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10 Flair-Covered Facts About TGI Fridays

This family favorite started life as a rocking icon of the mid-century singles scene.

1. IT WAS ORIGINALLY ONE OF THE FIRST COED COCKTAIL BARS.

In the 1960s, Manhattan’s Upper East Side was filled with young singles—but the only way for them to mingle was by meeting up for in-home cocktail parties. Sure there were bars, but respectable women didn’t frequent them. So in 1965, a young perfume salesman named Alan Stillman, who was “looking to meet girls,” decided to open an institution that was designed to be patronized by both men and women. He bought a bar on 63rd Street and First Avenue called the Good Tavern, renamed it T.G.I. Friday’s, and started redecorating to make it more female-friendly. “If you think that I knew what I was doing, you are dead wrong,” he told Edible Geography in 2010, but whatever it was, it worked. The first-ever (although there’s some debate about that) so-called “fern bar” was a such a success that traffic had to be rerouted around the bar on Friday nights for four hours until midnight.

2. IN CREATING THE FIRST SINGLES BAR, STILLMAN IMPACTED THE COURSE OF AMERICA’S SOCIAL HISTORY

In the December 1994 issue of American Heritage, Stillman was listed as one of "10 people who changed the way you live." The article praised the TGI founder for having “effectively begun the commercialization of sexual freedom"—an era that benefited from the near-simultaneous introduction of the birth control pill. "My timing was exquisite, because I opened T.G.I. Friday’s the exact year the pill was invented," Stillman told Edible Geography. "I happened to hit the sexual revolution on the head, and the result was that, without really intending it, I became the founder of the first singles bar."

3. AS T.G.I. FRIDAY’S SPREAD ACROSS THE COUNTRY, IT BROUGHT THE PARTY WITH IT.

Of franchising, Stillman said, “I didn’t pick it—they picked me…I have to admit that I didn’t know what the word franchise meant.” After the original location rose to fame, entrepreneurs in other cities—the second location to open was in Memphis, Tenn.—requested Stillman’s assistance in opening their own locations. And for 50 percent of the profit, he obliged. But none of them truly rivaled the original for cultural impact until T.G.I. Friday’s came to Texas. Dan Scoggin set a new company standard with the Texas location that featured multi-level dining space, a large, square-shaped central bar, and room for 400 mingling singles. Almost immediately, it was filling up nightly and became a national phenomenon. Women’s Wear Daily sent a photographer to capture the crazy fashions, Glamour called it “a meat market for more reasons than its hamburgers,” and Newsweek used an image of the bar for a 1973 cover story on the country’s burgeoning singles scene. After the Dallas location grossed over $2 million in its first year, Scoggin bought out Stillman to become CEO of the expanding Friday’s franchise.

4. IN THE '80S AND '90S, FRIDAY’S WAS ALL ABOUT FLAIR BARTENDING.

The décor at Friday’s has been known for its eccentric flair ever since the first location opened in New York City. But it was at a Marina del Rey location in 1985 that the flair spread to bartending. Management noticed that bartender John Mescall added tricks and juggles to his drink prep and decided to hold an in-store competition. He and another bartender, John J.B. Bandy, produced a how-to video and by 1991, Friday’s was hosting an annual World Bartender Championship that’s still going strong.

5. IF THAT BARTENDING FLAIR REMINDS YOU OF COCKTAIL, THAT’S BECAUSE IT SHOULD.

Friday’s founder Stillman claims that Tom Cruise’s character in the 1988 flick Cocktail is based on him—a credible claim when you consider that JB Bandy taught Cruise how to bartend with flair in preparation for the film, which was partially filmed at the original Upper East Side location.

6. FRIDAY’S EVEN TRIED TO GET “FLAIRTENDING” INTO THE OLYMPICS.

In 2010, T.G.I. Friday’s sent out a press release announcing that they had “petitioned the International Olympic Committee requesting official recognition of bartending as the next Olympic sport” and calling on customers to support the effort via an online petition. The proposed event would consist of an “eight- to 10-minute flairtending demonstration showcasing extreme skill and athleticism.” Last we checked, the IOC hasn't commented (though one Friday's location got an April Fool's Day joke out of it).

