe to keep them excited (at being in a new place)?
posted by eye of newt at 11:24 PM on August 21, 2016


The company encouraged waitors and waitresses to get jobs far from home and to occasionally switch locations to other locations far away. I can only guess why.

So they won't be embarrassed by friends and relatives when they're wearing all that goddamned flair.
posted by oheso at 12:41 AM on August 22, 2016


I've never been able to go into one of those places without recalling this Dave Barry column. (And now I'll have the added issue, should I go into such a place, of remembering that the column was written 30 years ago.)
We also need some kind of law about the number of inappropriate objects you can hang on the walls in restaurants. I am especially concerned here about the restaurants that have sprung up in shopping complexes everywhere to provide young urban professionals with a place to go for margaritas and potato skins. You know the restaurants I mean: They always have names like Flanagan`s, Hanrahan`s, O`Toole`s, O`Reilley`s, etc., as if the owner were a genial red-faced Irish bartender, when in fact the place is probably owned by 14 absentee proctologists in need of a tax shelter.

You have probably noticed that, inevitably, the walls in these places are covered with objects we do not ordinarily attach to walls, such as barber poles, traffic lights, washboards, street signs, farm implements, etc. This decor is presumably intended to create an atmosphere of relaxed old-fashioned funkiness, but in fact it creates an atmosphere of great weirdness. It is as if a young urban professional with telekinetic powers, the kind Sissy Spacek exhibited in the movie ``Carrie,`` got really tanked up on the margaritas one night and decided to embed an entire flea market in the wall.
posted by Nerd of the North at 1:34 AM on August 22, 2016 [6 favorites]


In my last job assignment, we traveled frequently to our office in Athens (Greece). My Swedish colleagues were huge fans of the TGI Friday in Kifisia and would insist we skip the wonderful Greek tavernas for the "American style" cocktails. Sigh.

Anyhow, great article. Combines my interests in store design and history.
posted by frumiousb at 1:42 AM on August 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


Don't do it if it sounds sexist, 'cause this human would rather not have to turn sideways and rub my boobs on some stranger to just move through a space. Ugh ugh ugh.

If Bar Rescue is to be believed, this is still a thing bar designers are consciously doing in pick-up-type bars.
posted by lazuli at 5:48 AM on August 22, 2016


*CRTL-F "DOUGHBOYS"*

No results

Oh wow

Okay then, here's some required listening: The Doughboys review T.G.I. Friday's (with guest Jordan Morris).
posted by saladin at 6:00 AM on August 22, 2016


Don't do it if it sounds sexist, 'cause this human would rather not have to turn sideways and rub my boobs on some stranger to just move through a space. Ugh ugh ugh.

My reading of the article was that the marketing genius of the early pick up bars was in making a place that was clean enough, safe enough, and with adequate amenities to bring in groups of single women, so that the men would come in hordes and spend big money trying to impress them. Sexist physical design is the least of it; the entire enterprise had uncomfortable underpinnings.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:13 AM on August 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


Let's create an atmosphere where women feel comfortable and won't notice how much they are drinking. Sounds like your average frat. This article was superb -- I never knew the history of Eddie Rickenbacker's, just that the owner was some old guy in the corner on a portable oxygen machine. I always thought he was an ex biker gang member, not the originator of fern bars.
posted by benzenedream at 6:55 AM on August 22, 2016


I'm not being and snob or pretensionist but I don't get chain restaurants. There are tons of locally owned places anywhere where the food is fresh and made by a real person instead of a microwave that isn't that expensive. I'm lucky and live on the Gulf coast (of America), so there are tons of cheap ass places to eat with superb food, but I've lived many other places, too. It's npt hard to find some place that is dirt cheap and the food tastes like food. I just went and got breakfast, for 5 dollars I got enough homemade food to feed three people. Why bother with these kinds of corporate places? I've never even eaten in a Chiles or TGIF in my my life. I do like Cheesecake Factory however, to my shame.
posted by syncope at 7:16 AM on August 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm not being and snob or pretensionist but I don't get chain restaurants. There are tons of locally owned places anywhere where the food is fresh and made by a real person instead of a microwave that isn't that expensive. I'm lucky and live on the Gulf coast (of America), so there are tons of cheap ass places to eat with superb food, but I've lived many other places, too. It's npt hard to find some place that is dirt cheap and the food tastes like food. I just went and got breakfast, for 5 dollars I got enough homemade food to feed three people. Why bother with these kinds of corporate places? I've never even eaten in a Chiles or TGIF in my my life. I do like Cheesecake Factory however, to my shame.

