“I should’ve brought coffee to wait for this coffee,” my neighbor lamented.
And: Same. It was early—and I mean eeearly—on Wednesday morning, and I was one member of an extremely long line of people who were all waiting for 1) free caffeine, and 2) what we were told would be an IRL experience of the late, lamented Gilmore Girls. Netflix, to promote the new season of the show that will air in November, set up pop-up versions of Gilmore Girls’s iconic diner, Luke’s—the setting where so much of the show’s action (which is to say, rapid-fire dialogue between the girls in question, Lorelai and Rory Gilmore) took place.
The pop-ups popped up, on Wednesday, at locations around the country (some 200 in all). And I—we—were at one of Washington, D.C.’s three versions of Luke’s: the one set up at Flying Fish Coffee and Tea in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood.
And: Wow, there were so many wes! The line to get coffee at Flying Fish-slash-Luke’s stretched down the block, getting ever longer, full of people (most of them in their late 20s and early 30s, most of them women) simultaneously excited and, as the pre-work minutes ticked by, annoyed at how long they were waiting for their whimsy. (One couple behind me, indignant about both the wait and the briskness of the early-fall morning—and extra-annoyed, apparently, that both were endured under hangry and un-caffeinated circumstances—got frustrated by the whole thing, and left.)
For the most part, though, the mood was “low-grade delight.” Luke’s, IRL! One pair of girls marveled at their willingness to be part of such an spectacle at such an early hour; as one of them remarked, though, “nostalgia is a powerful thing.”
The Stars Hollowed cafe “takeover” didn’t, to be clear, offer a fully immersive Luke’s experience; there were no charmingly mismatched tables and chairs, no quirky townsfolk, no proprietor yelling at people to turn off their cell phones. There was, though, a lot of what I’ve come to think of as “selfie infrastructure”: stations designed, basically, to give fans opportunities to take pictures. The features varied by location; the Luke’s I visited, though, went roughly like this:
Station 1: A selfie-optimized Luke’s sign, hanging just outside the cafe’s entrance.
Station 2: A sign from Netflix announcing that, in exchange for the free coffee, participants relinquish their rights to their own “name, image, likeness, voice, and/or statements”—which is to say, to their own “Personal Rights.”
Station 3: An enormous cardboard cut-out of Luke, featuring a 2016-updated list of all the things the ornery-but-lovable diner owner would not allow in his establishment. (The cut-out—set up in a corner, away from the snacking line—was also selfie-optimized.)
Station 4: The sign at the cash register instructing visitors to “take a picture of you and your Luke’s cup, and tag whom [ed: whom!] you’ll be watching Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life with on November 25, exclusively on Netflix.” (This was not selfie-optimized.)
Station 5: The behind-the-bar situation, which featured baristas wearing Luke’s caps and t-shirts (but who were, alas, neither flannel-clad nor ornery).
Station 6: The cup—complete with a commemorative Luke’s sleeve and, underneath, a printed quote from Lorelai about her love of coffee, and a snapcode—that is your free gift, along with the brewed coffee, for attending/line-waiting/Personal Rights-abandoning. (The cup is also, conveniently, perfect for Instagramming.)
Station 7: The “NO CELL PHONES” sign, maybe the most ready icon of Luke’s Diner, hanging in this case above the milk-and-sugar bar.
“No cell phones”! In 2016! It’s a nice irony. But it was also, in its way, appropriate. As marketing, the “Luke’s takeover” was only part of the point; the real point was the fans who waited in line at 7 a.m. for coffee that came with an extra shot of nostalgia. People got caffeinated, sure, but they also took selfies and chatted and took some more selfies and spent an hour or two in an ad-hoc amusement park that was amusing only partly because of its physical architecture.
Netflix’s marketing strategy, in all this, may have been bursting with all the buzzwords of the current moment, from the “pop-up” to the “fan service” to the general assumption that attendees would snap and Insta and tweet and otherwise find ways to transform their “experience” into media, thus spreading the word—and, yes, the buzz—about the show’s return. But the “experience,” in that sense, was in the end less about Luke’s, and less about Netflix, and more about fandom: It was a celebration of the fact that people cared enough about Lorelai and Rory and their hyper-literate lives to get up early on a Wednesday to do that caring with other people.
Audiences are no longer merely audiences, to the extent they ever were; more and more, viewers are part of a show. They influence creators. They bring beloved series back from the brink. They show up. They take selfies. They share them. They tag a friend. And: They love nothing more than being audiences, together. They form, across the expansive and invisible geography of the Internet, their own communities.
As we waited to have that experience, a man on a bike pedaled up to us. “What’s the line for?” he asked.
“It’s a pop-up—a coffee shop,” one of the women next to me replied, struggling to find the words that would put the line-waiting in context for someone who might not be a Gilmore Girls fan. “From … a TV show.”
“Oh, like they’re filming in there?”
“No, it’s a promotion thing,” she replied. She and her friend exchanged a glance. This was really hard to explain. And then the woman settled on the thing that would make the most sense to someone unacquainted with Stars Hollow and its residents and their favorite local diner: “There’s free coffee.”