While not technically a horror movie, Vampire’s Kiss enthusiastically embraces the horror genre and contains several grim, creepy scenes, so I thought it would be a more than appropriate entry for this year’s Halloween.
The plot is simple but quite clever — a successful yet uptight publishing executive has a one-night stand with a woman he believes is a vampire, and after being bitten by her, becomes convinced that he’s been turned into a vampire himself. It’s an interesting twist on a peculiar sub-genre of films from 1980s and 1990s, known as “yuppies in peril.” This is a genre Vampire’s Kiss’s screenwriter already had a knack for crafting, as he wrote the quintessential movie of a young urban professional in danger — 1985’s After Hours. But in this film, instead of outside forces threatening the main character, these outside forces are only imagined by him and his downfall comes from his own psychosis.
While Vampire’s Kiss certainly has its flaws, and contains several excruciatingly uncomfortable scenes, Nicolas Cage’s wildly fervent performance is undeniably compelling, and you can’t help but keep on watching, if only to see what outlandish thing he’ll do next (like eating a real, live cockroach). Plus, having been entirely shot in the New York area, the movie showcases many great NYC locations.
When it comes to identifying a Manhattan skyline, it’s usually a pretty easy and straightforward task. It generally doesn’t take me too long to find matching skyscrapers. It really just comes down to figuring out the correct vantage point, which can be determined by the buildings’ relationships, i.e., how much one building overlaps its neighboring building.
This was one of a couple locations from this film which wasn’t necessarily obvious, but I was able to identify simply from having lived in NYC for so many years. When I used to have an apartment in the West Village, I would pass that triangular building on almost a daily basis when I’d walk to my job on Varick Street. Plus, my neighborhood library was right next door, so it was definitely a place that was imprinted on my brain.
This location was also used in the 1967 Audrey Hepburn film, Wait Until Dark, where two con artists walk by the triangular building as they turn onto St. Luke’s Place.
Peter Loew’s Apartment
The big clue that helped me find this location was in a sequence that occurred later in the movie. In it, there was a quick shot of Nicolas Cage running past a tall iron fence repeatedly screaming, “I’m a vampire!” which immediately proceeded a shot of him running into his apartment. Since these two shots were part of one continuous sequence, I hoped that they were filmed in the same general vicinity.
The reason I hoped they were near each other is because I had already figured out that the first shot took place along Gramercy Park. The thing that led me there was that long stretch of tall, iron fencing, which clearly bounded a decent-sized piece of property — most likely a park. While most fences surrounding NYC parks are not that high, I knew one place that did have a significantly tall iron fence, and that was Gramercy Park. The reason it’s so tall is because Gramercy is actually a private park that’s only open to residents of the immediate area (who pay an annual fee and are given a coveted access key).
Turned out my hunch was correct. I confirmed it by matching up a building that appeared in the background with the building at 7 Gramercy Park West.
After that, I just started looking in the vicinity for any apartment buildings that could possibly be the one used for Peter’s home. What I did was hover over parts of the neighborhood on Google Maps in “satellite view” and when I spotted a block of buildings that looked promising, I’d check them out in “street view.” The process ended up taking a little longer than I expected, but I eventually landed on 110 E 17th Street.
I actually almost missed it at first, mainly because the facade of Peter’s building has changed a bit since the 1980s. Some of the ornamentation has been removed and the stoop has been replaced, but I was eventually able to see that it was the same place from the film.
The biggest indicator was the neighboring buildings, which matched up perfectly, including the corner building Cage passes right after he runs past Gramercy Park. Located on the corner of E 17th and Union Square East, the three-story, neo-Georgian structure used to be the headquarters for the powerful political organization, Tammany Hall, and was home to the New York Film Academy from 1994 to 2017.
Interestingly, when I first started researching this location, I was originally looking for the apartment on the other side of Manhattan Island. That’s because, at one point in the movie, one of the characters looks up Peter’s address in the phonebook, which lists it as 362 W 19th Street in the Chelsea neighborhood. Even though I figured out that the address given was false, I still had hopes the real location was nearby. Thankfully, I eventually made the Gramercy Park connection, and got myself to the right neighborhood.
