Joel and Ethan Coen’s latest film, Inside Llewyn Davis, is a dark comedy about a week in the life of an aspiring folk singer played by Oscar Isaac. Loosely based on real life folk musician Dave Van Ronk’s posthumous auto-biography The Mayor of MacDougal Street, the film takes place predominately in the Greenwich Village area, during the folk revival scene of the early 1960’s. The film has received numerous awards and nominations from film institutions and critic circles around the country.
The Coens decided to shoot most of the film on location in Greenwich Village and in Queens. Here is a list of film locations where the Coen Brothers filmed their 19th feature film.
1. The Gaslight Café
The Gaslight Café did, in fact, exist in the West Village at 116 Macdougal Street. The real-life location for most of the film’s musical performances is now a Tattoo shop. However, before its closure in 1971, the Café hosted performers like Dave Van Ronk, Bill Cosby, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, and many others, when they were starting out and looking for a place to play. The interiors were filmed in a warehouse in Crown Heights, but the exteriors were shot on East 9th Street, between First Avenue and Avenue A.
2. 96th Street Station
The 96th Street station on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where Llewyn Davis gets on to head down to Greenwich Village opened in 1904, and is now where passengers take the 1,2, and 3 line. In 1961, those line numbers did not exist, and neither did the MTA. The train service for New York at the time was still run by the original subway company, the IRT (Inter-borough Rapid Transit Company); the MTA would not be founded until 1965, four years after the events of the film.
3. Village Cigars
The iconic West Village tobacco shop can be seen as Llewyn Davis steps out of the Christopher Street train station. A corner shop staple that has been at 110 Seventh Ave. South at Christopher Street since the early 20th century, the tobacco shop sells everything from hookahs to lottery tickets. What helps this place stand out, besides its history, are the displays of their own brand of cigarettes, as well as cigarettes from around the world. In front of Village Cigars is Hess Triangle, memorialized as the smallest plot of land in NYC at 500 square inches.
4. Jim and Jean’s Apartment
Llewyn is a drifter, never too sure of whose couch he is going to sleep on from one night to the next. A usual place he visits and hopes for a night’s rest is the apartment of Jim (Justin Timberlake) and Jean (Carey Mulligan), a couple who (like Llewyn) perform folk music. The exterior of the building in where he stashes the cat he reluctantly becomes responsible for is located on 77nd East Second Street.
5. Caffe Reggio
We’re not surprised to see that Inside Llewyn Davis was filmed inside this classic old world coffee shop. Llewyn meets Jean here over a cup of coffee and she tells him he’s an asshole: “No, you don’t want to go anywhere and that’s why all the same shit is going to keep happening to you because you want it to you… and also because you’re an asshole!”
Hopefully they had espressos made by the impressive machine from 1902. Caffe Reggio—which claims to be the cafe that introduced the cappuccino to America—is featured in both our Top 10 Coffee Shops for Design Buffs and 15 Vintage Restaurants, Bars and Cafes.
6. Joy’s House in Queens
Llewyn’s sister Joy lives in a house in Woodside, Queens. Llewyn sometimes relies on his sister for money and hospitality as well. The neighborhood is a quiet nightmare for him, as he wants no part of the almost suburban lifestyle his sister has accepted. Besides some minor touches to the outside of the house, the neighborhood seems to be left exactly how it was originally.
7. Ward’s Island/Randall’s Island
This scene when Llewyn is on his way to Chicago to audition for a gig was filmed on a parking lot in New York City that sits between RFK (Triborough) Bridge and Hell Gate Bridge, which you can recognize from its distinctive pillars. A bus actually does have a stop here, but it’s a city bus—today’s M35—that serves Icahn stadium.
8. Washington Square Park
Llewyn and Jean have a problem, and to discuss this problem, they venture into a park familiar to anyone who has ever lived in New York City. A place where you can see people on a daily basis, juggle, play chess, study, or just relax. Washington Square Park has a reputation for being a place artists gather together, and is well known for its arch celebrating George Washington.
For more insightful history on Washington Square Park, check out our feature on the Hidden History of Washington Square Park , and our look into one of the parks most notable characters, the self-proclaimed Crazy Piano Guy.
9. Rocco Ristorante
Llewyn hitches a ride to Chicago with two unlikely characters he quickly realizes he has more in common with than he cares to mention. The pair of musicians pick him up outside the Varick St – 7th Ave station, which the production team built. The sign across the street, however, is authentic, and once was the sign of a popular Italian restaurant named Rocco Ristorante.
Located on 181 Thompson Street in Greenwich Village, the restaurant was a staple of old-school Italian cooking for decades. Sadly, it closed in 2011 when the landlord raised their rent from $8,000 a month to $18,000. The restaurant is now called Carbone and is run by Mario Carbone and Rich Torrisi, a pair of restaurateurs who own a mini-chain of restaurants in NYC. While the restuarant may be gone, the vintage signs still hangs.
10. Columbia Records 30th Street Studio
Davis gets a break when Jim, who had gotten studio time in Columbia Records, gets hold of him to record a song titled “Please Mr. Kennedy,” a complete joke of a song that forces Davis to swallow his pride for a quick paycheck. The original Columbia Studios on 207 E 30th Street, between 2nd and 3rd Avenues no longer exists. It was shut down in 1981 and later demolished to make room for a residential apartment building named “The Wiltshire.”
The studio, nicknamed “The Church,” was actually a church Columbia records renovated into a recording studio. During its run, it was considered the best sounding studio in the world, with numerous classic albums recorded there, including Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story, Miles Davis Kind of Blue, Pink Floyd’s The Wall and many, many others.
See more from our Film Locations column.