In a city with thousands of restaurants and bars, it can be a daunting task for film or television production to find the perfect location for an eating or drinking scene. Does the film take place in modern-day or 1950s Los Angeles? Does the script call for an Italian restaurant or a coffee shop, a dive bar or a lounge? Can the screenplay be adjusted in order to better suit the story and fit the budget?
Once that’s settled, the filmmakers have to hope the business owners are game to play along. Production designer Bob Ziembicki recalls that Miss Donuts in Reseda, the location for a robbery and shootout in Boogie Nights, was almost not in the film. He says, “It was a problematic location, which [we were] almost at a risk of losing, because [the owner] didn’t seem interested. It was all about not disrupting the business. … We also had gag squibs and had to do a big cleanup before morning, before they were back in business.”
While for most business comes first, appearing as a location in a film or TV show no doubt has its merits and, more often than not, brings additional customers through the door. Location manager Rob Gibson, who worked on 2011’s Drive, says, “It goes on film and people reference that. ‘Oh, this is where they shot that movie, let’s go eat there.’”
After considering many places on the menu, here are some of L.A.’s most memorable movie restaurants and bars.
The Nightlife of Swingers – Hollywood
INT. “THE DRESDEN ROOM”
The SWINGERS lounge in a booth against the cork-paneled walls sipping cocktails. They watch Marty and Elayne, the resident lounge act, perform an off-key cover of “Staying Alive” on synth and upright bass. The '70s are alive and well here, but they’re starting to yellow around the edges.
-From Swingers by Jon Favreau
Perhaps no other film depicts the reality of young people chasing the Hollywood dream quite like 1996’s Swingers. The independent comedy known for coining such pop culture phrases as “You’re so money, and you don’t even know it,” and “Vegas, baby, Vegas!,” rejuvenated swing dancing and showed us what it was like for 20-somethings trying to establish themselves in the sprawling metropolis of L.A.
Mike, a struggling actor and comedian, played by Jon Favreau (who also wrote Swingers), has recently moved from New York to Los Angeles to try to make it in Hollywood. The sacrifice was moving away from his family and breaking up with his longtime girlfriend back in Queens. Unable to move on from the breakup, Mike is encouraged by his L.A. friends, including fast-talking actor Trent, played by Vince Vaughn, to get back out there and realize how “money” he is.
Doug Liman, the director of Swingers as well as blockbusters The Bourne Identity and Edge of Tomorrow, tells the Weekly that because L.A. is made up of so many transplants, friends become family. “Everybody, including me, moved there from somewhere else,” says Liman, who now lives in New York. “I think there’s something that’s kind of special that happens socially when you have all these people who aren’t tied down, are away from home. Everybody has left their family behind, and suddenly Thanksgiving isn’t with grandparents and distant cousins; Thanksgiving is with a group of friends.”
Liman met Favreau, appropriately, because of a girl at a party. Favreau famously sold the screenplay of Swingers to his new friend for $1.
Swingers is mainly set around the nightlife of Hollywood – bars, parties in the hills, 24-hour coffee shops. “I’m somebody who maybe doesn’t appreciate L.A. by day, but once the sun goes down I think it’s a beautiful city,” Liman says.
A number of the places where Liman and Favreau hung out together, forming their friendship, were written into Swingers. An establishment where the struggling actor and director spent many a Wednesday evening is the only nightspot featured in the film that is not around today: The Derby, one of L.A.’s iconic live-music and dancing venues, located on the corner of Los Feliz Boulevard and Hillhurst Avenue, closed in 2009. Favreau and Liman would often go there on “swing night” to hear bands such as Royal Crown Revue or Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. In the late '90s, Swingers almost singlehandedly brought swing dancing back onto the scene in a big way, and the film’s two-volume soundtrack went gold.
The film’s line producer, Nicole LaLoggia, who was Liman’s roommate at the time, secured many of the locations, although she had never worked as a location manager. “You have to understand, nobody working on that movie had ever done their particular job before,” Liman says. “There was nothing professional about how these locations were secured.” According to Liman, LaLoggia was the film’s secret weapon because she could cry well. “The Derby just wasn’t going to let us come in and film for the teeny amount of money we had, and she just cried in front of the owner of the Derby and he eventually relented,” Liman explains.