Figuring out Peter’s office location was pretty easy, especially since it was only a few blocks from the location of the therapist’s office (see below).
The main tip-off was the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Tower, which appeared in the far background. That tower has actually helped me figure out a bunch of filming locations from other films and is still one of the most prominent structures in the Madison Square Park area.
While most of the exterior shots of the office were filmed on Madison Avenue, later in the movie, when Peter and Alva return from the Bronx, the cab drops them off in front of the Park Avenue entrance, giving us a chance to see both the east and west sides of the building. Both sides look almost identical, except the the Park Avenue includes access to the 28th Street subway station.
Back to the Apartment
When I first started researching this movie several years ago, there wasn’t much information on the Internet about the filming locations. Even today, there’s not much info out there, perhaps because Vampire’s Kiss was never a very successful film. (I’m not sure if it even ever reached a “cult classic” status.)
On IMDb, there are only three locations listed, and one of them is just a generic “New York City” location. The site also inexplicably lists the Apple Core Theatre as one of the filming locations, which I’ve never been able to connect to any of the scenes. The source seems to be an October 6, 1987 Hollywood Reporter article that indicates some filming took place there, but doesn’t offer any other details. I suppose production could have built an interior set there, but the director has always said that they never used any sets on this film.
But to be honest, I’m wondering if that’s completely true, since most film productions usually have one or two “cover sets” on standby, just in case of a last-minute schedule change. In particular, I always thought the lobby in Peter’s apartment building looked like a set — it certainly looked nothing like anything I’ve ever seen in a NYC brownstone.
While it’s possible it was a real location, I don’t think it was 110 E 17th Street. The lobby that’s there today looks nothing like what appears in the film. The layout is completely different, with the most noticeable thing being the staircase going up in the opposite direction.
Picking Up a “Vampire”
It was fairly evident where they filmed the initial shot of traffic traveling along a busy avenue since you can see the neon sign for C.O. Bigelow Pharmacy, which is a famous Greenwich Village institution. Founded in 1838, C.O. Bigelow is the nation’s oldest apothecary, and has been at its current Sixth Avenue location since 1902 (just a couple doors down from its original location).
When you walk inside, you can immediately tell that the store’s interior has been lovingly preserved, filled with artifacts from a bygone era. In a recent New York Times article, Ian Ginsberg, whose family has owned the pharmacy since 1939, explained, “The ceiling is an original canvas ceiling, the fixtures are original oak, the tile floor is original, the chandeliers used to burn gas and were lit during the blackout in 1977.”
In addition to the store itself, some of their products also harken back to the early days. Things like their Lemon Body Cream, Dr. Keightley’s Mouthwash Concentrate, and Dr. Galen’s Skin Tonic are made from formulas that date back to the 19th century. Plus, C.O. Bigelow offers some old-fashioned services that aren’t readily available at modern drug store chains. For example, they still compound liquids, powders and suppositories, giving customers the option to receive their medications in different forms.
“We also cater to pets and filling their prescriptions,” Ginsberg told the Times. “That accounts for five to ten percent of our weekly prescription business.”
When it came to finding the location of the actual bar Nicolas Cage was in, a couple of the biggest clues appeared at the the top of an establishing tracking shot, where you can see the Empire State Building in the background and a “Cafe Borgia” in the foreground.
Hoping there’d be some info about the Cafe on the internet, I quickly gleaned from a couple websites that it was located on the corner of MacDougal and Bleecker from 1959 to 2001 (at which time it was forced to move out after losing its lease). Even though I didn’t have an exact address, by using the Empire State Building as a reference point, I determined Cafe Borgia was on the northeast corner and the bar on the northwest corner.
While this neighborhood is relatively safe these days, when they filmed this scene back in 1987, things were a little more rough. In fact, it was rumored that on the morning the film crew arrived at this location, a dead body was actually being carted out of the bar from the night before. If true, it probably set a nice morbid mood for the day’s shoot.