7. THE TALENTED BARTENDERS HOLD A WORLD RECORD.

Although their routines aren’t in the actual Olympics (yet), the talented bartenders of T.G.I. Friday’s hold a Guinness World Record. In 2011, more than 100 bartenders gathered in Covent Garden, London to celebrate the chain’s 25th year in the UK, and set the record for "most people cocktail flairing simultaneously and in synchrony."

8. THE CHAIN MAY HAVE TAKEN A HINT FROM OFFICE SPACE.

In 2005, T.G.I. Friday’s made a point to tone down the style of their restaurant décor and, notably, their wait staff uniforms, eliminating the striped shirts, suspenders, and buttons. At the time, Richard Snead, then-president and CEO of Carlson Restaurants Worldwide, which owns Friday’s, said it was just because "servers didn't want to wear them.” But anyone who’s seen Mike Judge’s 1999 film Office Space undoubtedly remembers Jennifer Aniston’s waitress character, who is constantly encouraged to wear more flair until she flips out and quits. Just last year, Judge told Deadline, “One of my ADs [assistant directors] asked once at the restaurant why their flair was missing and they said they removed it because of that movie Office Space. So, maybe I made the world a better place."

9. THE CHAIN 86'D ITS PUNCTUATION.

Without much ado in the form of announcements or rollout, T.G.I. Friday's redesigned its logo and materials in 2013 and dropped the periods and apostrophe from its name. It was a bold move for the nearly 50-year-old company, and though it's an eyesore for the grammatically inclined, the updated, streamlined look garnered a lot of praise.

10. THEY WENT HIGH-TECH WITH MISTLETOE DRONES LAST YEAR.

For Christmas 2014, Friday's made headlines by debuting drone-borne mistletoe to their restaurants. Couples who took the hint and went in for a kiss had a picture of their smooch broadcast on a big screen. It wasn't all hugs and kisses though: the “Mobile Mistletoe” drones had at least one public crash with the face of a Brooklyn Daily photographer.

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A.C. Gilbert, the Toymaker Who (Actually) Saved Christmas 
Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Alfred Carlton Gilbert was told he had 15 minutes to convince the United States government not to cancel Christmas.

For hours, he paced the outer hall, awaiting his turn before the Council of National Defense. With him were the tools of his trade: toy submarines, air rifles, and colorful picture books. As government personnel walked by, Gilbert, bashful about his cache of kid things, tried hiding them behind a leather satchel.

Finally, his name was called. It was 1918, the U.S. was embroiled in World War I, and the Council had made an open issue about their deliberation over whether to halt all production of toys indefinitely, turning factories into ammunition centers and even discouraging giving or receiving gifts that holiday season. Instead of toys, they argued, citizens should be spending money on war bonds. Playthings had become inconsequential.

Frantic toymakers persuaded Gilbert, founder of the A.C. Gilbert Company and creator of the popular Erector construction sets, to speak on their behalf. Toys in hand, he faced his own personal firing squad of military generals, policy advisors, and the Secretary of War.

Gilbert held up an air rifle and began to talk. What he’d say next would determine the fate of the entire toy industry.

Even if he had never had to testify on behalf of Christmas toys, A.C. Gilbert would still be remembered for living a remarkable life. Born in Oregon in 1884, Gilbert excelled at athletics, once holding the world record for consecutive chin-ups (39) and earning an Olympic gold medal in the pole vault during the 1908 Games. In 1909, he graduated from Yale School of Medicine with designs on remaining in sports as a health advisor.

But medicine wasn’t where Gilbert found his passion. A lifelong performer of magic, he set his sights on opening a business selling illusionist kits. The Mysto Manufacturing Company didn’t last long, but it proved to Gilbert that he had what it took to own and operate a small shingle. In 1916, three years after introducing the Erector sets, he renamed Mysto the A.C. Gilbert Company.

Erector was a big hit in the burgeoning American toy market, which had typically been fueled by imported toys from Germany. Kids could take the steel beams and make scaffolding, bridges, and other small-development projects. With the toy flying off shelves, Gilbert’s factory in New Haven, Connecticut grew so prosperous that he could afford to offer his employees benefits that were uncommon at the time, like maternity leave and partial medical insurance.

