Re:Restaurants in movies
Fri, 09/30/11 3:36 PM
Several years ago, Jane and I wrote this story for Gourmet about movies that had scenes in Chicago-area restaurants:
Eating on Screen in Chicago
Like its architecture and its music, Chicago's restaurants have filled movies with broad-shouldered personality. From the shockingly-priced cup of hot chocolate Tom Cruise drinks in the soigné Palm Court of the Drake Hotel in Risky Business ($4 in 1983) to the cheap eats Jim Belushi steals from Fluky's hot dog joint in Curly Sue, the city's culinary scope is delicious movie material.
Film makers who started with the Second City theater company have come back to Chicago for romance (Return to Me), goofball satire (Wayne's World), and the most cataclysmic musical comedy ever made: The Blues Brothers. "My brother and I have come here to dine!" declares John Belushi, playing Joliet Jake Blues when he and his brother Elwood (Dan Ayckroyd) arrive at Rush Street's Chez Paul. "We seek a full meal and all the complements of the house," Belushi tells the maitre d', a former Blues Brothers band member once known as Mr. Fabulous but now suited up as formal host. The brothers find themselves a table, whistle loudly for service, and proceed to guzzle champagne and throw shrimp into each others mouths. When an uptight diner sitting nearby asks that his party be moved, explaining to Mr. Fabulous that the Blues Brothers smell bad, Belushi leans towards him and says in his most lascivious tone, "I want to buy your women."
It's a toe-curling comic scene, throbbing with the discomfort of outrageous behavior in a genteel place; and it was especially fun for Chicagoans who knew Chez Paul as a destination for seamless continental meals. The movie's next restaurant scene is at the opposite end of the socioeconomic scale. The Blues Brothers go to Maxwell Street, home of Chicago blues and Polish sausage sandwiches, sit at the counter of Nate's Deli and place their order with waitress Aretha Franklin. "We got two honkies dressed like Hassidic diamond merchants," Aretha tells the cook, who is another ex-member of the band they're trying to recruit. Matt Guitar Murphy recognizes exactly who they are by what they order – toasted white bread, dry (for Elwood), and four fried chickens and a Coke (for Jake). Matt steps out into the dining room where he and the brothers compare notes about the pepper steak at Joliet Prison, the cabbage rolls at the Terre Haute federal pen, and the oatmeal at the Cook County jail. The scene closes with Aretha's rafter-rocking rendition of "(You Better) Think."
Chez Paul has become private office space and Nate's Deli, once renowned for kosher-style corned beef as well as chitterlings, is gone with the rest of Maxwell Street. But there are plenty of places that remain almost exactly as they were on screen. You can still go cruising for a date at Mother's on Division Street, where Rob Lowe and Demi Moore meet and court in About Last Night (the film version of David Mamet's "Sexual Perversity in Chicago"). The movie faithfully depicted the meat-market hustle of the Gold Coast watering hole, but its production back in the mid-1980s predated today's karaoke and thong contests.
A hostess at The Pump Room of the Ambassador East hotel assured us that Alfred Hitchcock wanted to film a scene of Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint having dinner just so Hitch, a longtime patron of movie stars' favorite Chicago restaurant, would have a good excuse to eat there all week. It's a good tale, but by the time the characters get to the hotel in North by Northwest, the plot is moving so fast that sitting down to eat seems impossible. The Pump Room is where John Candy tries desperately to have a successful meal in the Chris Columbus movie Only the Lonely. Candy plays a mama's boy (Maureen O'Hara is mom) who finally meets a girl he loves (Allie Sheedy) and tries to introduce them over dinner. "Where are her breasts?" calls out mama, way too loudly, when the girl walks into the dining room, warning her son that if she goes to the bathroom more than three times during dinner, she is anorexic. When the girlfriend orders a double vodka to brace herself against the maternal whirlwind, mama pipes up, "That's the first sign of alcoholism!" And after Candy tries to set a festive tone by ordering dinner of shrimp cocktail, Caesar salad, and prime rib, his mother announces she will have nothing. "Just bread. I'm trying to save you $50. I'll fill up on bread here then eat something when I get home."
One movie restaurant you will not find if you go looking for it in Chicago is Stan Mikita's donut shop, Garth and Wayne's hangout in Wayne's World. Although the big animated statue of hockey star "Stosh" Mikita on the roof recalls the anthropomorphic wieners atop the very real Superdawg, the restaurant where Garth uses a straw to suck cream filling from crullers is fictional. Another elusive location is Groundhog Day's Tip Top Café, where Bill Murray learns precisely to predict when the waiter will drop his tray, and boasts to Andie MacDowell that he can pig out on pastries and pancakes and smoke all the cigarettes he wants. Nothing he does has consequences. "I don't even have to floss," he says. Although set in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, the movie was filmed in Woodstock, a cozy village northwest of Chicago. The café is now vacant (its last incarnation a German-American restaurant called Rainault's), the building for sale. A local firefighter we met on the town square pointed out a small wall plaque that says simply, "The 'Tip Top Café' 'Groundhog Day' Movie 1992." He told us he would like to buy the building and reopen the Tip Top Café as an ice cream parlor.
Paul Tuzi, proprietor of Twin Anchors in Chicago's Old Town, explained that his neighborhood bar, known citywide for ribs, became "O'Reilly's Italian Restaurant" in Return to Me because writer/director/co-star Bonnie Hunt used to eat there all the time when she was part of Second City. With some bemusement, Tuzi tells how the film crew totally reconfigured the tavern for the melodrama in which David Duchovny falls in love with Minnie Driver, who happens to have been the recipient of Duchovny's late wife's heart. "They moved booths, they rearranged the kitchen and dining room, and they brought in prop food," Tuzi laughs, noting that the featured dish in the movie was chicken Vesuvio, a Chicagoland specialty that isn't even on the Twin Anchors menu. "They did leave one thing just as it was," he says, pointing to a sign above the dining room that says, "Positively No Dancing."
As a breather from our exploration of Chicago restaurant movie locations, we detoured to our favorite cafeteria/delicatessen, Manny's (formerly of Maxwell Street), whose magnificent corned beef sandwiches we extolled in a Gourmet column ten years ago. There on the wall we spotted a little collage of pictures from 1986, when a scene from the Matt Dillon movie, The Big Town, was filmed here. "It was supposed to take place in the 1950s," proprietor Ken Raskin told us. "So they changed the posted prices. Lunch was a dollar, breakfast forty-five cents." Raskin recalled that the characters in the movie ate meat loaf, but when it was time for a real meal break, the crew was required to take lunch from the studio-hired catering trucks. "Matt Dillon, though, he was the star," Raskin reported with movie-goer awe. "He ate a Manny's corned beef sandwich."