You wouldn’t know it from the tired decor at TGI Fridays today, but this family restaurant has a sexy past. It was once a game-changing singles bar, which arrived on the cusp of the sexual revolution. We go back to the ’60s and ’70s to experience the original Fridays, and find out how it has changed the way we meet, date and marry.
Reported and produced by Dan Bobkoff. With Anna Mazarakis, Clare Rawlinson and Dan Richards. Special thanks to Dan Richards.
Note: This transcript may contain errors.
DAN BOBKOFF: Quick note before we start here: TGI Fridays was once a wild place so this podcast contains a little adult language and sexual content — and a few references to potato skins.
ELLEN LATTMAN: I was not what my father called ‘a loose girl,’ to go to the city, and to go to bars.
DB: Ellen Lattman was 22 and living at home with her parents.
EL: When I said I even thought about getting an apartment moving to the city, he said, “If you move to the city I will not make you a wedding, because girls get very loose when they go into the big city.”
DB: This was 1968. She was working as a teacher on Long Island..
EL: And friends called me and said ‘let’s go out, we’re going out to a bar in the city.’ And I was kind of prim and proper and I said ‘I don’t go to bars.’
I knew that people got together, gathered at bars, and drank, but there was lots of talk about not getting picked up at a bar, because you don’t know what’ll happen if you get picked up.
DB: But her friends insisted. Come to the Upper East Side, they said. This place isn’t like other bars.
She walks in, and it’s packed.
EL: It was an eye opener for me. I had never been to that kind of loud, filled with people I knew from high school and college…
DB: Young people standing three, four deep from the bar. And then a big, six foot tall guy walks over to Ellen and asks if she wants to go to a show.
EL: Why, I said, are you asking me out on a date? And he said ‘no.’ He said, ‘you see that guy sitting over there in the corner? He needs a date. He had a date with a girl, she broke the date tonight, and he still has the tickets.’ So I said, ‘what’s wrong with him? Why doesn’t he come over and ask me?’
DB: That guy in the corner is Stan. His roommate promised him to find the perfect date to replace the one who stood him up. Ellen looks over and Stan is cute, but he’s not her type. Too drunk, for one thing.
EL: His friend says to him, ‘this is the girl we’ve picked out for you.’ and he said to me, ‘I can do better.’ And I said, ‘really?’ ‘And I said ‘well then go right ahead. I had no interest in you anyway.’
DB: He said that right to your face?
EL: Yeah! Between you and me, I said ‘fuck you’ and walked away. (laughs)
DB: This was the kind of place where women were making the call, where the playing field was a little more even…and where a woman like Ellen realized she could pick and choose.
That place? TGI Fridays.
This is not the Fridays I know today. This wasn’t in a mall or an airport. There were no potato skins. No families with kids.
This was the Upper East Side of Manhattan, at a time when TGI Fridays was the hottest place to be young and single in New York. It was like…the Tinder …of the 1960s.
MOIRA WEIGEL: I grew up thinking of TGI Fridays as the place we went in the mall when we went to visit family in Jersey. (laughs) I had no idea it played this important role on the precipice of the sexual revolution.
MIKIE BAKER: You know all the young singles wanted to go to Fridays, that was the hot spot —
ALAN STILLMAN: The police came along and stopped traffic on First Avenue. Literally stopped traffic.
JIM WEST: You felt as a bartender that you were like a rock and roll star, and you were going to be onstage.
BILLY BOB HARRIS: It was the social scene in Dallas —
AS: New York — Houston–
DAN SCOGGIN: Chicago —
AS: In Little Rock, Arkansas, it was a phenomenon!
DS: Atlanta —
MB: Seattle —
AS: Who in the hell? In Little Rock, Arkansas…Houston…it was an amazing happening.
DB: From Business Insider and Stitcher, this is Household Name. Brands you know, and stories you don’t.
I’m Dan Bobkoff. I’m a business reporter, and I’ve been thinking for a while now about how much of our lives are lived through brands.
They’re where we work, and shop, where we make things. They’re where many difficult and important moments happen in our lives.
Really, most of your life is navigated through brands.
So on this show, we’ll find the surprising tales behind America’s biggest companies, and how they changed our lives – for better or worse.
Today – how did TGI Fridays — of all companies — change how we meet, date and marry?
A place where many tried their first pickup line. Crowds formed around the block in many cities where they’d opened.