The New Museum
When I started looking into this scene, I just assumed that the “New Museum” was a fictional place. But after doing a little research, I discovered that it was, in fact, a real New York art institution.
Founded by Marcia Tucker, a former curator at the Whitney, the New Museum of Contemporary Art opened in 1977 in a small space at the New School For Social Research on Fifth Avenue. Tucker’s initial goal was to create a space that would showcase modern works by artists who hadn’t yet received much exposure or attention.
The museum remained at the school until 1983, when it moved into the first two and a half floors of the Astor Building at 583 Broadway, which is where this scene took place. The art on display in this scene was a series of large-scale “figurative” drawings by Canadian artist Betty Goodwin.
In 2007, the New Museum opened its doors to its new $50 million, seven-story location at 235 Bowery in the Lower East Side, which is extensively larger than any of its previous spaces (and sticks out like a “contemporary” sore thumb).
Like the River Diner in the 1985 film, After Hours, the diner featured in this film was easy to identify simply by its outside signage. While there’s always a chance signs in a movie are actually set-dressing, I had a feeling the neon signs in this scene were real. And after only a few clicks on Google, I found numerous sources apprising me of the history and address of the Munson Diner, confirming that the signs were indeed authentic.
As with most stand-alone diners, the Munson is no longer in NYC, but its story is not as dispiriting as it could be.
Manufactured in 1945 by the Kullman Dining Car Company in New Jersey, the Munson’s exterior was adorned with vertical strips of stainless steel and blue enameled panels, giving it a definite Art Deco vibe. When the diner was placed on the southwest corner of 11th Avenue and W 49th Street in 1945, it actually replaced a 1930s dining car already on that lot.
Owned and operated by Samuel Zelin and his family, the name Munson was just a fabrication, chosen by him and his business partner Irving Greenman for no other reason other than it didn’t sound too “ethnic.”
The Munson was situated in the middle of Manhattan’s car dealership district, but it was also close to the docks on the Hudson River, so it ended up catering to both blue and white collar customers. By 1950, the Munson Diner had a strong foothold in the community, so much so that when Pontiac wanted to erect a large dealership on the same block, they were forced to build around it, essentially wrapping itself around the stainless steel structure.
Over the next decade, the Zelin and Greenman families each created a consortium of diners, and by 1959, they had numerous establishments throughout mid-Manhattan, including the Empire Diner on 10th Avenue which is still in operation today. Around 1980, the Zelin family sold the Munson, but it continued to operate as a diner through the end of the century.
Besides being featured in Vampire’s Kiss, the Munson’s exterior was also used in a couple episodes of the TV show, Seinfeld, posing as Monk’s less appealing counterpart — Reggie’s Diner. In the show, the fictional diner was notable for being the hangout for “Bizarro Jerry” and his friends, and for not having a “big salad.”
In 2004, Martin Motor Sales, which owned the former Pontiac building on 11th Avenue, bought the Munson property for about $3.5 million with plans to put up a new skyscraper and demolish the single-story eatery. However, as soon as boarding went up on the windows, several interested parties approached Martin Motor Sales in hopes of saving the historic diner, but none of the proposals came through.
Facing almost certain destruction, the Munson Diner was saved at the last minute when a group of businessmen and civic figures in the Catskills decided to have it moved to Liberty, NY, a small town about 100 miles north of the city.
Loaded onto a flatbed truck, the steel dining car was transported to Liberty, where it was positioned onto its new foundation at 12 Lake Street with much enthusiasm. However, things went quickly sour after that.
Over the next ten years, the diner went through a series of openings and closings, changing hands over a half a dozen of times, and never seeing much success. By 2017, things were looking dire again for the NYC relic, when a Bronx business owner came to Liberty and breathed some new life into the restaurant.
It’s been several years since the New Munson Diner opened for business —which had been renovated and annexed with an open patio— and judging by the reviews, it seems to be a solid success. Let’s hope it stays that way, allowing this tiny 1940s eatery to stick around a little longer.