I think the thing with chain restaurants is predictability. Let's say you've got a stressful life with kids, jobs, etc. You go out, say, once a week as a family. If you go to Friday's or the Olive Garden, you know what you're getting, you know how much it will cost, you know that your kids will eat something on the menu.

Also, if you've never eaten in these places, how do you know they're terrible? I mean, the food is pretty much the same as the Cheesecake Factory. And why be ashamed of liking the Cheesecake Factory anyway? That food is basically engineered for you to like it.
posted by lunasol at 7:27 AM on August 22, 2016 [7 favorites]


There are tons of locally owned places anywhere where the food is fresh and made by a real person instead of a microwave that isn't that expensive. I'm lucky and live on the Gulf coast (of America), so there are tons of cheap ass places to eat with superb food, but I've lived many other places, too. It's npt hard to find some place that is dirt cheap and the food tastes like food.

I can think of a seven mile strip in an adjacent suburb that has nothing but chain restaurants and a few expensive restaurants (which may also be chains, I'm not sure). Baker's Square, Red Robin, Fuddruckers, Noodles and Company, Buffalo Wild Wings, Hooters, TGI Fridays, Chili's, Olive Garden, The Melting Pot. "Cheap" food is Qdoba or Subway. Yes, you can go into the city, but on a Friday night it's up to 45 minute drive, plus parking, plus the expense of a decent dinner. That is untenable for a lot of families. (And just forget it if you don't own a car.)
posted by AFABulous at 8:10 AM on August 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


They always have names like Flanagan`s, Hanrahan`s, O`Toole`s, O`Reilley`s, etc., as if the owner were a genial red-faced Irish bartender, when in fact the place is probably owned by 14 absentee proctologists in need of a tax shelter.

In my house we call these places "PJ O'Pootertoot's" after this skit. One of my family members worked briefly in one of them, it was either Bennigan's or Houlihan's I think, and part of the training was sitting down to watch a video of the place's fictional history as an Irish immigrant's pub. The bizarre part was that the training film acknowledged it was entirely fictional but communicated that they definitely wanted the staff to act as if it were really the life's dream of a penniless Irish immigrant to build an empire of mildly Irish-inflected chicken fingers outlets.

I think the thing with chain restaurants is predictability

Setting aside trying to eat with children, which is just a whole different ball of wax. I think the issue of consistency and predictability was huge in the US within a certain specific historical window: after the advent of long-distance car travel, mostly postWWII, and before the advent of a really robust mainstream internet with things like Facebook and Yelp, say 2007 or so. I recall traveling long-distance with my family in the 1970s, and finding good food in an unfamiliar place really was a crapshoot, especially if you were in a little town off the highway with not many choices. We had some great meals and some very sketchy ones. Chains were a godsend for travelers because you could predict what you'd get. Nowadays, that utility has diminished because it is trivially easy to suss out all your restaurant options, how good they are, who goes there and even what the food looks like before you step into the door. Now, you can consider eating on the road a fun adventure of finding new places instead of a high-risk but necessary procedure that could result in dissatisfaction, illness, or even things like overt racial discrimination or sexual harassment - as recently as the late 1990s that wasn't very true even for internetty people. It seems the only fullservice chains that are still holding on are places that specialize in a suburban Friday or Saturday night out and are known for some extreme or exceptional feature that they do well.
posted by Miko at 8:19 AM on August 22, 2016 [6 favorites]


Flanagan`s, Hanrahan`s, O`Toole`s, O`Reilley`s, etc., as if the owner were a genial red-faced Irish bartender

Yeah, always Irish. The Russians drink just as much, but you'll never see a pub chain called "Igor's."
posted by jonmc at 8:22 AM on August 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