And then, what happened? How’d they go from that, to what we know it as today?
We’ll trace it from the swinging ’60s of New York City to a wild Dallas to the suburbs. Stay with us.
DB: So let’s get back to Ellen at TGI Fridays on the Upper East Side. It’s the late 60s.
EL: Well the food, as they say, at Fridays was great. Everybody either had hamburgers or this giant salad that came in a wooden bowl, I remember that. It was all people I’d say in their 20s, cause like I said there were so many people I knew from college and high school.
DB: Do you remember any pick up lines from that era?
EL: I think at that time people like came over pretty nicely and I think what you started to talk about was you know, ‘Hi, how are you? Where’d you go to school? What do you work at?’ That kind of thing.
DB: I found stories of the restaurant’s early days a little hard to believe. And when Moira Weigel was researching dating, she couldn’t believe the TGI Fridays’ story either.
MW: I don’t think of it as having a ton of character. I think of it as a chain restaurant.
DB: Moira wrote a book called Labor of Love: The Invention of Dating. We’re both in our mid-30s and we never experienced the early days of TGI Fridays.
DB: Isn’t that kind of crazy for people of our generation…to think, how that’s not that long ago, really.
MW: No it really — I mean yes, it is crazy, and it really isn’t that long ago, and I think we all have, cause we don’t tend to think of dating, or social life, in terms of its history, if you’re a normal person, we often forget how different things were not long ago, in historical time.
DB: So, a lot of things change in the ’60s, and of course TGI Fridays is one of them, but, uh, if you could sort of bring us back to the moment, what are sort of all the social, cultural things that are happening all at once in that decade.
MW: Yeah well, things are changing dramatically in the 1960s. I think the first thing that comes to mind of course is the FDA approval of oral contraceptive pill, Enovid, in 1960. The rates of women taking oral contraceptives skyrockets, across the 1960s, you have legal abortion on the horizon. So those factors make a big difference.
DB: So where did TGI Fridays come from? Who was this mastermind of this international franchise that attracted single women in droves, who capitalized on free love!?
His name: Alan Stillman.
AS: I was out looking for girls.
DB: How was that going before Fridays?
AS: Fair, not bad, but certainly…at the time, there was nothing like that for people in their 20s just getting out of college, there was no place really for them to hang out.
DB: Before he started Fridays, Alan Stillman was 28. He was living on the Upper East Side of Manhattan selling the kinds of flavors that food and drug companies add to their products.
AS: It’s called the essential oil business. I think the best order I ever got was 38 drums of strawberry flavor for Pfizer, which they put into a cough medicine.
DB: And around this time, for guys like Allan Stillman, often the best place, and sometimes the only place, to meet someone was in a private apartment at a cocktail party. There were almost always invite only.
AS: And you would get on the phone and you would call people and somebody would say ‘oh, I have this great party on 58th street and Fourth Avenue, and I’m sure I can get you invited,’ and you ran from cocktail party to cocktail party, to meet people.
DB: This wasn’t working so great for Alan. During the summer, after work, he’d often go to a corner bar , which was tired and drab. There was a bullet hole in the window.
AS: and I said to the bartender ‘you know, you oughta redecorate this place, put some sawdust on the floor, put some Tiffany lamps up’ — where I got that I had no idea, I was just throwing it around…and came back about two weeks later and said to the bartender ‘you really oughta do that,’ and he said ‘yeah, I guess it’s a pretty good idea, the people in this neighborhood have changed a lot.’
DB: Alan was frustrated. Every time, he’d walk into this bar, talk to the bartender about getting some young, single people in there, and every time the bartender was not into it. And then finally one day he says to Alan: Why don’t you do it?
AS: And I obviously said ‘what do you mean, why do I do it? There’s nothing here that I know about, that’s not what I do.’ ‘Eh, there’s not much, all you have to do is stand behind the bar and sell beer and liquor to anybody that walks in the door.’ And I said ‘OK,’ and I walked out the door.
DB: But Alan Stillman had another motive…
AS: My business plan was to meet a lot of women. It’s a hell of a business plan, I’ll tell you that.
The word “singles bar” was not invented, and I certainly didn’t think I was inventing anything like that, whatsoever.
DB: I don’t want to give him too much credit here. Stillman is the kind of guy who’s both modest and proud.
The truth is, he probably did create one of the first bars where it was socially acceptable for young, straight, single men and women to meet each other….which, I have to say, is kind of crazy that this didn’t exist until 1965.
