In the Heights from Lin Manuel-Miranda of Hamilton fame and Jon M. Chu, director of Crazy Rich Asians has just dropped in theaters and streaming on HBO Max. There’s singing, dance routines in the middle of intersections and subway tunnels, and tons of filming locations New Yorkers will recognize. It’s a musical based on the Broadway show of the same name that Manuel-Miranda wrote a decade before Hamilton. The story takes place in Washington Heights, where Manuel-Miranda was raised and is based on the book by Quiara Alegría Hudes.
The story follows Usnavi, a bodega owner in Washington Heights and the neighbors who live and work on his block, including a salon owner, a cab company owner, a Stanford dropout, and more, facing real-life scenarios that New Yorkers, especially immigrants and children of immigrants, battle. There’s even a very New York City blackout. There are dreams made, dreams broken, and plenty of uplifting moments framed within present-day questions like the fate of the DREAMERS.
Being able to do the principal photography for In the Heights in Washington Heights was essential to the production. Producer Anthony Bregman says, “Shooting ‘In the Heights’ in the actual Heights was key to us, because the stories being told in the screenplay are intrinsic to the community. The streets were busy all day and at night until the wee hours. Music was coming out of boomboxes on corners, the windows of apartments, radios in cars, underscored with car and motorcycle engines revving. It really felt like what’s said in the movie, that the streets are alive with music. That hum, that energy pervaded the production and the performances. It seemed to make everyone come alive, but also rooted them to this place in realistic and romantic ways.”
Director of photography Alice Brooks says “The Washington Heights community is the real star of the movie and informed every movement of the camera and every subtle lighting cue….There is something wonderful about the purity of filming in a real place. Capturing the texture of the neighborhood became part of the visual language.”
The movie stars Anthony Ramos (from the original cast of Hamilton) as Usnavi de la Vega, Leslie Grace as Nina Rosario, Corey Hawkins (from Walking Dead and Straight Outta Compton) as Benny, Melissa Barrera as Vanessa, Jimmy Smits (NYPD Blue) as Kevin Rosario and Olga Merediz as Abuela Claudia. Marc Anthony and Manuel-Miranda also have roles. For the filming locations for In The Heights, here they are!
1. The Bodega
The exterior of the bodega, City Mart Tropical Products, featured in In the Heights is located at 196 Audubon Avenue at the corner of 175th Street in Washington Heights (also where the opening song, “In the Heights” was shot in the intersection). In real life, the corner store is the STO Domingo Grocery on the ground floor of a walk-up building constructed in 1927. The awning and facade have been altered for the film — STO Domingo has a more standard green awning. But in In the Heights, you see a classic old-school New York bodega awning in yellow. A street art mural, designed by production designer Nelson Coates, was added for the film showing a man in a boat dreaming about returning to the Dominican Republic. Locals rallied to keep the mural after the production ended.
If you’re curious about why the avenue is named “Audubon,” the naturalist John J. Audubon lived up here and his property became the cultural complex, Audubon Terrace. You’ll find many other references to Audubon in Washington Heights like Audubon Park and the Audubon Mural Project.
The interior of the bodega is actually a set created at the New York State Armory in Brooklyn for the film, as was the interior of Daniela’s nail salon. When a location is used frequently throughout the shooting of a film or television show, building a set is often easier than shooting on site. This helps for not only scheduling but also filming angles, something that was essential in another recent film, Woman in the Window, set entirely in a Harlem townhouse.