The Hollywood Hills Coffee Shop, now the 101 Coffee Shop on Franklin Avenue, agreed to let the filmmakers in for only one night when they were closing for renovations, beginning the next day. Because he wouldn’t be able to match it later, this meant Liman needed to get all of his coffee-shop material that night. Today, if you ask the manager of the 101 which booth was used for Swingers, he’ll tell you to pick one because it doesn’t exist anymore.
One of the café scenes shot at the Hollywood Hills Coffee Shop had been written to take place at a different restaurant, which was a favorite of Favreau’s and Liman’s – Swingers Diner on Beverly Boulevard. The name of the coffee shop inspired the film’s title, but Liman decided to find another location that wasn’t as trendy.
Not having the budget to rent the bars, shut them down and bring in extras, Liman would shoot with a documentary film camera while, in most cases, the businesses were open. “The flipside of that,” he says, “is that you can’t control the people in the bar.” Any time Liman would try to light up a certain area, the patrons would move to a dark area of the bar, resulting in no background action. Liman devised a system in which he would light areas he wasn’t shooting to drive everyone to where he was shooting. Moments before he rolled the camera, he would power up the lights around the actors, turn them off in the other areas, and get in a few minutes of filming before people would scatter again. “It’s amazing how predictable human behavior in a bar is. Moths will always be drawn to a light. Twentysomethings in a bar will always move away from the light,” Liman says.
The Room on Cahuenga Boulevard appears briefly as the bar without a sign, but the owners didn’t want to do business with the filmmakers so they moved over to Three Clubs on Vine Street to shoot the interiors. The back room of Three Clubs also doubled as a Vegas tiki bar.
The location that's most closely associated with Swingers is the Dresden. The Los Feliz restaurant and lounge was established in 1954, and it was Vince Vaughn’s relationship with the late owner, Carl Ferraro, which allowed the filmmakers the ability to shoot there. “It was a place I started coming to before I was 21. Is that bad to say?” Vaughn says on the DVD commentary. Not only did the film make the Dresden a must-see destination for out-of-towners but an international audience also discovered the bar's 33-year resident lounge act, Marty & Elayne.
101 Coffee Shop, 6145 Franklin Ave., Hlywd.; (323) 467-1175.
Three Clubs, 1123 Vine St., Hlywd.; (323) 462-6441.
The Dresden, 1760 N. Vermont Ave., Los Feliz; (323) 665-4294.
Pat & Lorraine’s Coffee Shop from Reservoir Dogs – Eagle Rock
INT. UNCLE BOB’S PANCAKE HOUSE – MORNING
Eight men dressed in BLACK SUITS sit around a table at a breakfast café. They are Mr. White, Mr. Pink, Mr. Blue, Mr. Blonde, Mr. Orange, Mr. Brown, Nice Guy Eddie Cabot and the big boss, Joe Cabot. Most are finishing eating and are enjoying coffee and conversation. Joe flips through a small address book. Mr. Brown is telling a long and involved story about Madonna.
-From Reservoir Dogs by Quentin Tarantino
“Quentin is big on breakfast and breakfast joints,” production designer David Wasco says. When looking at the filmmaker's body of work, from Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown to From Dusk Till Dawn and Death Proof, you can’t help but agree. Breakfast also makes an impression at the beginning of Tarantino's feature debut.
Principal photography for Reservoir Dogs began on July 29, 1991, at Pat & Lorraine’s Coffee Shop in Eagle Rock. “We were all just elated to be doing this movie,” says Wasco, who designed every Tarantino film from Reservoir Dogs through Inglourious Basterds (excluding Death Proof). “It wasn’t like, ‘Oh goody, we’re doing a Quentin movie.’ Nobody knew who the heck he was. We had a great script and all these great actors.” The breakfast scene is noteworthy not only because of its layered dialogue and 360-degree dolly move but also because this was the first material shot by Tarantino for his feature debut.