But that wasn’t some grand plan, I think it was more of an… accident.
And the stars were all aligning for him
SEX AND THE CITY GIRL TRAILER: [WHISTLE] Wait’ll ya hear this.
DB: …. Here’s Moira Weigel again:
MS: 1965 is the year that Helen Gurley Brown takes over Cosmo.
SEX AND THE SINGLE GIRL: Most young women have sexual yearnings and feelings and they’re doing something about it and they’re enjoying it and I’m just saying, cut the guilt, it’s ok.
MS: And she’s just published this book called ‘Sex and the Single Girl,’ in 1962. It sells millions of copies
NEWS: Of course, Sex and the Single Girl, that titillating best seller by Helen Gurley Brown and the inspiration behind the hilarious new motion picture…Sex and the Single Girl will blush…
MS: this idea of the fun, fearless female, that it’s sexy to be working, that women are in the cities working, and also looking for dates, in fact Helen Gurley Brown often addresses her readers, calling them Playgirls, there’s this Playgirl idea, counterpart to the Playboy, that’s all very much in the air in 1965, in the moment that we’re talking about.
So, on the one hand, I guess like any successful business, it hits the market at the right moment, when the culture’s ready for it. On the other hand, it is a big deal, and it is very new, to have this idea of a respectable place where single men and single women go out to meet strangers, but it is nonetheless seen as sort of wholesome, and OK, and just adventurous enough, but not something to be associated with vice.
DB: And this is how Alan Stillman, seller of flavors and scents, stumbled into the sexual revolution and changed the lives of people like Ellen Lattman.
EL: Oh sure. Oh sure. The whole sexual revolution I think changed a lot things. You know, my parents, you save yourself until you get married. Virginity was very important to a lot of the people that I went with. And if you, when you lost your virginity, it was very secretive, it wasn’t like today, I mean kids go on the pill right after high school, before they go to college. So, I think the sexual revolution had a lot to do with it.
DB: It’s still hard to believe how different dating was back then. Before 1965, women generally didn’t go to bars alone. It was almost unthinkable as a woman. Women were generally accompanied, or chaperoned.
MW: It’s hard to remember now, but even as late as the ’60s, for a woman to go to a bar by herself to meet a man, in some contexts, it’s thought to be sort of scandalous. In the early part of the history of dating, it was seen as grounds of suspicion for vice charges, women are arrested, they’re thought to be doing sex work, often, if they’re out in bars on their own.
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In the 60s, you have these protests that are organized by members of the National Organization of Women, to be allowed to go to bars that ban women. I don’t know if it’s stigma or scandal or what but it’s definitely not accepted by everyone. And I think it’s funny, I have an aunt and uncle who met in a bar and I remember my parents talk about that’s fine but being a little bit like, ‘who’s this guy from this bar that you met?’
DB: There were even bars back then that were men-only…. until those protests, and then a 1970 court ruling that finally forced them to admit women.
Moira says the mid-60s had a Cosmo magazine-style feminism, where some women enjoyed new freedom, but also fashioned themselves as fun, sexy objects.
And in few places was that more apparent, than in the sky.
Airlines like Braniff actually advertised the sex appeal of their flight attendants, all of whom were women and for the most part required to be unmarried.
This is an actual ad from that same year, 1965. On the screen, is a flight attendant, pretty much stripping.
BRANIFF AD: When a Braniff international hostess meets you on the airplane, she’ll be dressed like this. After dinner on those long flights, she’ll slip into something a little more comfortable. The air strip is brought to you by Braniff international…
DB: And this is another reason for TGI Fridays success. It turns out many of those flight attendants were living near Alan on the Upper East Side. It was easy to get to the airport from there.
AS: There was actually a building there called ‘Stew Zoo,’ cause the building was filled up, mostly with stewardesses and pilots, and instead of a three bedroom apartment having a family in it, you would have six or eight stewardesses or pilots that would rotate, because the rent would be cheaper and they were away half the time.
DB: It was obvious to Allan that this particular spot on the Upper East Side was the perfect location for his singles bar.
Sooo…he borrowed a few grand from his mother, hired some guys to paint the outside blue with red stripes. And then, just before he opened in March of 1965, when he was still considering the name for the bar… Stillman went skiing with some friends.
