It’s the end of an era: T.G.I. Friday’s is beginning to chuck its antique/junktique/faketique aesthetic for a cleaner, modern look (that evokes an IHOP). They’re not alone: Ruby Tuesday decluttered and upscaled in 2007. It’s all incredibly ironic, considering the popularity of “Brooklyn” style reclaimed wood, pseudo early industrial or faux-Gilded Age touches, and of course, farmhouse/country chic in the vein of Fixer Upper. It’s the same thing!
Collector’s Weekly takes a delightfully in-depth look at how exactly the crammed-with-vintage-crap look became so ubiquitous (full of fascinating details about the “hospitality pickers” who track down those antiques). T.G.I. Friday’s first unleashed the nostalgic fast-casual style, when it opened as a singles bar in 1965, with decor essentially ripped off from P.J. Clarke’s down the way. P.J. Clarke’s was the real deal, its aesthetic assembled over decades; T.G.I. Friday’s was the product of a deliberate decisions to get people comfortable with the very notion of a singles bar:
In a 2010 interview on Edible Geography, Stillman told Nicola Twilley and Krista Ninivaggi, “All I really did was throw sawdust on the floor and hang up fake Tiffany lamps. I painted the building blue and I put the waiters in red and white striped soccer shirts. … I wanted T.G.I. Friday’s to feel like a neighborhood, corner bar, where you could get a good hamburger, good French fries, and feel comfortable. … The principle involved was to make people feel that they were going to someone’s apartment for a cocktail party.” Friday’s caused a sensation: “The Saturday Evening Post,” “Time,” and “Newsweek” raved about Stillman’s concept, while young people began to line up around the corner to get into the bar.
Variations on the theme opened across the country, many of them with the greenery that would get them labelled “fern bars.” They were extremely sexy. One Billy Bob Harris described the Dallas Friday’s to Texas Monthly: “The women were everywhere. I had never seen high heels, a miniskirt, and no hose on one woman at the same time.” As T.G.I. Friday’s grew into a national chain, those antiques also helped to break up the sameness:
“I would roll up to a new location with a trailer full of memorabilia, the exact amount to fill up the restaurant,” Scoggin says. “I made a science of cluttering the walls and creating 3-D projections. I put big things in too small of a space, little things in too big a space. I wanted people to feel like they were seeing something they’d never seen before every time they came to the restaurant.
Eventually, the singles moved on, and T.G.I. Friday’s and its offspring—Ruby Tuesday, Bennigan’s, Chili’s, Applebee’s—got their more family-friendly rep.
It’s a hell of a note that casual dining establishments are shucking their nostalgic look, with its roots in a late 60s/early 70s late Victorian/Gilded Age saloon pastiche that proliferated through the 80s—picture the opening of the TV show Cheers—even as the faux historical reclaimed wood craze continues to replicate wildly across the country. “Brooklyn” style, “farmhouse,” “Edison bulb chic,” whatever you want to call it, it’s all the same thing, and it’s basically the 2010s equivalent of Ruby Tuesday. A simulacrum carefully constructed not for historical accuracy but for a kind of sameness that doesn’t quite register yet as sameness. Not until the next new thing comes along.
Come on, tell me this doesn’t sound familiar:
But why would hippie burnouts or disco dancers care about all these dusty antiques? “I’ve thought a lot about that,” Bowman muses. “It was like you opened the door to your grandmother’s attic, and the stuff was just tumbling down the steps. Most of our customers didn’t even know what a lot of the antiques that we used were. The 25-year-olds didn’t relate to the objects on a basis of personal experience, but they thought it looked cool.”
Artisanal donuts are delicious, though, don’t get me wrong.