The production chose Pat & Lorraine’s due in part to its close proximity to the film’s main location – a mortuary supply warehouse (no longer in existence) at Avenue 59 and North Figueroa Street in Highland Park. “Being the L.A. nut/aficionado on architecture that I pride myself on being, I love Highland Park,” Wasco says. The now-trendy neighborhood afforded the filmmakers the aesthetic they were after. “The broad-stroke plan was to do a movie that would be timeless, that you could look at 10 or 20 years later and it didn’t look time-specific, dated,” he adds. Highland Park streets and alleyways near the warehouse were used for montages of the film’s robbery aftermath.
With the warehouse chosen, location manager Billy Fox could begin looking for a nearby breakfast joint. A big obstacle, and probably the most crucial factor in finding a coffee shop location for Reservoir Dogs – budgeted at just over $1 million – had to do with location fees. “We didn’t have two pots to piss in to make the movie,” Fox says. Having just come off a big-budget film, Fox says of scouting restaurants, “It took me about two places to finally say ‘And I have $500 for the day’ without stuttering through it.” Like most business owners Fox spoke with, the proprietors of Pat & Lorraine’s thought the fee was ridiculously low, but they were willing to work with the production. The owners even postponed their family vacation by a day so they could be present to supervise.
Instead of trying to define a particular screen direction around a circular table at Pat & Lorraine's, a 360-degree camera move was devised. Given the small space of the dining room for such a move, cinematographer Andrzej Sekula laid three-quarters of circle dolly track on the floor and placed the table close to the gap in the track. He then rotated the track and moved the table for the reverse angles. “The game plan was to shoot this with the camera moving and make the viewer so confused that the axis of action does not apply anymore,” Sekula says.
The title sequence where the cast walks in slow motion to “Little Green Bag” was shot at a bowling alley just south of Pat & Lorraine’s on Eagle Rock Boulevard.
Today, Pat & Lorraine’s Coffee Shop is a typical breakfast joint filled every morning by Eagle Rock regulars. Hanging on the walls of the diner, among faded landscapes and still lifes, antique Mexican dolls and sports portraits from nearby Occidental College is a Reservoir Dogs poster and a photograph from the memorable opening scene.
If you ever dine at Pat & Lorraine's, don't be a Mr. Pink — always leave a tip.
4720 Eagle Rock Blvd., Eagle Rock; (323) 257-7926.
The Blue Room from Memento – Burbank
INT. FERDY’S BAR – DAY <
Leonard sits at a booth looking through his Polaroids. A DRUNK with shaky hands sits at the bar. Natalie (without bruises) is working behind the bar. She tops up a silver tankard with beer, brings it over and sets it in front of Leonard, smiling.
-From Memento by Christopher Nolan
Watching Memento for the first time, you’re most likely to be drawn to the reverse order in which the story unfolds and how that structure relates to the main character. Relying on Polaroids and tattoos as reminders, Leonard Shelby (played by Guy Pearce), an insurance investigator who has an extreme condition of short-term memory loss, is trying to find the man who killed his wife.
On a second viewing, after your brain has processed what’s just occurred, you’ll begin to notice visual cues such as the motif of the color blue. Different shades of blue permeate Christopher Nolan’s film, from locations to sets to wardrobe, even down to Pearce’s eyes.
Roger Ebert said in his review of Memento, “Blue is an essential element, consistently tied to Leonard’s perspectives on life. Blue is associated with cool, sadness and truth.” Ebert’s interpretation is certainty valid, but it’s one that’s open to discussion.
“When Chris first hired me, he said, ‘I want the film to be all blue,’ and I never actually asked him why,” says Memento’s production designer, Patti Podesta. For Podesta, the blue symbolizes the fishbowl of the world in which Leonard is trapped. That fishbowl was filmed mainly in Glendale and Burbank.
Sets were designed and locations were scouted with blue in mind, and shades of the color varied depending on the scene. “It’s kind of naturalistic when you’re outside with the sky, and it’s a little bit solitude, and it can be foreboding when it’s in the derelict houses, and then it’s very artificial-looking when you’re in the hotel rooms,” Podesta says.
After scouting only a couple of bars for a key scene between Leonard and Natalie, played by Carrie-Anne Moss, a Burbank dive on San Fernando Boulevard with blue in its name was chosen.