AS: And I fell in a snowbank, and I turned to my friends that were there, and climbed out of a snowbank, and said ‘Thank God It’s Friday, we get two days to recover,’ and one of the guys that was there said ‘That’s a terrific name for your new bar,’ and I said ‘you know something, that is!’ And that’s really where the name came from, but in fact it was a college expression. People at that time in college – and I believe even today – literally say TGIF, great, we got two days off.
DB: And when it opened..it seemed like this huge hormonal release for the city.
AS: It became more similar to what a mosh pit is. It was so crowded and so, that you didn’t have to walk up to anybody to get a name or a telephone number. You bumped into them.
DB: Fridays was mobbed when it opened. Within a year, imitators sprung up on the block.
Cops had to close the street on the weekend because so many young singles were going back and forth. Newsweek in 1966 wrote that people called the area “The Body Exchange.” Two years later, New York Magazine called it the “Fertile Crescent”.
Fridays’ new competitors found their niches. The jocks went to Mr. Laffs up the street. An older set went to the tonier Maxwell’s Plum.
At one point, Alan found 50 singles waiting outside Friday’s. It’s fair to say, he was loving this life.
AS: No, I wasn’t interested in getting married. Who would want to get married? The owner-bartender at a place like that, single, was exactly where you should be when you were 28.
DB: Soon, Stillman created a small empire. He opened places called Thursdays and Tuesdays, and Wednesdays, and even a short-lived ice cream place called Sundae’s of course.
But the center of single life was Fridays and that strip of Manhattan on east 63rd street and 1st avenue.
After all those stories in magazines, people started to come in to Fridays, asking to open their own location. Like one guy who wanted to open one in Memphis.
AS: With all my intellectualism at the time, I said ‘what’s a franchise?’ So you can imagine the amount of business sense that went into this, if that was my attitude. That eventually turned into a partnership with two young men who had zero to do with the bar business. They were—
DB: Just like you.
AS: Just like me.
DB: Coming up, we’re off to Dallas, where things got even more wild. From Business Insider and Stitcher, this is Household Name. Stay with us.
DB: We’re back.
I don’t know about you, but I had just assumed TGI Fridays started in Anywhere, USA… maybe in a mall some place. I did not expect that it was a hot place in New York City… ..which raises the question: how did it turn into a huge national brand? …. Well, the ANSWER to that question takes us to Texas. Now, the bar scene in Texas then is nothing like it is today. In Texas, you couldn’t order a mixed drink until the ’70s.
JIM WEST: Before that, you had to get a brown bag, and put your liquor in that brown bag, and bring it to the restaurant, and they’d sell you mixers.
DB: This is Jim West – he was a kid in Dallas washing dishes at a Holiday Inn when the Friday’s opened nearby in 1972. He wasn’t even old enough to drink.
JW: Well I was a 17 year old kid, growing up in West Texas and TGI Fridays changed my life.
DB: Do you have a sense of what dating life was like in Dallas before 1972 ?
JW: Before that it was — I can’t say cloak and dagger — but it wasn’t uh, men were being more of the aggressors than the women. men had a certain role they played, women had a certain role they played, but Fridays changed all that pretty much overnight.
DB: So our question is how did TGI Fridays — that chain that now seems like some kind of suburban creation engineered to find new uses for potato skins — how did THAT place, help change how Americans date?
Let’s zoom out. The whole country was starting to catch up with the sexual revolution.
In Boston, an activist named Bill Baird was giving a lecture where he gave a college student condoms and some other contraceptives.
NEWS: But his illustration of how to use contraceptive devices got him thrown in jail. The battle to win reproductive freedom through the courts, kicks into high gear.
DB: It was 1967.
NEWS: Three more Supreme Court cases come out of Massachusetts…
DB: The Supreme Court gave unmarried women across the country the right to possess birth control.
So by the early ’70s, the rest of America was ready for a place like Friday’s.
When he turned 19, Jim West became a bartender at the the new Fridays in Dallas.
JW: And it was like the universe just shifted, because women. A lot of Braniff stewardesses there, so the place was just packed with the gorgeous women, and they had a new attitude. The new attitude was they could ask out, they didn’t have to just be asked out. You could almost feel the sexual tension in the air, and it was quite exciting actually.
DB: What would you have done in 1972 behind the bar?
JW: Other than get phone numbers? (laughs)
DB: The Dallas Friday’s was Alan Stillman’s creation on steroids. This was Texas-sized. It had two levels and you could look down and watch the action at the bar. And that bar was actually kind of a new thing.