Gilbert’s reputation for being fair and level-headed led the growing toy industry to elect him their president for the newly created Toy Manufacturers of America, an assignment he readily accepted. But almost immediately, his position became something other than ceremonial: His peers began to grow concerned about the country’s involvement in the war and the growing belief that toys were a dispensable effort.

President Woodrow Wilson had appointed a Council of National Defense to debate these kinds of matters. The men were so preoccupied with the consequences of the U.S. marching into a European conflict that something as trivial as a pull-string toy or chemistry set seemed almost insulting to contemplate. Several toy companies agreed to convert to munitions factories, as did Gilbert. But when the Council began discussing a blanket prohibition on toymaking and even gift-giving, Gilbert was given an opportunity to defend his industry.

Before Gilbert was allowed into the Council’s chambers, a Naval guard inspected each toy for any sign of sabotage. Satisfied, he allowed Gilbert in. Among the officials sitting opposite him were Secretary of War Newton Baker and Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels.

“The greatest influences in the life of a boy are his toys,” Gilbert said. “Yet through the toys American manufacturers are turning out, he gets both fun and an education. The American boy is a genuine boy and wants genuine toys."

He drew an air rifle, showing the committee members how a child wielding less-than-lethal weapons could make for a better marksman when he was old enough to become a soldier. He insisted construction toys—like the A.C. Gilbert Erector Set—fostered creative thinking. He told the men that toys provided a valuable escape from the horror stories coming out of combat.

Armed with play objects, a boy’s life could be directed toward “construction, not destruction,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert then laid out his toys for the board to examine. Secretary Daniels grew absorbed with a toy submarine, marveling at the detail and asking Gilbert if it could be bought anywhere in the country. Other officials examined children’s books; one began pushing a train around the table.

The word didn’t come immediately, but the expressions on the faces of the officials told the story: Gilbert had won them over. There would be no toy or gift embargo that year.

Naturally, Gilbert still devoted his work floors to the production efforts for both the first and second world wars. By the 1950s, the A.C. Gilbert Company was dominating the toy business with products that demanded kids be engaged and attentive. Notoriously, he issued a U-238 Atomic Energy Lab, which came complete with four types of uranium ore. “Completely safe and harmless!” the box promised. A Geiger counter was included. At $50 each, Gilbert lost money on it, though his decision to produce it would earn him a certain infamy in toy circles.

“It was not suitable for the same age groups as our simpler chemistry and microscope sets, for instance,” he once said, “and you could not manufacture such a thing as a beginner’s atomic energy lab.”

Gilbert’s company reached an astounding $20 million in sales in 1953. By the mid-1960s, just a few years after Gilbert's death in 1961, it was gone, driven out of business by the apathy of new investors. No one, it seemed, had quite the same passion for play as Gilbert, who had spent over half a century providing fun and educational fare that kids were ecstatic to see under their trees.

When news of the Council’s 1918 decision reached the media, The Boston Globe's front page copy summed up Gilbert’s contribution perfectly: “The Man Who Saved Christmas.”

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Ho, No: Christmas Trees Will Be Expensive and Scarce This Year
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The annual tradition of picking out the healthiest, densest, biggest tree that you can tie to your car’s roof and stuff in your living room won’t be quite the same this year. According to The New York Times, Christmas trees will be scarce in some parts of the country and markedly more expensive overall.

The reason? Not Krampus, Belsnickel, or Scrooge, but something even more miserly: the American economy. The current situation has roots in 2008, when families were buying fewer trees due to the recession. Because more trees stayed in the ground, tree farms planted fewer seeds that year. And since firs grow in cycles of 8 to 10 years, we’re now arriving at a point where that diminished supply is beginning to impact the tree industry.

New York Times reporter Tiffany Hsu reports that 2017’s healthier holiday spending habits are set to drive up the price of trees as consumers vie for the choicest cuts on the market. In 2008, trees were just under $40 on average. Now, they’re $75 or more.

This doesn’t mean you can’t get a nice tree at a decent price—just that some farms will run out of prime selections more quickly and you might have to settle for something a little less impressive than in years past. Tree industry experts also caution that the shortages could last through 2025.

[h/t New York Times]

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