American Girl Cafe attracts all influencers

On a Monday morning in February, Harry Hill, 27, showed up at the American Girl Cafe wearing a vintage Christian Dior sweater and carrying a Coach tote containing two of his beloved dolls. He was joined by Serena Kerrigan, 27, who brought her dolls in a Victoria’s Secret pink mesh bag.

Mr. Hill, an influencer, is well documented as a fan: he posed in a 7-Eleven dressed identically to one of his dolls on Instagram. He dressed up as a Samantha doll for Halloween and created a series of memes made with American Girl dolls.

Ms Kerrigan, also an influencer, was dressed by her stylist in “Zara from head to toe” – a Kelly green skirt suit with feather cuffs. “I a m the green M&M,” she said of her outfit. Like the previous iteration of the green M&M character, Ms. Kerrigan’s personal brand can be ribald.

The last time she and Mr. Hill came to American Girl Place, she made a TikTok video in which she had her doll Samantha checked for STIs at the store’s doll hospital.

The two were far from the first adults to show up – with dolls – to hang out there.

“Come with me to get completely wiped out at the American Girl Doll Cafe,” begins a TikTok video titled “American Girls Become American Women,” uploaded by comedian Sally Darr Griffin.

In the video, Ms Griffin, 25, shouts out the labels she’s wearing – ‘The dress is Hill House, the sunglasses are Coach’ – then takes the first sip of what will be four mimosas, topped off with a small pinch of vodka she smuggled into the American Girl Cafe at the Grove Mall in Los Angeles.

Ms Griffin was joined by four other women in their twenties, each accompanied by a doll sitting in a chair tied to the table.

“I haven’t been erased,” Ms. Griffin clarified in a Zoom interview. “It’s just better to say that for the clicks.”

The clicks came. Ms. Griffin’s video amassed over 600,000 views on TikTok, and a micro-trend of adult people dining and drinking with dolls was born.

It’s not an entirely new concept for adults to return to kid-centric places for a dose of nostalgia and irony. Goths have descended on Disneyland for an annual trip called “Bats Day in the Fun Park” for decades. Liana Aghajanian, a reporter in Detroit, wrote that she had celebrated her birthdays at Chuck E. Cheese establishments, even as an adult, as a tribute to happy childhood memories as a first-generation American.

Of the dozen or so American Girl Place locations, five offer full-service restaurants that serve dishes like cinnamon rolls, macaroni and cheese, and smoothies, as well as an extensive dessert menu. The original Chicago location, which opened in 1998, obtained a full liquor license so it could host galas and benefits. New York is the only other place that serves alcohol, but beer and wine are served at all cafes.

A company representative said it doesn’t tolerate its dolls engaging in age-inappropriate behavior, such as drinking alcohol, but the company welcomes American Girl fans of all ages.

Jamie Cygielman, President of American Girl, wrote in a statement, “We know our dedicated fans never forget the beloved American Girl characters and stories they grew up with, and we’re thrilled that they reconnect and remember us as adults.”

The New York cafe, where Ms. Kerrigan and Mr. Hill recorded their social media content, features cute touches like tiny bows tied to each cloth napkin. Banquettes are bay-colored, and camera-ready walls feature bright patterns on crisp whites.

Even the cafe soundtrack, which mixes 1980s pop classics with original songs written about American Girl characters, seems suited to the whims of Gen Z and Millennials looking for immersive settings for their social media feeds.

American Girl Place retail stores in the United States sell a wide variety of high-end doll-centric toys and accessories, with prices starting at around $100. Each doll has a story that places it in a specific era of American history.

The first dolls, released in 1986, were Molly, a bookish girl from the 1940s; Kirsten, a Swedish pioneer; and Samantha, an orphan adopted into a posh Edwardian New York family. Each doll stars in historical novels, which are sold separately.

Some American Girl fans identify with a doll’s personality, referring to themselves as “an Addy” or “a Felicity”.

When a staff member heard me lamenting that Molly never gets her due among American Girl fans, she brought me a Molly doll and pinned her chair to the edge of my table.

Since 1986, many more characters have been added to the American Girl roster, expanding the eras and ethnicities the dolls represent. American Girl also sells custom dolls and introduced Logan, its first American Boy, in 2017.

For some adults, American Girl Place outlets loomed large in their childhood psyches. Ms Kerrigan, who appeared in a New York Daily News article about the opening of American Girl Place, has been a fan of the brand since she was 4 years old.

“It’s literally my dream come true,” said Ms Kerrigan, of returning to the store as an adult.

His table companion was equally expansive. “It’s Disneyland for literary girls and gays,” Mr. Hill said in a Zoom interview.

The company noticed Mr. Hill’s enthusiasm. At an event for Stoney Clover Lane luggage company in October, Ms Cygielman recognized Mr Hill and introduced herself. The company also welcomed him as a guest at the Manhattan cafe a few weeks ago.

On this occasion, the two influencers posed for selfies, recorded content and mugged for their phones as waiters brought out several dishes including cinnamon rolls, crudités, butter noodles and chicken fingers.

The vast cafe was largely empty except for five other parties, each of which consisted of children and their attendants. Mr. Hill and Mrs. Kerrigan took their seats, set up their dolls and toasted pink martinis served in glasses rimmed with pink sugar.

For some, 11.30am is early for a drink, but Mr Hill had already spent the morning mixing water with cranberry juice to simulate cocktails for a sponsored Instagram post. This time the vodka was real.

The dessert was particularly Instagram-friendly, with a rainbow cake inspired by an American Girl toy set, a chocolate mousse cup meant to look like a potted daisy, and heart-shaped sugar cookies to accompany from a DIY frosting kit, all served by remarkably attentive and courteous staff.

The store paid for their meal, as they sometimes do for influencers, but Ms. Kerrigan insisted on using her credit card so she could tip their server. As she and Mr. Hill began packing their dolls, a group of six adults and no children sat nearby.

They came from Austin, Texas to celebrate Timothy Flitton’s 33rd birthday. They were inspired to hold their birthday party at the American Girl Cafe after seeing Ms Griffin’s TikTok video. Like Mrs. Griffin, they ordered mimosas.

“We’re living our millennial fantasy,” Mx said. Flitton, who wore aquamarine hair and a rainbow sweater. Kaylan Howard, a friend, agreed.

“They were too expensive when I was a kid,” Ms Howard, 32, said of the dolls. “And now we can afford it, if we want to.” She didn’t want it, but said she appreciated the free loans they each received for the meal.

A waiter came out of the kitchen carrying a birthday cake in the shape of a giant petit four. Mx. Flitton and the rest of the party erupted in applause.

The cheers died down as the waiter walked past the table. The cake was for someone sitting behind them who was celebrating their ninth birthday.

About Carl Schroeder

Check Also

Entrepreneurs Graduate from TWU’s Inaugural TX Women Owned Incubator Program » Dallas Innovates

The first class of female entrepreneurs graduated from the TX Women Owned Incubator program. Selected …