That 1980 menu is SO WEIRD. Why does it look like a teenage girl's notebook? I was going to speculate that there'd be a lot of French and California influence, and you can see it in the presence of avocado, onion soup, crabmeat salad, brie, artichokes - that was exotic stuff in the late 70s, as was including lettuce and tomato on every burger by default. interesting in fact that they seem to have been pretty clever in transplanting West Coast food trends to the East Coast kind of earlyish on - but them having nachos and fried apps? Absolutely, they, and places like it, invented that stuff, and it's why every pub has that stuff now. Irish pubs of the late 70s/early 80s never used to have things like nachos or fried zucchini before this era; you were lucky if pubs even had food, and if they did, it was, like, a corned beef or ham sandwich, some potato and kale soup, or maybe a boiled dinner type thing. They really seem to have been among the places who set the standard we now know as "pub grub."
posted by Miko at 8:28 AM on August 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


There are tons of locally owned places anywhere where the food is fresh and made by a real person instead of a microwave that isn't that expensive. I'm lucky and live on the Gulf coast (of America), so there are tons of cheap ass places to eat with superb food, but I've lived many other places, too. It's npt hard to find some place that is dirt cheap and the food tastes like food.

I lived out in the ex-urbs in Western PA for a decade and except for a generic Chinese place, there really was nothing but chain restaurants for miles.
posted by octothorpe at 8:43 AM on August 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


About chains - when we had the big dust-up about allergies and restaurants a few weeks ago, someone pointed out that chains are actually good for people with serious food allergies precisely because there's not too much in-house cooking and all the food is made centrally to a particular standard. No one is going to run out of ingredient X and sub ingredient Y without telling anyone at TGI Friday's, because they aren't really cooking much on site.

Obviously if you have the chance to get to know your local restaurants, you can figure out which ones are reliably allergy-friendly, but I could easily see how a chain could be a total boon.

Also, if you are mobility-impaired or have vision problems, a larger, more standardized, brightly-lit space like a chain restaurant can be easier to manage, as I know from going to restaurants with my mother back when her health permitted.

So yeah, I prefer independent restaurants that do their own cooking, but I don't need an ER trip if I accidentally eat shellfish or something either.
posted by Frowner at 8:52 AM on August 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


> I'm not even sure where I'm going with this

Maybe you were going where I am, which is pondering how Banana Republic used to have a jungle theme and sold clothes for safaris. Eventually minimalism gets us all.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:58 AM on August 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


That 1980 menu is SO WEIRD. Why does it look like a teenage girl's notebook?

I'd be pretty annoyed at having to try to read cursive on a menu in a dimly lit restaurant but it's been decades since I've had to read writing like that.
posted by octothorpe at 9:07 AM on August 22, 2016


In 1980, twentysomethings could easily read that cursive. The handstyle is pretty much straight out of the lesson handouts we all learned from back when it was still taught.

I agree with Miko, tho: it's utterly freaky to read that menu and see that that was what hipster food was back then. It made me think of El Torito and how around this time that was a big place to tie one on with the buds and babes.
posted by rhizome at 9:12 AM on August 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


rhizome, so funny you should mention El Torito, because that's what this thread keeps reminding me of. When I was a kid, that was my family's go-to "night out" restaurant and as a kid I loved it. I mean, they had fried ice cream and "corn bread" that tasted like pudding. I remember my dad mentioning that the bar was a hopping place for "singles" to stop off after work and meet other "singles" and even as a kid, that seemed kind of weird to me. It was in a suburban strip mall - weren't singles going to bars downtown (probably with ferns)?

A few years ago, I got a nostalgia bug for El Torito and tried to find if there were any left (the one we went to has long since been turned into a Barnes and Noble) and found out that it had been branded as a "cantina authentica" but the location finder on the website turned up no locations.

I think this story is actually kind of a microcosm of what's happened with a lot of these chains - when I was a kid, there weren't many good restaurants in our immediate area - a few shitty Chinese places, a few mediocre Italian places, and some actual Irish bars (this was the Boston area) that didn't allow kids and probably only served bar pizza. But by the 90s there was Thai and Bertucci's, a few years later there was Vietnamese and Indian, not to mention all the newer "fast casual" places. Now there's a super-chic locavore restaurant with rustic-industrial decor right down the street and a bunch of family-friendly gastropubs. Still no good Mexican, but I kind of doubt El Torito would be my family's go-to today even if it still existed.
posted by lunasol at 9:32 AM on August 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


I don't want to go out to eat at an office. No, the restaurant trend that needs to come back is dark and quiet, which died out in the early '80s and seriously needs to come back.
posted by eschatfische


