“Once there was another city here, and now it is gone.”
In 1987, New York Magazine published an article mourning the lost glory days of 1950s New York. Now, more than a quarter of a century later, my generation mourns the gritty yet authentic 1970s and 1980s and the cheap rents, dive bars and art scenes that can be seen in the iconic movies produced throughout those decades.
When I say that the spots featured in these movies were gritty, I don’t necessarily mean they were grimy – although a lot of New York was – but that they were owned and frequented by tough, uncompromising New Yorkers. These spots served their city with courage and resolve during the most dangerous period in the history of New York, and they’re still going strong today.
Some of these NYC filming locations are recognizable, and others are harder to spot – especially as gentrification sweeps the city clean. But if you’re a movie buff like me, you’ll find that the old New York is not gone – if you know where to look.
Zabar’s – Manhattan
There’s nothing grimy about the ritzy Upper West Side today. But in 1979, Woody Allen’s Manhattan takes place in a city stuck between film noir imagery of the past and the darker, grittier New York to come. In the movie, Isaac (Woody Allen) visits Zabar’s – the grocery store founded in the 1930s and known for its smoked fish, caviar, coffee, cheese and – most importantly for native New Yorkers – bagels.
Landmark Coffee Shop – Desperately Seeking Susan
When suburban housewife Roberta Glass (Rosanna Arquette) bumps her head and thinks she is wild, uninhibited Susan (Madonna) hilarity ensues in Desperately Seeking Susan. At Landmark Coffee Shop in SoHo, Dez (Aiden Quinn) helps Roberta regain her memory over breakfast. Landmark remains family-owned and unchanged since filming took place in 1985, making it one of the last classic diners in downtown Manhattan.
Katz’s Deli – When Harry Met Sally
Even though Katz’s Deli had already been a New York institution for a century, When Harry Met Sally brought a new kind of fame to the spot in 1989. Throughout the 1980s, high crime rates meant that many visitors and uptown locals weren’t visiting the Lower East Side at night, but after Sally (Meg Ryan) and Harry (Billy Crystal) stopped in for an unforgettable meal, the deli started keeping its doors open 24 hours on weekends to serve its pastrami and corned beef sandwiches around the clock.
St. Mark’s Place – Taxi Driver
Locals say that East Village maintains a gritty feel, but it’s nothing like the darker side of the neighborhood’s past. In 1976, deranged vigilante Travis Bickle (Al Pacino) in Taxi Driver saves a teenaged Iris (Jodi Foster) from a life of prostitution. The buildings look the same, but the scene is unrecognizable. For the past three decades, popular restaurants like Cafe Mogador and The Crooked Tree have been attracting a different crowd to St. Mark’s Place – a trend that has more recently brought trendy bars like The Wayland east of Avenue A, once called the “edge of civilization” in Manhattan.
South Street Seaport – Working Girl
Secretary Tess McGill (Melanie Griffith) cuts off her out-of-control hair in Working Girl and assumes the identity of her chic yet conniving boss (Sigourney Weaver). Her aim is to strike a business deal for herself with an investment broker (Harrison Ford) but her plan goes awry when she accidentally meets him at a bar in South Street Seaport. At the time of filming, the area had only recently been redeveloped. For over a century, the seaport – once one of the busiest in America – had become a slum after decades of decline. Since the 1980s, it has been home to trendy waterfront bars and restaurants.
86th Street (Brooklyn) – Saturday Night Fever
Almost four decades after filming stopped, Brooklyn still has Saturday Night Fever. Tony Manero (John Travolta) gets two slices from Lenny’s Pizza in 1977 and eats them sandwich-style on 86th Street in Bensonhurst – a traditionally Italian neighborhood. Lenny’s is still open, but an even better spot – and a testament to the grit of Bensonhurst – is nearby L&B Spumoni Gardens. Also on 86th Street, the spot has been serving Sicilian square pizza and ice cream since 1939.
Spring Street – After Hours
One night out in SoHo in 1985 almost cost Paul Hackett (Griffin Dunne) his life in After Hours. With a quirky cast of characters including Marcy (Rosanna Arquette), Gail (Catherine O’Hara), Tom (John Heard), Horst (Will Patton) and Neil (Cheech Marin) Paul experiences nearly the entire length of Spring Street. Filming took place inside The Emerald Pub, which opened 45 years ago but unfortunately closed in early 2015. The highly recommended Ear Inn, however, is just one block west on Spring Street – still surrounded by the apartments and lofts used as filming locations for the movie.
Did we miss any of your favorite NYC filming locations from the 70s and 80s? Let us know in the comments!