Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Apocalyptic Union Square T.G.I. Fridayification

Leave the chicken wing! Take the tofu!

Newspapers are reporting, tweets are buzzing, deep friers are warming, Guy Fieri enthusiasts are rejoicing, and sane people are aghast at the latest news on the amassing vacancies in Union Square: T.G.I. Friday's is moving in! To 34 Union Square East! Yes, you heard it right, kids. It's replacing the space formerly occupied by Zen Palate, which left its nirvana behind at 34 USE in 2007. Oh, and Tim Horton's (the Canadian Dunkin Donuts) is also carving out a hole for itself in the same space. If Zen Palate can trace its roots to Buddhism (albeit quite loosely), then T.G.I. Friday's hails from the Jalapeno Poppers School of Dining.

Look, I moved to New York in 2002: I'm not saying I remember Times Square to be the drug-infested den it once was; I did not live in Greenwich Village during the time that inspired Jonathan Larson to pen Rent; I am unable to channel my Johnny Boy or Charlie when I walk through the LES (look, I even abbreviated it); I know Williamsburg only to be the hipster haven that it is; jokes about Giuliani "cleaning up the streets" often elude me.

Regardless, I am a human who can fully appreciate the angry "are you kidding me?" feeling over the moving in of a generic franchise into a relatively franchise-free area. I love that I can cook a whole meal using fresh, local ingredients from the Union Square farmer's market just a few blocks from my apartment. Even if I don't buy anything at the farmer's market, I love strolling through the market, looking at the goods, and watching tourists take pictures and locals ready their evening's dinner plans. I relish the thought of getting ice cream on a cone (with sprinkles, of course!) from the Mr. Softee truck that sits outside the now defunct Virgin Records and sitting on the steps of the park watching all the people go by. And even though it can be frustrating when I'm in a rush, I still enjoy averting skateboard disaster from the cool high school skater kids as I try to make a beeline for the other side of the park. There is a novelty in a popular public urban space like Union Square, a mini epicenter, where almost every person that walks across the park is dressed the part for a rock band, a catwalk, or a Nylon photoshoot (with the occasional Grateful Dead commemoration concert types). It just doesn't get much better than here.

I know what you're thinking: such a child of the 2000s, I am: Union Square was done for the minute Whole Foods unpacked the contents of its U-Haul. Most of the shops that outline the park are chain stores. I get it, I get it. I know all of this. I know that Lululemon and Sketchers are not the ultimate in urban edginess. But T.G.I. Friday's brings the place to a whole new level. A Times Square level. It's not that the restaurant is a chain; it's that it's generic. I've noticed that the people who patronize the T.G.I.F. in Times Square are often tourists who find comfort in the food that they know back home. That's fine--that's great! We all do that to a certain extent. But why come here then? I'm not proselytizing, but I just happen to be a member of the "when in Rome" camp: when in New York, eat at the places that it's famed for. And it doesn't have to be expensive: I go to Gray's Papaya just as happily as the next person (trust me on this one).

Alas, here we are, and here we will be: stuck with potato skins and Hi-Liter-blue margaritas.

Be happy and Carpe Diem!

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