I still miss The Good Knight in Austin. So dark, so very dark. Contrast with Black Star Co-op, whose food/beer I love dearly, but it took them a couple years to put some THINGS on the walls/ceiling so it wasn't just a very loud college cafeteria.
posted by fiercecupcake at 9:43 AM on August 22, 2016


Yeah, capitalism ruins everything. I looked up El Torito and they started in the mid-50s, after finding some traction among veterans and a story about popularizing the Margarita, eventually getting LBOed and yada yada yada you can't find one anymore. The one by us was in the burbs and across the parking lot from Target-precursor Gemco and its surrounding strip mall.

when I was a kid, there weren't many good restaurants in our immediate area

My sense is that produce shipping had a few revolutions in the past 50 years or so, which made the spread of these restaurants possible. Even in San Francisco, there is a local chain of utterly generic (though still given props) California Chinese restaurants called Henry's Hunan that had lines out the door in the years after it opened in the 80s. I mean, it's not Panda Express, but to think this was the coolest place to spend an hour in line really speaks to changes in the landscape.

I'm beginning to think that where parents of ours of a certain age had Elvis or The Beatles revolutions in popular music, Generation X grew up with revolutions in foodservice.
posted by rhizome at 9:53 AM on August 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


the restaurant trend that needs to come back is dark and quiet

The UK's much-mocked Wetherspoon's does a bit of this.
posted by Coda Tronca at 10:04 AM on August 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


El Torito has been a staple in my Southern California life (San Diego, and the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles) and is one of those things I think of as specifically Californian. Sunday brunch at El Torito is a twice-yearly thing for me. But you always find them on a stretch of road also featuring Marie Calenders, Mimi's Cafe, Claim Jumper, and maybe a PF Chang's, the sort of highly-regional second run of big box chain restaurants.

I think the thing that keeps these restaurants afloat is, like fast food places, The Fearful Diner. They only like a few things, and live in terror of ordering The Wrong Thing and not liking it, because then you die. Or they need to know that they can count on something familiar - the big salad, the hamburger, the roasted chicken plate, chicken fingers. They don't want adventure or ambiguity of any kind, and the bathrooms can be counted on to be clean. Everyone has one or more of these in their family (not even counting children, who are NOT down for your favorite cash-only taqueria or Thai place any more than Grandma is), every office department is apparently required by law to hire one of these people, every loose-overlapping-social-group has one of these (or the person who is extremely anxious about the cost, and knows all the prices at the chains and so is comfortable there). It is Default Food.

I assume one day all these buildings will just be taken over by Sysco. It will just be called Sysco, you will be able to get every single Sysco product there, including all 73 versions of french fries. The bathrooms will be operated by Ecolab. The mixed drinks will come in pre-mixed packages like Capri Suns and you stick your own straw in it.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:20 AM on August 22, 2016 [11 favorites]


(In fact, it looks like the LA area has more El Toritos than TGI Fridayses.)
posted by Lyn Never at 10:32 AM on August 22, 2016


Well, I guess I now know where I'm eating the next time I'm in the LA area! (the last time was 20 years ago, so it'll probably be a while) But that makes it even sadder that the location finder on the website turned up no locations!
posted by lunasol at 10:58 AM on August 22, 2016


I see no mention of Max & Erma's which really took that fun fun fun singles jingles junk on the walls, etc. atmosphere to extremes.

Just to put the 'singles' orientation into sharp focus, M & E's also had a 'telephone' on each table, a system allowing inter-table 'calls'. Signs announced each table's number.

Now, if you was to visit the Travelers Club International Restaurant & Tuba Museum of Okey-doke, Michigan, there's a reason for all that flare(d bell) on the walls.
 
posted by Herodios at 11:34 AM on August 22, 2016


Max & Erma's still exists. There are still two of them near me and Wikipedia says that there are 51 in operation.
posted by octothorpe at 11:54 AM on August 22, 2016


Count me as another who thought the antiques were fake. Really enjoyed the article. Thanks, Miko.
posted by cwest at 12:02 PM on August 22, 2016


Friday's has never been my idea of a place to go - although interestingly it's because I always thought of it as a cheap imitation of Bennigan's and/or Houlihan's. I had no idea it came first, historically. (But then, I grew up in Kansas City, where Houlihan's began, so that's probably why I think of it as the "real" one.)

