Joe Saunders, of Cranston, Rhode Island, his two teenage boys and their mother were visiting Northern California when they learned about the pop-up. So they made a special trip south just to see him.
“I was a little hesitant to come, but the mother of my children really wanted to come,” said Saunders, who wore a t-shirt referencing the sitcom’s fictional Shady Pines retirement home. “It’s been a good time… lasagna, strawberry daiquiri and I’m also going to have a piece of cake with ice cream.”
Thirty years after NBC’s “The Golden Girls” ended, fans still can’t give up on the sitcom about four housemates – Dorothy, Rose, Blanche and Sophia – bonding over aging, dating and cheesecake. The first month of bookings sold out before the pop-up opened on July 30, which the internet considers National Golden Girls Day. This is just the latest example of comedy becoming pop culture relevant again. In the past few months alone, the first-ever Golden-Con fan convention has taken place in Chicago, and a pilot for an animated, futuristic “Golden Girls” series is in the works.
Bucket Listers, an online events company, organized the pop-up. It had the blessing of Disney, which owns the rights to “Golden Girls.” Thus, the organizers were free to put Easter Egg references in the decor and the 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 phone. Behind the dining room is a recreation of Blanche’s bedroom, including the signature banana leaf bedspread and wallpaper.
“It was so heartwarming to see my mother light up. I know she watched the show at least 50 times a season,” said AJ Maloney, 23, who traveled from San Diego with her mother, Shellee, 45.
Derek Berry, Director of Experiences at Bucket Listers, has a lot of experience staging pop-ups. Since 2016, he’s overseen half a dozen restaurant tributes, starting with a “Saved By the Bell” dinner in Chicago. “Breaking Bad,” “Beverly Hills 90210,” and “Good Burger” also inspired fast-casual diners. Berry’s criteria for pop-up treatment is if a show has “resistance” and people consistently cite it. “Golden Girls” was inevitable.
“Every time we announce a pop-up, we look at the comments. People are like ‘I love this, but you should have done this!’ And it’s still ‘Golden Girls’,” said Berry, who worked with a 45-member team.
One of the most fun things was working with Executive Chef Royce Burke to design menu items and name them. Choices of course include lasagna – which the Sicilian-born Sophia often cooked – and various flavors of cheesecake. There are also references to Scandinavian specialties mentioned by Rose in her stories about her hometown of St. Olaf, Minnesota.
“I love all the St. Olaf items where you never knew if they were real or not,” Berry said. “We threw a couple there. 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 has been beyond expectations. So much so that there are plans to take him 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 passed away in the late 2000s, and Betty White passed away last December at the age of 99. Yet, due to cable reruns and streaming availability on Hulu, the series continues to find new life and new, younger fans. The highly variable 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 booking was a surprise gift from James’ mother, who knew they both grew up watching “Golden Girls” in syndication and still caught it on Hulu.
“There’s something so connected to the show for me for some reason,” Nicholas said. “I find it really funny and it’s very heartwarming to watch.”
The couple’s age is just proof that the show “never dies,” James added.
Shirley Lyon and her three girlfriends, all of whom are senior citizens, traveled from Palos Verdes, Calif., with their own drinks. The quartet, who call themselves ‘golden girls’, brought ‘Golden Girls’ mugs which they made but with their faces superimposed on the characters. Just being at the restaurant brought back the joy they feel watching the sitcom.
“I think people here all love them,” Lyon said. “I don’t think anyone comes along who hasn’t experienced how precious he is. I love their friendship.
___ Follow Terry Tang on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ttangAP