It was a big rectangle, in the middle of the restaurant — not just along one side — so you could sit all around it, and that’s where all the action was on a typical Friday night.
JW: I wore a special shirt on Friday night, and that was my stud shirt. You know, I had I pretty good physique, and I wanted to make sure the women could see the pecks, cause I was gonna be on stage, you felt as a bartender like you were a rock and roll star, and you were going to be on stage. You know, I was handed panties on more than one occasion with a note.
DB: One of the Dallas Fridays’ early customers was a woman named Mikie Baker.
MB: Anybody who was anybody in town was over there at Fridays.
DB: Later, she actually became an employee at the corporation. It was her job to pick all the music that played in the restaurants. And she says in the mid-70s, on a typical Friday night, it was the place to be.
MB: And you were looking for date, you were looking for a guy, or they were looking for a gal, to, you know hook up. You pretty well could go out and have a different date as often as you want, if you understand what I’m saying.
And my line was ‘it was nice dancing with you.’ And that got me a few guys that followed me around the bar. (laughs) But they had all sorts of bad lines, the guys did. The football players would hang out there, the Cowboys would hang out there. Billy Bob Harris—
BBH: Hello Dan, my name’s Billy Bob Harris. I’m in Dallas.
DB: Billy… Bob… Harris. High-rolling stockbroker, and famous Dallas bachelor.
MB: Good lookin, and drove a flashy Corvette, you know he was always showing up, and have a babe on each arm, and stuff like that.
BBH: I went up to a girl and said ‘Let me ask you something, it you were me, and I wanted to meet you, how would you go about it?’ She kinda smiled and she said ‘well so far you’re doing pretty good on your own, let’s just see how you go ahead.’ It was that type of atmosphere. A friendly type of atmosphere.
DB: You get the picture… it could be a wild place – it was both totally liberating…and also running pretty high on testosterone.
The guy running the chain back then was a man named Dan Scoggin… and he remembers those unchaste nights.
DAN SCOGGIN: A young lady would disappear down below the level of the bar, and a young man’s eyes would roll back after a while.
DB: Back then, in the early ’70s, Dan Scoggin was reaping the benefits of Fridays himself.
DS: I um, became quite the ladies man because I had this pickup line that was just, you know, fool-proof. I’d be standing at the bar in Fridays and say ‘Hi darling, I own this place.’ (laughs)
DB: And that always went over well?
DS: It seemed to work. It seemed to work.
DB: If Alan Stillman is the guy who invented the singles bar at the right place at the right time in New York, Dan is the guy who took it national just as the country was ready.
And like Alan, he wasn’t a restaurateur…he had no experience in hospitality.
DS: I was Mr. High Polish Wingtips and freshly pressed suit, and you know, I was the typical young corporate executive right out of type casting.
DB: Here’s the backstory: Dan had been a company man at a place called Boise Cascade. He worked his way up to run half the country’s container manufacturing and sales for Boise.
And one day he was sitting at the TGI Fridays that had opened in Memphis with a colleague when he realized he wanted to become an entrepreneur.
DS: I said, ‘You know, if we don’t do something one of these days, we’re gonna be old men before we realize our dream,’ I said ‘even it’s something stupid like this.’ And I pointed to the restaurant.
DB: And if you don’t mind me asking, were you single back then?
DS: Uh, I didn’t know it, but I was about to become single.
DB: He got divorced, quit his job, and changed his look.
DS: I went from a Lear Jet to a Volkswagen bus, and I went from a Brooks Brothers suit to a, bell-bottom trousers, and surprisingly, a beard.
DB: The business details here aren’t that important. Basically Dan started out licensing franchises from Alan, and quickly ended up merging the franchises into one company: TGI Fridays, Inc.. Dan as first CEO.
And he drove that VW bus across the country on his way to open that Dallas location, picking up a lot of the touches and tchotchkes that define the TGI Fridays look.
DS: I found a carousel chicken, that was one of the original carved wood, beautifully hand-painted chickens. I had um, chandeliers that had come out of some opera house, that I had put up on the raised level.
DB: By now, you know what happened. When he opened the Dallas location in 1972, the place was mobbed.
Then Houston…Atlanta… Indianapolis. It was a real chain.
Before long, Jim West was no longer just a bartender; he was a regional manager. And in each city, he says it was like the singles in town had pent up desire.