But I gotta say, I'm even less likely to go to this new version based on the pics. Less character than any random office break room, as others have said. Like, when I think of these kinds of places I think of a place to relax and get a beer and a good burger with friends. Those pictures do not look like a place I want to "sit and have a drink," they look like places that want you to eat and get out quickly.
posted by dnash at 12:36 PM on August 22, 2016


Max & Erma's still exists.

Yes.

I had a narrow escape last May in Columbus, but my hosts eventually chose a local Thai restaurant instead.

They haven't done the phones, though, in years.
 
posted by Herodios at 12:46 PM on August 22, 2016


Yeah, like TGIF, you'd never suspect that M&E was ever a singles place as it seems like the most innocuous family oriented place now.
posted by octothorpe at 1:09 PM on August 22, 2016


> dark and quiet

Late '90s TGIF in Iowa were still of the dark and quiet mode; the kitsch was still there, but amongst shadows and smoked glass.

Of all the chain restaurants, I actually didn't mind the food - they had a "Jack Daniels" bbq sauce that was quite reasonable. But then again, I was stoned 90% of the time.

Denny's, of all groups, is trying to elbow it's way into the trendy dark quiet bar-esque thing in Canada now. The one in Vancouver, a few blows away from me, is always empty.
posted by porpoise at 3:38 PM on August 22, 2016


frumiousb: "My Swedish colleagues were huge fans of the TGI Friday in Kifisia and would insist we skip the wonderful Greek tavernas for the "American style" cocktails. Sigh."

I'm going to have to conclude that the Kifisia TGIF was actually better than the Kifisian tavernas, then.

If a person ignores the stuff in their own culture in favor of something that is, to them, exotic, you can't draw any conclusions. Greek person says TGIF is delicious but the local Greek tavernas suck? Doesn't indicate anything about the quality of TGIF or the local Greek tavernas. American says TGIF sucks but the local Greek tavernas are delicious? Doesn't indicate anything about the quality of TGIF or the local Greek tavernas. But when a neutral third party makes a decision, that actually indicates something, especially if it's not just one dude but a group of folks.
posted by Bugbread at 7:10 PM on August 22, 2016


(you can interpret that as either "The TGIFs was actually pretty good" or "The TGIFs was as bad as I thought, but what I didn't realize was that the tavernas were even worse", whichever you prefer)
posted by Bugbread at 7:11 PM on August 22, 2016


I'm going to have to conclude that the Kifisia TGIF was actually better than the Kifisian tavernas, then.

Or it could be that places like TGIFridays don't really exist in Sweden and they wanted to try it because it seemed exotic. Or maybe TGIFridays is incredibly popular in Sweden and it's their favorite place in the world.

There is no particular reason to believe in the neutrality of these mysterious Swedish colleagues of frumiousb, or that they are somehow perfectly objective arbiters of taste.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 7:29 PM on August 22, 2016 [2 favorites]



Yeah, like TGIF, you'd never suspect that M&E was ever a singles place as it seems like the most innocuous family oriented place now.

Other memories of Max & Erma's (from the 1970s and 1980s):

At some point I guess they decided that Tilly (the wooden ship's figurehead / dual beer tap) wasn't quite the image they wanted to project -- at least not directly at the front door.

The restroom doors featured no writing, but giant cartoon paintings of Max and Erma, à la the company's logo -- Max is on the door to the ladies', pointing toward the gent's room and Erma is door to the gent's, pointing toward the ladies' room. Hilarity ensued, I am quite sure.

On the inside of the gent's room door was a mirror; printed on it is the legend, "Go get 'em, tiger!" or something along those lines. There was also a cologne vending machine in there.

My brother worked there for nine years. A group of regulars from Initech Lexis-Nexis-Pexis-Wexis eventually offered him a chance for a job with them and he's been with them ever since. He still makes great Oysters Rockefeller, though, and M&E's probably doesn't even offer it anymore.
 
posted by Herodios at 8:26 PM on August 22, 2016


Maybe you were going where I am, which is pondering how Banana Republic used to have a jungle theme and sold clothes for safaris.

