Pop-up restaurant ‘Golden Girls’ LA has the golden touch

By TERRY TANG
The Associated Press

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) — Picture this: An empty Beverly Hills bistro has been transformed into the set of an 1980s sitcom about four women living in Miami — but it’s also a working restaurant.

Reservations are going fast at the newly opened The Golden Girls Kitchen. Some customers have come from out of state to see the pop-up eatery.

Joe Saunders, of Cranston, Rhode Island, his two teenage children and their mother were visiting Northern California when they heard about the pop-up. So they made a special trip south to see it.

“I was a little hesitant to come, but my children’s mother really wanted to come,” said Saunders, who was wearing a T-shirt that referenced the fictional retirement home Shady Pines in the sitcom. “It was a good time… the lasagna, the strawberry daiquiri and I’m going to have a piece of cake with ice cream too.”

Thirty years after “The Golden Girls” ended on NBC, fans still can’t let go of the sitcom about four roommates – Dorothy, Rose, Blanche and Sophia – about aging, dating and cheesecake. The first month of reservations sold out before the pop-up opened on July 30, what the internet considers National Golden Girls Day. It’s just the latest example of comedy becoming relevant to pop culture again. In just the past few months, the first-ever Golden-Con fan convention was held in Chicago, and a pilot for an animated, futuristic “Golden Girls” series is in the works.

Bucket Listers, an online event agency, hosted the pop-up. It had the blessing of Disney, which owns the rights to ‘Golden Girls’. The organizers were therefore free to place Easter Egg references in the decor and menu. Upon entering, fans are immediately greeted by a bartender at the Shady Pines bar. Further inside is a replica of the women’s kitchen counter, complete with a yellow wall telephone. Behind the dining room is a recreation of Blanche’s bedroom, including the iconic banana leaf bedspread and wallpaper.

“It was so heartwarming to see my mother beaming. I know she’s watched the show at least 50 times every season,” said AJ Maloney, 23, who came from San Diego with her mother, Shellee, 45.

Derek Berry, Bucket Listers experiences director, has a lot of experience setting up pop-ups. Since 2016, he has overseen half a dozen restaurant tributes, starting with a “Saved By the Bell” dinner in Chicago. “Breaking Bad”, “Beverly Hills 90210” and “Good Burger” have also inspired fast-casual diners. Berry’s criteria for the pop-up treatment is whether a show has “staying power” and people are constantly citing it. “Golden Girls” was inevitable.

“Every time we announce a pop-up, we look at the reactions. People say, ‘I love it, but you should have done this!’ And they are always ‘Golden Girls’”, says Berry, who worked with a team of 45 members.

One of the most enjoyable aspects was working with Chef Royce Burke to come up with and name menu items. The choices, of course, include lasagna — which Sicilian-born Sophia often cooked — and various flavors of cheesecake. There are also references to Scandinavian treats Rose mentions in her stories about her hometown of St. Olaf, Minnesota.

“I love all the St. Olaf items that you never knew were real or not,” Berry said. “We threw a few at it. It’s so fun to watch my staff and I try to pronounce them.”

The pop-up only has reservations until the end of October. But its popularity is beyond expectations. So much so that there are plans to take it on the road to New York, Chicago, San Francisco and, of course, Miami, Berry added.

“The Golden Girls” premiered in 1985. None of the four stars are alive. Bea Arthur, Rue McClanahan and Estelle Getty all died in the late 2000s and Betty White passed away last December at the age of 99. But due to its cable reruns and streaming availability on Hulu, the show continues to find new life and new, younger fans. The vastly diverse demographics of the restaurant’s customers are proof of this.

Moses Nicholas and his girlfriend, Johanna James, both 18 and from Los Angeles, had a date over vegan lasagna and vegan cheesecake. Their reservation was a surprise gift from James’ mom, who knew they both grew up watching “Golden Girls” in syndication and still catch it on Hulu.

“For some reason there’s something so recognizable about the show to me,” Nicholas said. “I just think it’s really funny and it’s very comforting to watch.”

The couple’s ages are proof that the show “never dies,” James added.

Shirley Lyon and her three friends, all seniors, came from Palos Verdes, California, with their own drinking vessels. The quartet, who call themselves “golden girls”, brought “Golden Girls” mugs that they made, but with their faces on top of the characters. Just being in the restaurant brought back the joy they feel watching the sitcom.

“I think the people here all love them,” Lyon said. ‘I don’t think anyone will come who hasn’t experienced how precious they are. I just love their friendship.”

___ Follow Terry Tang on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ttangAP

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