NEW YORK • Picture it: Manhattan, 2017. A crisp Saturday morning. Every table in Rue La Rue Cafe - a new restaurant in Washington Heights dedicated to Rue McClanahan and her hit television series, The Golden Girls (1985-1992) - was occupied, including one in a replica of the kitchen set from the show.
The pumps McClanahan (Blanche) wore in the pilot episode are displayed in a glass case. Mannequins draped in her gowns surrounded a pianist and guitarist playing mellow jazz on a corner stage. Behind them, on a pedestal, was her 1987 Emmy for lead actress.
When the musicians took a break, the sound on a mounted television was turned up so customers could watch episodes that play steadily. Conversation happily quieted as Bea Arthur (Dorothy) and Hal Linden were heard saying good night after a sixth-season date.
"This is a museum," said a woman in line to order.
From behind the counter, co-owner Michael J. LaRue replied: "It's a museum with good food."
Few series radiate the necessary warmth to justify a tribute restaurant, but The Golden Girls, that enduring electric blanket of US television, is a part of the culture that people have held tight.
It has been 25 years since the end of the sitcom about four older Miami housemates - Dorothy, the salty wit; Rose (Betty White), the lovable dim bulb; Sophia (Estelle Getty), the Italian spitfire; and Blanche, the Southern vixen - but fans keep finding new ways to love it, with countless parodies, action figures and T-shirts, and Hulu's recent nabbing of exclusive streaming rights.
For all the show's zany plots, what fans seem to cherish most are the intimate scenes in which the four friends sit around their kitchen table, sharing a cheesecake and talking into the night.
That spirit has now become a guiding force for Mr LaRue, 53, who owns the restaurant with McClanahan's son, Mark Bish.
Mr LaRue first met the actress at an animal-rights charity event at Studio 54. They quickly became best friends, he said, and she repeatedly asked him, in jest, to marry her so she could be Rue LaRue.
When she died in 2010, he became the executor of her estate, which includes an extensive personal archive that she wanted made available to her fans.
"A little voice in my head said, 'Restaurant'," Mr LaRue, a 16-year resident of Washington Heights, said during a recent interview.
Construction on the space, formerly a pet store, lasted nearly a year. The bathroom was outfitted to match the show's pink and mint tiles. The banana-leaf Martinique wallpaper on two walls was hand- cut to match its exact look in Blanche's bedroom.
Chocnyc, an Inwood bakery, created a cheesecake in honour of each Girl and the Bronx Brewery provided two custom beers. The menu, from Michele Weber, formerly the chef at Good Enough To Eat, will feature nods to the show - lasagna al forno, Genugenflurgen cake - and recipes shared by the cast: Arthur's chutney, White's angel food cake, Getty's pasta salad.
There are also signature coffee blends: Sophia's "Picture It" Sicilian Roast (inspired by a favourite line of the character), Rose's St Olaf blend, Dorothy's No-Nonsense Roast and, for a little spice, Blanche's Gentlemen Caller's Beans.
"My grandma loved the show," said Mr Patrick Rickerfor, 41, who was making his fourth visit. "She was from Honduras and didn't understand English all that well, but she got the slapstick comedy."
Ms Ana Perez, 28, was back for the second day in a row. "I'm a Blanche," she admitted proudly.
Ms Anabel Perez, 23, her sister, said: "I'm a Dorothy."
"And we've got a little Sophia over there," Ms Ana Perez added, gesturing to their young cousin, buried in a game on her smartphone. "It was my favourite show growing up. That episode where Mario Lopez got deported makes me cry."
Ms Bix Gabriel, from Bloomington, Indiana, and her sister Marisa Gabriel, from Adelaide, Australia, overheard talk of the place in an Ethiopian restaurant a few nights earlier and frantically Googled.
"We sang the theme song coming in," Ms Bix Gabriel said.
A wall features photographs of McClanahan's six husbands, while another is dedicated to White, the last surviving Girl, who hopes to get to Rue La Rue in the spring.
A sidewalk plaque at the entrance bears McClanahan's name and the opening lyrics of the show's theme song, Thank You For Being A Friend. Some of her ashes are buried underneath.
"There's never a time when The Golden Girls is not playing on this globe," Mr LaRue said.
"It taps into something that we all share as human beings - a fear that as we age, we're going to become irrelevant and alone. The show is a tonic for that fear. It says you can still look good and have a very full life, with friends."