Oh, those old BR catalogs were the shit. Horribly pretentious, but I found them in college when I didn't have a functioning immune system against the idea that "authenticity" could be bought, and their spiels about how being a traveler was so much better than being a tourist really got to me, and I wanted a waxed cotton jacket so bad because Hunter S. Thompson wrote the blurb for it.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:56 PM on August 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


ActingTheGoat: "Or it could be that places like TGIFridays don't really exist in Sweden"

They do.

But, true, I'm not saying it's a 100% certainty, just that absent any other data, it's the most likely conclusion. Maybe they just really, really dug Mudslides (that's why I go to TGIFridays, because no other places around here serve alcoholic ice creamy drinks)
posted by Bugbread at 9:56 PM on August 22, 2016


Just left Stockholm. TGI Fridays was prominent in the main park nearby where people gathered and held music festivals and Pokemon rallies and nightly festivities. Maybe it was a bit of a tourist area because all of that stuff and being near Central Station. But most of the crowd seemed to be Swedes.
posted by downtohisturtles at 10:02 PM on August 22, 2016


I have so many thoughts about this article, so many that my brain is starting to feel like a damn vintage TGIFriday's laden wall.

I honestly thought Molly Murphy's was just some weird fever dream shit from my childhood brain growing up in Oklahoma, so I feel vindicated at finally getting to scratch the itch of that memory some thirty years later thanks to this post. And for the record, I don't recall if my family ever actually ate there, it seems we may have but it's entirely possible we never did and memories are just me recalling other people talking about it since it was popular at the time.

Also I agree with Mchelly, Friday's really needs to bring back the drunken gorilla running amok. It would be especially spectacularly absurd if they keep the minimalist decor and the gorilla is the only remnant of the restaurant's long gone history.

And thanks to john m for the tip on Laura Lee's in Richmond, that definitely looks like a place I'd like to try.
posted by pandalicious at 10:09 PM on August 22, 2016


Max & Erma's was a wild singles place once? Huh! I've been to one. I would barely find anything to remember it for except for the waitress, who was young, heavily put upon by the slowness of the food, and barely knew what mixed drinks were, to the point that I think she grew up in a dry home and possibly still lived there. When a waiter is clearly stressed by the operations in the back of the house, I don't mind that the service is bad; I just feel like pulling for them the whole night.
posted by Countess Elena at 12:54 PM on August 23, 2016


This was fascinating. I was shocked to learn that Friday's was ever hip, much less an actual pickup joint. I first encountered them in their suburban mall family funzone phase, and assumed that was their original form. It also helped explain why boomers love having so much crap everywhere, and why subsequent generations have veered the other way.
posted by Cranialtorque at 2:18 PM on August 23, 2016


It also helped explain why boomers love having so much crap everywhere, and why subsequent generations have veered the other way.

I assure you that TGI Friday's is not the reason that Boomers/preceding generations collected stuff.

TGIF seems to derive some of its aesthetic from the 60s Victorian revival (which started out in gay/camp circles in the fifties and rose through straight bohemia in the sixties) which itself was a response to the minimalism of the actual 1950s and space age design. (Everyone who talks about Boomers and clutter seems to forget those two periods/styles.)

The seventies was the start of vintage as a really big deal, IMO - the revival of Deco in particular. Not that there wasn't vintage before that (fashiony little boutiques like I Was Lord Kitchener's Valet selling old military surplus and formalwear, etc) but I think you really see a particular relationship to vintage emerging in the seventies which lasts through the end of the nineties. Different kinds of vintage and revivals were what young bohemians used to distinguish themselves, basically.

So when I was young and in my prime, I wore fifties dresses and fifties beaded cardigans and fifties coats, with maybe a little bit of sixties and seventies design in there. I wore them in a particular nineties way - the fifties revival of the eighties, for instance, was different.

Boomer clutter, IMO, results only marginally from actual aesthetic/ideological choices and comes mostly from plentiful but fairly slow production along with the materiality of artifacts. There was lots of stuff, suddenly - not like the twenties through the forties, or even really like the fifties - but it wasn't instant stuff like it is now, so if you bought something you expected it to last. And if you bought a record or a book, you were already invested in the idea of having a physical object - there was no way around that. So you were already on the "I'm going to have a bookcase and a record cabinet" page.