The Blue Room, known for its Key lime martinis, has been around since the late 1940s. With its corrugated metal entrance, blue lighting and turquoise pleather booths, it would stand in as Ferdy’s Bar. Not only did the location have its fair share of the color Nolan wanted but it also fit the general aesthetic. “The Blue Room really suited this ubiquitous [quality] that we were trying to have. … It could be some place in the Midwest, it could be someplace in Northern California,” Podesta says.
To enhance the overall look of the Blue Room, blue tables and blue table lights were among the set-dressing items incorporated into the bar. “We upped its blue status, a lot,” Podesta says, laughing.
It’s interesting to note that there is never a wide shot of the interior of the Blue Room in Memento. The scene plays out as an intimate conversation between two people — typical of everyday bar interactions.
916 S. San Fernando Blvd., Burbank; (323) 849-2779.
Sandys Burgers from Better Off Dead – North Hollywood
INT. PIG BURGERS – DAY
We find Lane wearing a humiliating pig outfit, which makes him look like a giant pig — the uniform of all the Pig Burger employees.
-From Better Off Dead by Savage Steve Holland
Behind a rusty wrought iron gate on Lankershim Boulevard, just south of Victory, stands a faded and shuttered fast-food joint. A swarm of killer bees has made its hive in the signage that towers above the property, and an odd paint job of purple and orange lines the underbelly of the hutlike roof.
Why is this place — once known as Sandys Burgers — on our list of movie and TV restaurants? It all started with an actor.
In 1985, Savage Steve Holland directed arguably the most off-the-wall teen comedy of the decade, or any decade for that matter: Better Off Dead. Starring a 19-year-old John Cusack, the film was a comedic look at the trials and tribulations of tortured teen Lane Myer, whose world comes to a crashing halt after his girlfriend, Beth Truss, dumps him for popular hunk Roy Stalin.
The film, based on Holland’s illustrated diary of high school experiences, includes a number of scenes in which Myer attempts to kill himself after being dumped. Each attempt is somehow thwarted, so as to suggest the absurdity of suicide over a high school romance. While the methods and the number of suicide attempts in the film are exaggerated, Holland vividly recalls once, after a breakup, standing on top of a garbage can with an electrical cord around his neck, which is similar to Myer’s first flirtation with death. “I really did say, ‘Wait a minute, this is really a bad idea,’” Holland says, laughing, referencing similar dialogue spoken by Cusack in the film. When the lid of the plastic garbage can gave way, the water pipe he was dangling from broke. “I was basically drowning in a garbage can and my mom came out and yelled at me for breaking a pipe, as opposed to saying, ‘Hey, what’s wrong? Are you OK?’”
Just about all of the scenarios in Better Off Dead, which marks its 30th anniversary this year, came from Holland’s journal: a mother making disastrous dinners, a paperboy constantly demanding his two dollars, short-lived employment at a fast food restaurant. “My first job was McDonald’s and I made it two weeks, and I was told if I ever came back I’d be arrested. That’s how bad I did there,” says Holland, who was often daydreaming and burning burgers. Knowing that he wanted to include this part of of his teenage life in the film, the writer-director drew further inspiration from an unlikely source – character actor Chuck Mitchell, who played the titular, cigar-chomping role in 1982’s cult classic Porky’s.
Holland recalls being completely starstruck on numerous occasions when seeing Mitchell, who died in 1992, outside of a cigar shop on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood. The actor would be smoking next to his gigantic Cadillac, whose license plate said “Porky.” Holland remembers thinking, “‘Someday I’m going to make a movie with that guy.’ And that’s so funny because it’s Porky — it wasn’t like it was Robert De Niro,” he tells the Weekly.
Holland created Pig Burgers for Better Off Dead as a reference to Porky, with the hopes that he could get Mitchell to be in the movie.
The burger place on Lankershim Boulevard, the first location scouted for Pig Burgers, was an operating restaurant at the time of filming. Holland shot exteriors and interiors there, including a Frankenstein-inspired fantasy scene that led to stop-motion animated Pig Burgers singing and dancing to Van Halen's “Everybody Wants Some.” “If you look at it, it kind of looks like a barn,” Holland says of the building with its sloping rooftop. “I thought if I put Chuck Mitchell in this ‘barn,’ and call it Pig Burgers, it’s like a place where you go to feed.” A couple years after being in awe of Mitchell on Sunset, Holland cast the actor in Better Off Dead as Rocko, the brash and (still) cigar-chomping owner of Pig Burgers.
