A key part of hospitality is saying “thank you,” something that gets forgotten in a world twisted by entitled customers and despondent servers. But diners who roll through the new Golden Girls pop-up debuting on Wednesday, May 9 in Wicker Park will hear those magic words at least every 45 minutes.
That’s because at Golden Girls Kitchen the speakers will play the TV show’s beloved theme song, Thank You For Being a Friend every 45 minutes. With the pop-up being officially licensed, it wouldn’t be much of an experience without hearing that tune. With the full backing of Disney, Hulu, and Hallmark Channel — all entities which own rights to the TV show — they’ve also secured the rights to use the song from the estate of songwriter Andrew Gold (Gold’s wife also sent them sheet music and a few vintage photos).
When the tune plays staff will stop what their doing and start clapping, says Derek Berry, the VP of experiences for Bucketlisters.
It’s been six and a half years since Berry got into the pop-up business with a half-cooked Facebook post that led to partnering with NBC on Saved By The Max, the pop-up that launched his career as the Pop-Up King of Chicago starting with the ‘90s sitcom Saved By The Bell. Berry, who now lives in LA, has gone on to Good Burger, Kevin Smith, and Barbie. The Max exceeded expectations turning into a national tour that took Berry to LA and New York. Beyond his fancy title, Berry knows the landscape for pop-ups is different since he imagined a restaurant inspired by the adventures of Samuel “Screech” Powers and Jessie Spano.
Berry is a fan of all of this and he knows fellow fans will see through any weak attempts to shakedown customers for money. Authenticity is a loaded term when it comes to restaurants for many reasons. And when it comes to pop culture fandom, which teeters into creepy and toxic at times (looking at you, Star Wars), the question surrounding authenticity remains: Who are you trying to please?
For Berry, it’s not so much in targeting specific people, but it’s about adhering to core values. The food needs to make diners smile. The staff needs to remain patient while guests geek out. And the space needs to be full of scenes that ignite memories and give customers a reason to use social media. Golden Girls Kitchen starts with the song and leans into the show’s ‘80s Miami setting. And then there’s plenty of cheesecake, a food that helped the women work out feelings. Even on Monday, the staff was trying to perfect a Miami-style Cubano with roast pork. Quality Cuban sandwiches are hard to find in Chicago — the bread doesn’t measure up to Miami or Tampa. Berry and Bucketlisters want to transport customers to the Florida retirement community where Sophia, Blanche, Dorothy, and Rose lived. Berry also points to a hearty slab of lasagna that he imagines Estelle Getty whipping up in the kitchen.
They’ve taken over Cheesie’s Pub & Grub in Wicker Park and the sibling bar next door, Whiskey Business. Crews knocked down the wall so visitors could walk through both spaces indoors. The scenes downstairs include the kitchen, Blanche’s bedroom, and the Rusty Bucket bar (a second bar is around the corner). Guests will enter through Cheesie’s.
Upstairs, on the Whiskey Business side, folks can eat on the roof and watch their favorite episodes on giant video screens. Berry says they’re working on getting headphones so customers could also hear the dialog. Bucketlisters is working with Whiskey Business’s owners to perhaps use the space regularly for future pop-ups. They’re already working with them to bring Malibu Barbie to their West Loop bar, Electric Garden.
As the Golden Girls remains iconic within the LGBTQ community, the pop-up will also host drag brunches on the weekends. The pop-up is also kid friendly. Berry notes that in New York, parents brought their little ones and the father of two expects Chicago to be no different.
Walk through the space below.