JW: We felt like the circus had come to town in many respects. It was a big fanfare, and as we went to more cities, the crowds were huge, and people couldn’t wait to unleash these passions.
DB: So what happened to those passions? How did we end up with the TGI Fridays of today?
That’s what I want to look at next.
DB: And we’re back. It’s 2018. Well past the days of scandalous air travel, and I can’t remember the time I saw someone in real life write their number on a napkin…!
So where is Friday’s now? What happened over the years since its initial explosion?
Well for starters, the original Friday’s in Dallas closed years ago. Jim West left the company in the 1980s.
When I met him recently in Dallas, he had given up that stud shirt from his bartending days. He was living in a suburb called Plano.
JW: We opened in April and outside we have a 25 foot screen…
DB: He’d opened a cavernous bar called Hub Streat…which for some reason he spelled S-T-R-E-A-T. But like at the original Fridays, there are two levels, so you can look down, and see what’s happening.
JW: This has all the elements of a TGI Fridays because TGI Fridays was a social gathering place.
DB: How is it different than what you saw, you know 35, 40 years ago?
JW: There’s more texting going on [laughs]. Everything is through a cell phone, it seems like.
DB: Today, TGI Fridays is struggling, most of its competitors are too – like Applebee’s and Chili’s. TGI Fridays is trying to find an identity that suits this era.
TGIF AD: Fridays: endless apps. You keep coming in for them so we keep coming up with them.
Alan Stillman, the guy who started it all in New York, is in his 80s now.
He’s astonished that Friday’s has maintained the red stripes of his original. And when he travels the world and sees a Friday’s in a place like China, he marvels at what he’s created. But it’s not the same.
AS: It’s become more of a family operation. And the people that it competes with are also family restaurants.
DB: Why do you think it lost its singles origin and became more of a family restaurant?
AS: You don’t need a TGI Fridays bar scene to meet somebody either male or female or female or male or for that matter anybody to anybody. We’re back to all the electronics around here. It’s just not a necessity, whereas at the time, although I didn’t know it, we invented a necessity and we solved a problem that was a really big problem.
DB: He’s right. TGI Fridays is no longer a necessity.
Today it’s nothing special to find a bar where single women can choose a partner for the night. The explosion of dating apps helps, too.
MW: A bar is a kind of 3D Tinder, if you want to do it in reverse.
DB: Moira Weigel, who has researched our dating lives, has thought a lot about how Fridays changed the way that we meet and mate.
MW: Tinder seems like it’s a remediation, or an imitation of something, like a bar, or a college party, where you’re just panning around a room. But in fact —
DB That’s what the founder says, when people criticize Tinder for not having any information, it’s just like seeing somebody at a bar, like you don’t have very much information to go on.
MW: Yeah, totally. And I remember, I think they launched in 2012, and they like threw this big frat-ish party in LA to launch, and they had like college students as their early members or something, and it’s like this entire branding of the app that was sort of drawing on the imaginary of the big college party, it’s like ‘where are you gonna meet?’ It’s exactly what you’re saying, that it’s just like seeing people at a party.
DB: To Moira, TGI Friday’s changed the way we date because it took meeting and mating out of homes and clubs.
MW: I feel like what it really is, is when the platform of courtship moves out of the private space in market space. So you know, if you think of like a Jane Austen novel, the Jane Austen scenario, and you’re sitting at home with your mom and your sister and Mr. Darcy comes and sees you, and the platform belongs to your parents, who have every incentive for you to pair up with Mr. Darcy so that you can inherit family wealth, and you know, transmit property, and accomplish all those things the institution of marriage accomplishes.
DB: So think about it. Incentives for romance and courtship changed. The sexual revolution helped women take charge of their fertility. And that gave businesses an incentive to earn a commission from all this courting.
TGI Fridays was one the first to capitalize on this. And that inspired thousands more brands, bars and clubs since Fridays.
But as time passed, the original Fridays template been replaced with new, fresher spaces and do the same thing – with even more ease, and even greater profit. Tinder’s worth three billion dollars.
MB: Yeah it is sad. It’s very sad. Like I said, I don’t go there anymore.
DB: Fridays originals like Mikie Baker can’t get over how outdated the chain feels now.
Jim West visited one recently and it didn’t go well.
JW: I could’ve been anywhere. I could have been in any chain and you know, I love that brand, and am very prideful of that brand, is so it was easier for me to just exit than to continue the experience.
