Behind the scenes shot from Past Lives at the Brooklyn Bridge
(L-R) Greta Lee, Teo Yoo Credit: Jon Pack

In Past Lives, writer and first-time director Celine Song rejects all romantic movie norms and creates a powerfully moving film that has earned a nomination for Best Picture at the 2024 Academy Awards. Prepare to have some tissues at your side before you sit and watch. Greta Lee stars as Nora Young, a South Korean woman who emigrates from her home country as a young girl and is ripped apart from her childhood sweetheart Hae Sung, played by Teo Yoo. The film follows the pair as their paths diverge and reconnect at various stages throughout their lives. Song told Vanity Fair that the premise of the film is loosely based on her own life and that the idea came to her when she was in the company of her husband and a childhood friend.

Stil from Past lives in Seoul
(L-R) Seung Min Yim, Seung Ah Moon Credit: Jin Young Kim, On location in Seoul, South Korea

Filmed in South Korea, Canada, and New York City, Past Lives captures many memorable locations on screen. From the East Village to Lady Liberty, you might recognize some of the iconic settings. Here, we’ve compiled a list of the New York City locations where the story unfolds. Look out for spoilers ahead!

1. The Holiday Cocktail Lounge

Teo Yoo, Greta Lee, John Magaro at Holiday Cocktail Lounge
(L-R) Teo Yoo, Greta Lee, John Magaro. Credit: Courtesy of A24

The first scene we see in the film is set at Holiday Cocktail Lounge and is based on a memory from Song herself. Nora (Greta Lee) sits between her childhood sweetheart Hae Sung (Teo Yoo) and her husband Arthur (John Magaro), exchanging somber glances between them. The trio’s conversation is inaudible as the camera zooms in and we hear characters off-screen nosily speculating on the relationship between the three people we see. In a fourth-wall break, Nora looks at us with a knowing smile. The scene teases us with some foreshadowing before taking us back to this moment later on in the film.

Situated at 75 Saint Mark’s Place, Holiday Cocktail Lounge is one of the oldest speakeasy bars in the East Village. Holiday was a go-to bar for rockstars and artists in the ‘80s and ‘90s like The Ramones, Madonna, Iggy Pop, Keith Richards, and even Frank Sinatra back in the 60s. The place has been a neighborhood staple, buzzing with music and grit throughout the years, dating back to 1835 when it was built. It was the city’s 50th licensed bar when Prohibition ended in 1933. Though the place has been revamped, its grungy interior and classic mahogany horseshoe bar– where our three main characters sit in the film– remain the same.

2. McNally Jackson Books

McNally Jackson Books

As Nora enters a bookstore with a tray full of coffee, she meets her husband Arthur at a book signing. It’s a quaint, short scene but if you’re a bookworm, you might recognize the bookstore that they’re in as McNally Jackson Books. There are five locations in the city– 134 Prince Street, Soho; Fulton Street, at the South Street Seaport; Rockefeller Plaza; and Albee Square, Downtown Brooklyn. The bookstore in the film is situated in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

McNally Jackson Books is an independent bookstore founded by Sarah McNally in 2004. McNally is the daughter of booksellers Holly and Paul McNally who founded McNally Robinson Booksellers, a chain of bookstores in Canada. The first McNally Jackson Books opened on Prince Street in Nolita but after 19 years in business, it moved a few blocks away. The Williamsburg store is two stories with tables and shelves full of hidden gems, including a section of children’s books. Its sister store Goods For The Study, also founded by Sarah McNally, offers stationery goods. 

3. Madison Square Park

Greta Lee and Teo Yoo in Madison Square Park
(L-R) Greta Lee, Teo Yoo Credit: Jon Pack

After an hour of story build-up, the long-awaited moment comes: the reunion of Hae Sung and Nora. For what feels like forever, the two embrace in front of the Admiral David Glasgow Farragut Monument. This can only mean the scene was shot at Madison Square Park, a 6.2-acre public square near the Flatiron Building. In another shot, Hae Sung and Nora stand before two female figures carved into stone- one represents Courage, the other Loyalty. What we don’t see is the 8 feet and 5 inches tall Farragut statue that stands atop the monument, his sword cutting through the waves in between the female figures. Unveiled in 1881, the monument was a collaboration between two architects based on the Union hero of the American Civil War Admiral Farragut. Named after the 4th U.S. President James Madison, Madison Square Park has been an attraction for many- even for romantic picnic getaways. There’s no question why Celine Song chose this space for this particular heartfelt moment.

4. Jane’s Carousel in Brooklyn Bridge Park

Teo Yoo and Greta Lee in front of a carousel
(L-R) Teo Yoo, Greta Lee Credit: Courtesy of A24

After the two friends reunite, Hae Sung and Nora walk through Brooklyn Bridge Park along the East River. As the two catch up on their adult lives, the beautiful scenery of the Brooklyn Bridge is displayed behind them. But the moment sours as the two slowly recognize the culture shock between them. After, Hae Sung and Nora settle down on the steps in front of a kid’s carousel. The innocent, childish tune of the carousel music plays behind them as tension builds. The merry-go-round adds a childlike element to the scene that ironically mirrors Hae Sung and Nora’s childhood which seems like a lifetime ago. But this carousel isn’t just any carousel: it’s the iconic Jane’s Carousel.

The classic 3-row ride is full of 48 carved horses and 2 chariots. It was built in 1922 by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company. Originally installed in Idora Park in Youngstown, Ohio, Jane’s Carousel was named the Idora Park Merry-Go-Round; that was before it was purchased by Jane and David Walentas at an auction in 1984. The carousel was then refurbished- while maintaining its antique charm- and re-named. Housed in a beautiful glass pavilion, the historic venue overlooks the East River and the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges. Birthday parties and other events are held at Jane’s Carousel.

5. Ferry Ride Around the Statue of Liberty

Greta Lee and Teo Yoo in front of the Statue of Liberty
(L-R) Greta Lee, Teo Yoo Credit: Jon Pack

When Hae Sung and Nora meet again, they hop aboard a Circle Line boat and cruise around Manhattan Island. A small montage plays as we see the tall glimmering skyscrapers of the city and the crashing blue waves under the ferry. As Hae Sung and Nora enjoy the views on the outdoor deck, we see the Statue of Liberty come into view in front of them. Nora takes a few photographs of a sheepish Hae Sung by himself and then the two of them together, as a reminder of his trip. Ferry rides are among the biggest attractions for tourists in New York City, and visiting Lady Liberty on a New York trip is a no-brainer. Established in 1945, the Circle Line boat completes a 35-mile cruise around Manhattan in under three hours.

6. East 1st Street

(L-R) Teo Yoo, Greta Lee Credit: Jon Pack

The heart-wrenching final scene of the film takes place on East 1st Street. Nora and Arthur’s apartment is at 40 East 1st Street. Director Celine Song explained the gravity of this scene to audience members at a screening of the film at Angelika Film Center in Manhattan. Song shared that while shooting, she told her crew, “This street is where the movie lives or dies.” Song explained the long search for a city street that was at once mundane but also magical. The long tracking shot which follows Nora as she walks down the block was also logistically complicated to shoot, as the crew needed to ensure the street was clear of all cars so that they could lay down 150 feet of dolly track for the camera. The end result is a bittersweet nighttime scene where Nora walks home alone in the glow of the streetlights and the neon sign of a shuttered dry cleaner.

Next, check out 10 Iconic Film Locations in New York City and 10 Iconic Brooklyn Film Locations