As for the orange and purple paint job under the roof? That’s left over from Kevin Smith’s Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, in which the restaurant was used as Mooby’s, the fast-food chain featured throughout Smith’s View Askewniverse.
6223 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; closed.
Boardner’s from Ed Wood – Hollywood
INT. BAR – DAY
Ed sits morosely in a skuzzy bar, three empty shot glasses in front of him. A BARTENDER ambles over.
-From Ed Wood by Scott Alexander & Larry Karaszewski
Boardner’s has been a preferred watering hole for the Hollywood elite since 1942. Its dimly lit ambiance and dark, cozy booths are attractive to someone who wants to have a quiet drink without being noticed. Because it has retained its period look, Boardner’s is also one of the most filmed bars in town. The bar, which was a speakeasy during Prohibition and is rumored to be haunted, has been featured in films such as L.A. Confidential, Leaving Las Vegas, Gangster Squad and, most recently, Gone Girl. TV shows to use Boardner’s have included Alias, Southland and Arrested Development.
Twenty years ago, a director who was known to have a drink at Boardner’s used it as a location for his film about another director who, years earlier, frequented the bar.
Ed Wood, Tim Burton’s love letter to the cross-dressing “Worst Director of All Time” and his B-movie classics Plan 9 From Outer Space, Glen or Glenda and Bride of the Monster, was largely filmed in Hollywood, at or near establishments Wood actually patronized. Ed Wood co-screenwriter Larry Karaszewski tells the Weekly, “When we knew that there was a real location, we would throw it into the movie.”
Ed Wood production designer Tom Duffield adds, “Tim wanted to use as much old Hollywood as possible — actually where Ed Wood prowled.”
In Wood’s time, stars such as Lucille Ball, Errol Flynn and Robert Mitchum hung out at Boardner's, but would the director have rubbed shoulders with these actors? “He was low-end, but he was a drinker,” Karaszewski says, “so I would say he did rub shoulders with the lower-end drinkers in Hollywood: the John Caradines, the Aldo Rays, the man’s men kind of thing.”
Co-screenwriter Scott Alexander adds, “The fallen tough guys.”
After securing Boardner’s, which wasn’t an easy task as the owners didn’t keep daytime hours, location assistant Ed Lippman needed to have translators available to inform area business owners about filming. He says, “I had someone who spoke Korean. I had someone who spoke Cantonese because some of the business owners spoke no English, and I had to have those people talk to the business owners and negotiate.”
Boardner’s afforded the filmmakers the ability to shoot numerous scenes at one location, which was beneficial for a studio film with an estimated $18 million budget.
We first see Wood, played by Johnny Depp, and his company of lovable misfits at Boardner’s toward the beginning of the film as they read a negative review for Wood’s play The Casual Company. Originally, the scene was written to take place in a “scruffy coffee shop.” Karaszewski and Alexander, who reteamed with Burton for last month's Big Eyes, suggest that the location may have been changed from a coffee shop to a bar because it helped enforce a “sleazy, wrong-side-of-the-Hollywood-dream vibe.”
Later, Wood is back at Boardner’s drinking by himself. The bartender is played by Conrad Brooks, who was part of Wood’s stock company. The screenwriters also found out what kind of whiskey Wood drank – Imperial Whiskey – and included that in the screenplay.
Wood meets his idol, Bela Lugosi, at Boardner’s, although not in the bar. Another area of the building, which currently houses a nightclub and has a separate entrance, was designed to look like a mortuary. After Wood exits the bar, he passes the storefront and unexpectedly sees Lugosi lying in a casket, testing it out because he’s “planning on dying soon.”
Perhaps the best-known scene from Ed Wood depicts the director, dressed in his angora sweater, meeting Orson Welles at time-honored Musso & Frank Grill on Hollywood Boulevard (an encounter that never actually happened). In the film, Wood is dropped off in front of the restaurant, but because of restrictions set by the owners, the resulting scene wasn’t shot there. Alexander says, “Musso & Frank’s was willing to let us inside, but they were being really difficult. They said we could only come in between lunch and dinner with a skeleton crew.” Burton and his team were able to adapt quickly and move back across the street to Boardner’s, where they had just shot the aforementioned scenes. They would double Musso & Frank’s at Boardner’s.
