Did you know that the tourist trap you avoid in Times Square is actually a native New Yorker? These days T.G.I. Friday’s may be more attached to suburban strip malls than Big City life, but it was founded here in 1965. The man behind the chain was a young Manhattanite named Alan Stillman, who was just "looking to meet girls."
A few years ago Edible Geography talked to the man behind the chain (and other restaurants, like Smith & Wollensky), which simply started out as an Upper East Side singles bar. Some say the FIRST singles bar, though when the NY Times printed that in 1998 they were schooled—"The response from our readers was swift, stern... 'Malachy's, on Third Avenue between 63d and 64th Street, preceded T.G.I. Friday's by at least a year.'" Here's the now-reviled chain's origin story, according to Stillman himself:
"I lived on 63rd Street between First and York. Easy access to the 59th Street bridge meant you could get out of New York quickly, so in that two or three block neighborhood, there was a pile of airline stewardesses — and for whatever reason, there was also a whole bunch of models. Basically, a lot of single people all lived between 60th and 65th and between York Avenue and 3rd Avenue. It seemed to me that the best way to meet girls was to open up a bar."
The area Stillman is referring to was called "The Girl Ghetto" by some, and was where many young single females lived until Prince Charming came along. Stillman added that his success was in part due to timing—there weren't a lot of other bars, and many people were just hopping around cocktail parties. With his bar, he brought the cocktail party to one place... also, the pill:
"My timing was exquisite, because I opened T.G.I. Friday’s the exact year the pill was invented. I happened to hit the sexual revolution on on the head, and the result was that, without really intending it, I became the founder of the first singles bar. The reason that it happened is that I used to stop into this corner bar near where I lived—a dirty old First Avenue bar with a bullet hole in the window called 'The Good Tavern'—and I used to talk to the bartender. I would say to him, 'You know, you ought to change the décor in here or do something with it—it would be a great place for all these people round here to meet each other.' Eventually he said, 'Why don’t you do it?' Five thousand dollars later, I had bought the premises with a short lease, and I was off and running."
It became so popular ropes were put up outside to keep order in lines. Today, by the way, that original spot is called Baker Street Pub, and you can find a T.G.I. Friday's in every corner of America... though you're not likely to meet that special someone there.
Another fun Friday's fact: It was one of the first to use Ladies' Night promotions, and Stillman says Tom Cruise's entrepreneurial character in Cocktail was based on him—"Have you seen the movie Cocktail? Tom Cruise played me! Why do girls want to date the bartender? To this day, I’m not sure that I get it."