DB: So you actually walked out?
JW: I walked out, yeah.
DB: Eventually Fridays became more of a family place in the ’80s. By 1990, Dan Scoggin, Mikie Baker and Jim West had all left Friday’s. Alan Stillman had left long before, going off to discover good wine and start Smith and Wollensky steak houses.
And remember Ellen Lattman, who we meant at the top of the show? I was wondering if she’d been to a TGI Fridays recently.
EL: Uh, just one time, out on Long Island. And I hated it. (laughs)
DB: What was it like?
EL: It’s like, a very casual, low-rent, hamburger joint, for families. No longer is it for – well I don’t think for kids. I don’t think they go to Fridays, anymore.
DB: But Ellen did end up getting something more than a good burger and salad from Fridays…That charmer, Stan, who she didn’t have much patience for that first night at Fridays…
EL: Between you and me I said ‘fuck you’ and walked away.
DB: Well he managed to get her number via his wingman anyway.
EL: And Stan called me the next day, and said ‘I’m so sorry,’ he said, ‘I must have insulted you, I don’t remember what I said, but I really do have these tickets, and I really would like to take you out.’
DB: And then he took her to a show.
EL: I think it was Carousel…
DB: The date went a lot better than when they met at Fridays.
EL: Three months later we were engaged, and nine months later we were married. (laughs) That’s the end of the story.
DB: So is the lesson here to insult someone on the first date?
EL: He’s never lived that down! But as I said he didn’t remember it, and he’s really a nice, quiet, lovely guy, but he was inebriated…We’re coming on 50 years, so it worked.
DB: Fifty years. And it’s all because of Fridays.
EL: And it’s all because of Fridays. Absolutely.
DB: So it was the end of of my trip to Dallas when I was reporting this story. I get to the airport and go to my gate, and almost like fate, right in front of me, at the gate is a TGI Fridays.
I had to go in.
And it looks like a Fridays. There are still trinkets on the walls. There’s rectangular bar in the center.
I sit down, order an iced tea, I look around. Around the bar are travelers that look tired, a few of them are small talking. And then I start talking to the bartender.
DB: Do you mind if I ask you some questions for a podcast?
BARTENDER: Give me just a minute, OK?
DB: Sure, no rush.
DB: This will not come as a surprise at noon in the airport at Fridays in 2018, but I had to ask the bartender anyway. Does anyone go on dates here?
BARTENDER: Here not quite so much because they can’t just sneak off and leave, cause they have to catch a flight but constant exchanging numbers, ‘we should be facebook friends, and you should follow me on this.’ It’s a different time. People want different things. What worked back then doesn’t necessarily work today. Nowadays most of the younger people aren’t really going to chains anymore. They’re, you know, they like the food trucks and the independent restaurants. So it’s just a different day and age.
DB: Stick around for what’s coming up in this premiere season of Household Name…
To hear Household Name without ads and to get access to the first six episodes…sign up for Stitcher Premium at stitcherpremium.com/householdname and use promo code HOUSEHOLD.
This episode was produced and reported by me, Dan Bobkoff. My producers think I’m obsessed with potato skins. They are Anna Mazarakis, Clare Rawlinson and Dan Richards, who actually found this story on a Tinder date at a bar!
Our editor is Peter Clowney.
Mixing, sound design and original theme music by Casey Holford and The Reverend John DeLore.
Chris Bannon, Laura Mayer and Jenny Radelet are our executive producers at Stitcher.
Special thanks to Claire Valdez, Peter Lattman, Peter Haden, Nich Carlson, Rich Kennedy, and our intern, Sarah Wyman. And we want to be a household name in the podcast world! Please leave us a rating and review on Apple Podcasts. It really helps.
Household Name is a production of Insider Audio.
Coming up on Household Name…
We’re heading to the edge of the earth…to find the last Blockbuster video stores.
CLIP: My phone at home is just starting to go beep beep beep, we’re getting all these messages talking about Russell Crowe or John Oliver.
DB: Also – did Donald Trump save Pizza Hut? Or did Pizza Hut save Donald Trump?
CLIP: I would also start talking like Ivana and thinking to myself ‘what would Ivana say if he said it’s wrong?’ And I’d probably say ‘it feels so right, feels so right.’
DB: And…you know Two Buck Chuck at Trader Joe’s. Will the real Charles Shaw please stand up?
CLIP: I took one taste of that wine and it almost broke my heart.