The One with the Visitors: The immersive FRIENDS Experience is back in Chicago

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Melina Chalkia/The Daily Northwestern

“I KNOW!” The “Friends” set has arrived in Chicago to give everyone an immersive peek into the world of the popular sitcom.

Melina Chalkia, Reporter

“I’ll be there for you…” and now “Friends” will be there for Chicago, too.

After its successful launch in 2020, The FRIENDS Experience has reopened its doors to the Chicago area, offering an exclusive and interactive peek into the lives of everyone’s favorite friends.

The immersive exhibit, located at 540 N. Michigan Ave., offers 12 immersive set recreations from the hit 90s sitcom — including Central Perk, Monica and Rachel’s apartment, Joey and Chandler’s apartment and the stairwell from the iconic Pivot scene. The exhibit also showcases original costumes, props and scripts signed by the entire cast.

The exhibit was first installed in 2019 in New York City and Boston to celebrate the show’s 25th anniversary, according to senior creative director Terry McMahon. Due to its success, the experience expanded to Chicago and is projected to reach other cities and countries in the future, he said.

The FRIENDS Experience was produced by entertainment company Superfly X, a spin-off from its comedy festivals, which includes set recreations as a way to celebrate various comedy TV shows. Jonathan Mayers, founder and CEO of Superfly X, said the team was encouraged to create the “Friends” pop-up after seeing the comedy festivals gain traction.

Mayers said the team put their attention to detail to create an immersive experience for visitors. The experience is unique, he said, because it moves away from the traditional museum exhibit structure.

“We have fans come through The FRIENDS Experience and get emotional,” Mayers said. “We all have these engagements and emotional connections with the space and people in these shows, because you are inviting them into your home.”

The whole experience lasts about 45 minutes and can be enjoyed either individually, in a group of 15 people or as a private access tour, Mayers said.

As part of the production process, McMahon, senior creative director, said he had to know every small detail of “Friends” and choose the most iconic pieces of the show, such as the opening fountain scene and the Central Perk hangouts between the six friends.

“It was a lot of figuring out what sets and what moments we wanted to highlight,” McMahon said. “We tried to bring all these sets into life, which was very fun because it’s never bad when your homework is to watch TV.”

McMahon said he is particularly proud of the building block recreation of the Central Perk, in which visitors “mesh” the nostalgia of watching “Friends” and playing with building blocks as a child.

Monica Saenz De Viteri, who visited the event with her daughter, said she recommends it to all those who grew up with the show in addition to the next generation of “Friends” viewers.

“The staff was super friendly and helpful and the set-up was amazing,” De Viteri said. “I truly enjoyed the experience.”

For Patricia Popichak, looking at the iconic purple door from Monica and Rachel’s apartment gave her goosebumps. She enjoyed seeing the apartments and the coffee shop “where all the magic happened.”

Popichak fell in love with the dynamic of the group in the show because the characters were relatable and “stood the test of time together.” At the time, she said she was too young to understand the depth of the characters.

“The most interesting fact was the amount of coffee this crew drank — (Lisa Kudrow) apparently had the most,” Popichak said. “At the final place we visited, Central Perk, we grabbed a couple of coffees and sat (down), appreciating just how much joy this set brought to us.”

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