Last year, in the early days of March, I had the pleasure of walking around New York City with legendary tour guide Timothy “Speed” Levitch. As we traversed the downtown streets and parks, Levitch narrating the history of the city with typical effervescence, we noticed it was a little emptier than usual. We didn’t know it then, but we were spending time together in the last moments of semi-ignorant bliss, just before a citywide shutdown that would put life as we knew it on pause for over a year. Just a few days later, we’d all be isolating in our own homes.
But that week, plenty of New Yorkers and tourists were still out — unmasked, just a little wary. At the corner of Bedford and Grove streets, however, things were bustling. This otherwise quiet section of the West Village had a steady stream of tourists who all seemed to be having some sort of religious experience at a brick wall.
It’s the Friends wall, Levitch told me.
“People come here, in 2020?,” I asked. “The show wasn’t even filmed here!”
We were staring at 90 Bedford Street, which served as the exterior for the building that housed the apartments of Monica Geller, Chandler Bing, Rachel Green, Joey Tribbiani and at times Phoebe Buffay. Ross Geller never resided there (though had
some brief stays) but was a frequent visitor. It existed in seconds-long bursts throughout the series, and was one of the only times you’d see the real New York in the show.
We got our first glimpse of this building when the show debuted in September 1994, and while the series was filmed on a set in Los Angeles, this establishing shot — seen over and over again throughout the show’s 10 season run (and endless syndication) — was embedded in viewers’ minds. Once its location was revealed in 1997, it became a pop culture pilgrimage site, “a mecca,” Levitch called it, complete with an “analogous Western Wall.”
Fans from all over quickly caught on that this was The Friends Building, but shockingly it was only less than a decade ago that they started to tag the wall with quotes from the show. According to a 2019 article in The New Yorker, it all began by accident, with an innocent chalk tag directed not at a character from the show, but at the chef of the restaurant that anchors the building.
“About six years ago, a street-artist friend of [Little Owl chef Joey] Campanaro’s wrote ‘i love joey’ in chalk on the side of the building. Tourists, not realizing it was a message for Campanaro, started scrawling Friends catchphrases in marker all over the wall.” Campanaro said his landlord wouldn’t like it, and that he’d have to clean it up, but it’s only grown since then. This, despite a small sign in the window of an apartment that politely requests, “do not write on our building.”
Looking back over the crowd before we left, Levitch joked, “I was thinking that could be a new Seinfeld episode” (his preferred ’90s sitcom). “Get all the Seinfeld characters together, and they’re here, and like, ‘Guys, Friends changed the world, what did we do?'”
Video by Sai Mokhtari.