Upon a second look at the scene, a dead giveaway that the Welles scene was shot at Boardner’s is the visible wrought iron covering a transom window.
Alexander adds, “Every review said, ‘And then he goes into the fabled Musso & Frank’s.’ They got a lot of free press from that.”
1652 Cherokee Ave., Hlywd.; (323) 462-9621.
Vincenzo’s Pizza from Drive – Granada Hills
INT. NINO’S PIZZERIA/WESTWOOD – DAY
The Kitchen is busy, several PIZZA CHEFS taking out steaming pizzas and slicing them up in takeaway boxes. In the empty restaurant, a burly man in short sleeves, NINO, sits eating a chocolate croissant, washing it down with sips of tea. The phone is ringing but he doesn’t seem to hear it.
-From Drive by Hossein Amini
Like Memento, Drive depicts a grittier, less iconic version of Los Angeles than what's usually seen in films. Drive’s production designer, Beth Mickle, says she and director Nicolas Winding Refn set out to create a fantasy version of L.A. “It was almost like the graphic-novel version,” she adds.
Drive, about a mysterious stuntman and moonlighting getaway car driver played by Ryan Gosling, is set in a town known for its car culture. Gosling’s character, known only as Driver in the script, becomes involved with the wrong people after helping his neighbor pull off a robbery.
Practical locations found primarily in downtown, MacArthur Park and the San Fernando Valley were a balance of creative needs and budgetary restrictions.
An early version of the script for Drive set the aforementioned robbery at a bank in the Valley. The scene is followed by a car chase through some of L.A.’s most trafficked areas. Location manager Rob Gibson recalls telling the filmmakers that the budget wouldn’t allow this. “At the time, Arnold Schwarzenegger was still governor and I said, ‘He couldn’t come down here and shut Topanga, shut down PCH and do a gun battle in Santa Monica. There’s no way,’” Gibson says. This inspired filmmakers to rethink things without compromising the look they wanted. The robbery and chase were shot in the Santa Clarita area, which conveyed a more desolate feel.
Similarly, Nino’s Pizza, a shady front for money-laundering activity in Drive, was shot in a different area of town than had been specified in the script. Gibson likens shooting an independent film in Westwood to shooting in West Hollywood. “West Hollywood is notoriously one of the most difficult. A beautiful place to shoot, but it’s difficult to be able to pull it off because it’s very busy there.” After looking at numerous pizza places and Italian restaurants all over L.A., a hole-in-the-wall joint tucked into an unassuming Granada Hills strip mall was chosen.
When Gibson first scouted Vincenzo’s Pizza on Balboa Boulevard, he was surprised to learn that a family friend owned it. Director Refn approved the location almost immediately. The restaurant, which is primarily a kitchen, has about a10-foot-square dining area, where the Nino's scenes with Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman would be blocked. The grips and electricians were not thrilled about having to work in the compact space, Gibson recalls. Vincenzo’s employee Jeff DeGough remembers about 40 people packed into the narrow pizza place at certain times.
In a 2012 interview for The Lab magazine, Refn was asked about his favorite color. He told actor Bryan Cranston, who also stars in Drive, “As I’m color-blind, I would say red.” The director cannot see midrange colors, so red is prominent in his work, including his followup to Drive, Only God Forgives. It’s no coincidence that the walls of Vincenzo’s Pizza are bright red.
11045 Balboa Blvd., Granada Hills; (818) 832-2333.
Jared Cowan is a photographer, camera operator and avid filmgoer living in Los Angeles. In 2002, he graduated from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia with a B.F.A. in film and video production. See more of his photography at jaredcowanphotography.com and follow him on Twitter at @JaredCowan1. He'd like to thank the Location Managers Guild of America, Teamsters Local 399 Hollywood and the Writers Guild Foundation Shavelson-Webb Library for their assistance.
Advertising disclosure: We may receive compensation for some of the links in our stories. Thank you for supporting LA Weekly and our advertisers.