Right now there's so much stuff and it is so cheap in both dollars and production quality that the whole purpose of getting collectible stuff is almost gone. (Although everyone seems to be swimming in papers, plastic crap from Target and clothes that were new last year and are worn through now.) Why hoard when you can replace? Why collect when the quality is so bad? And if you don't need a record cabinet or a bookcase, that changes how you think about what belongs in a space.

And everyone is always "oh, my generation prefers to have experiences not your mortal garbage, Boomers"...without thinking about how cheap airfare changes everything. When I flew to China in my early twenties to work, I had flown only once before that - airfares were so expensive that ordinary working people flew a lot less. Now I fly three or four times a year to see family and do work stuff - even I, a pink collar worker! My friends who make more money or come from richer families are jetting off on short trips every month, or more often. It makes a lot more sense to say "I'd rather go hiking in the Yucatan than buy an armoire" if hiking in the Yucatan is fairly simple to arrange.
posted by Frowner at 2:38 PM on August 23, 2016 [9 favorites]


Also, the Boomers were of a generation whose parents had been young adults in the Depression. Even well off people grew up with the idea that material scarcity was a real thing that could happen. Boomers were just the generation who had that idea at the same time that production was getting faster and more abundant.

One of my friends, who is housed now, used to be seriously tent-living homeless. Even then, he was one of the sharpest dressers I knew, because in an urban area there is simply so much clothing kicking around that you can find a great deal of stuff just for free. He always had new and different outfits, all very snappy and all scrounged from various free shelves or found on the side of the road. This would not have been true in, say, 1970.
posted by Frowner at 2:43 PM on August 23, 2016 [2 favorites]



There are no 'boomers'.
 
posted by Herodios at 3:31 PM on August 23, 2016


I would bet small money that, forty years from now, among 70-year-olds, "raised children to adulthood" is a better predictor of stuff-accumulation than is "was a minimalist in the 201xs".
posted by clew at 3:36 PM on August 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


If a person ignores the stuff in their own culture in favor of something that is, to them, exotic, you can't draw any conclusions. Greek person says TGIF is delicious but the local Greek tavernas suck? Doesn't indicate anything about the quality of TGIF or the local Greek tavernas. American says TGIF sucks but the local Greek tavernas are delicious? Doesn't indicate anything about the quality of TGIF or the local Greek tavernas. But when a neutral third party makes a decision, that actually indicates something, especially if it's not just one dude but a group of folks.

Or possibly it meant my coworkers preferred big sugary cocktails to ouzo? I'm having a hard time seeing the statistical relevance in a group of four Swedes.
posted by frumiousb at 4:06 PM on August 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


frumiousb: "Or possibly it meant my coworkers preferred big sugary cocktails to ouzo? I'm having a hard time seeing the statistical relevance in a group of four Swedes."

Well, with a four times larger sample set you have a nPn value of 74 and an outlier multiplicative index of 7% to 63.5%. That said, there's a doubt index of 47kR, so you may be right about sugar versus ouzo.
posted by Bugbread at 5:38 PM on August 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


There are tons of locally owned places anywhere where the food is fresh and made by a real person instead of a microwave that isn't that expensive. I'm lucky and live on the Gulf coast (of America), so there are tons of cheap ass places to eat with superb food, but I've lived many other places, too. It's npt hard to find some place that is dirt cheap and the food tastes like food.

Congrats on living in an awesome place. I've found here that if it's a local restaurant, it's minimum $10 per person, whereas I can eat a McDonald's for less than $5 (not saying it tastes better, but it is significantly cheaper). The local fast-food places are the same price as going to Chili's or Fridays.

It's all about where you live. My hometown of about 20K people had more than a few cheap local restaurants, but I don't seem to find the same thing in the big city. I live in a wealthier part of town so the selection is geared towards those who don't mind spending $25-30 for every meal (for 2 people) and it's just not worth the drive across town to find something cheaper, so I eat out much less. And come to think of it, when I lived in a more middle class part of town, the local restaurants were still more expensive than the chains. The difference wasn't as significant as it is now, but $8 for a burger vs $2-3 adds up over time.

Chili's, Friday, etc. is not the most horrible food ever, either. I've had good and bad but mostly it's better than anything I can cook.
posted by LizBoBiz at 11:45 AM on August 24, 2016 [3 favorites]


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