Picture it: A vacant Beverly Hills bistro has been turned into the set of a 1980s sitcom about four women living in Miami — but it’s also a working restaurant.
Reservations have been going strong at the newly opened The Golden Girls Kitchen. Some patrons have come from abroad 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 just to see it.
“I was a little hesitant to come, but my kids’ mom really wanted to come,” said Saunders, who was wearing a T-shirt referencing the sitcom’s fictional Shady Pines retirement home. “It’s been a good time… the lasagna, the strawberry daiquiri and I’ll 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 housemates — Dorothy, Rose, Blanche and Sophia — who bond over aging, dating and cheesecake. The first month’s reservations sold out before the pop-up opened on July 30, which the internet considers National Golden Girls Day. It’s just the latest example of the comedy becoming pop culture relevant again. Over 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 being shopped around.
Bucket Listers, an online events company, organized the pop-up. It had the blessing of Disney, which owns the rights to “Golden Girls.” So 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 table, 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’s been so heartwarming to see my mom light up. 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’ director of experiences, has plenty of experience staging pop-ups. Since 2016, he has overseen half a dozen restaurant tributes, starting with a “Saved By the Bell” diner 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 if 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 comments. People are like, ‘I love it, but you should have done this!’ And it’s always ‘Golden Girls,’” said Berry, who worked with a 45-member team.
One of the most fun aspects was working with Executive Chef Royce Burke to devise menu items and name them. Of course, the choices include lasagna – which the Sicilian-born Sophia often cooked – and different varieties of cheesecake. There are also references to Scandinavian delicacies mentioned by Rose in her stories about her hometown of St. Olaf, Minnesota.
“I like all the St. Olaf items where you never knew if they were real or not,” Berry said. “We threw a few in there. It’s so much fun watching my staff and myself trying to pronounce them.”
The pop-up only has reservations until the end of October. But its popularity has exceeded all 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 died last December at the age of 99. But due to cable reruns and the availability of streaming on Hulu, the series is constantly finding new life and new, younger fans. The very varied demographics of the restaurant’s patrons are proof of that.
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’ mother, who knew they both grew up watching “Golden Girls” in syndication and still catch it on Hulu.
“There’s something that’s so relatable to the show for me for some reason,” Nicholas said. “I just think it’s really funny and it’s very comforting to see.”
The couple’s age is just proof that the show “never dies,” James added.
Shirley Lyon and her three friends, all senior citizens, came from Palos Verdes, California, with their own drinks. The quartet, who call themselves the “Golden Girls,” brought “Golden Girls” mugs they made, but with their faces superimposed on the characters. Just being in the restaurant brought back the joy they feel when watching the sitcom.
“People here I think all love them,” Lyon said. “I don’t think there will be anyone who hasn’t experienced how precious they are. I just love their friendship.”