Hotel Lobby Payphone
I was very curious to figure out where they shot this scene, but was worried it’d be hard to find since the camera never showed anything other than the building Cage goes into, and there didn’t seem to be any obvious clues other than the Belgian block street.
Then, after watching this scene a bunch of times, I finally noticed something that had alluded me before — there was some faint block lettering below the double columns that flanked the staircase. After zooming in on the left side, I could see that the letters spelled out, YMCA.
Knowing I hit a valuable key to figuring out this location, I immediately started researching old YMCA buildings in Manhattan. To help narrow down the results, I included the phrase “West Village” in all my Google searches since a lot of the surviving Belgian block streets were in that neighborhood.
After narrowing my search to the Village, a place that kept popping up was the Jane Hotel, which according to several reliable sources, used to be a YMCA. And as soon as I saw a photo of the building with its double columns flanking the Jane Street staircase, I knew I got a winner, which gave me an instant thrill.
Even though I was positive I found the right exterior, I was uncertain whether the interiors were at the same place. But after finding some modern photos of the Jane Hotel’s lobby, as well as some vintage videos from the 1980s, it was clear the interiors were also shot at the hotel at 113 Jane Street. The lobby has seen some updates since 1987, but the floor and a lot of the fixtures are still intact.
Naturally, I was thrilled when I found this filming location, but I was also thrilled to see that the building was still standing today. A lot of structures in the area have been demolished over the past couple decades and the same could’ve happened to this place, despite the fact it’s been officially landmarked since late-2000.
Completed in 1908, this neo-Classical building on the corner of Jane and West Streets was designed by William A. Boring (who also co-designed the Immigration Station buildings on Ellis Island), and was originally the American Seamen’s Friend Society Sailors’ Home and Institute. Offering a respite for visiting sailors, the facility featured a chapel, library, post office, bank, concert hall, swimming pool, bowling alley, and around 200 hotel rooms, most of which were set up like cabins on a sailing ship, with a shared bathroom down the hall. And being located along the westside waterfront, a beacon was mounted atop the building’s polygonal tower which could then be shone onto the Hudson River.
After the American Seamen’s Friend Society officially moved out in 1944, the property was taken over by the YMCA, which removed some of the building’s nautical themes, including the beacon on the tower. Only a few years after that, the YMCA moved out and the building became a residential and transient hotel, changing hands and names several times over.
By the time they filmed this scene in the fall of 1987, the hotel (known then as Jane West) had hit hard times and became home to drug addicts and other people down on their luck. However, it also housed its share of artists and young bohemian types who were simply on a tight budget, such as drag performer RuPaul who lived in the “penthouse room” during the mid-1980s.
In 2008, the property was bought by developers who converted the building into an upscale hotel, although most of the rooms are still similar to what the sailors used to get — a small berth-like space with a shared bathroom and barely enough room for a bed (but now fitted with flat-screen TVs, iPhone docks and free WiFi).
Surprisingly, when the new renovated hotel first opened in 2008, some of the former long-term tenants were allowed to stay, and their rooms were easily identified by their distinctly battered doors. I can only assume all those old tenants have since vacated the premises, although there are tales of even older and spookier inhabitants still roaming the halls — namely, the lost souls from the Titanic.
After the famous ship sank in 1912, surviving crew members were brought to New York and lodged at the hotel on Jane Street. Since then, it’s been said the place is haunted. According to hotel guests, there are unexplained cold spots in the building, the elevator goes up and down on its own, transparent figures have been seen in the halls and unexplained moans have come from the rooms.
Honestly, the claim that ghosts and spirits are roaming the hotel wouldn’t keep me from staying there, but the idea of sharing a bathroom with other hotel guests is definitely a deal-breaker.
Like many other subway scenes filmed in NYC over the decades, this one was shot at the 42nd Street Station, using the shuttle train (even though in the scene, it’s supposed to be a Bronx-bound 6 train). It was pretty obvious they shot it there. You can tell by its distinctively sharp curve at the platform, not to mention, when Alva first enters the station, you can see an exit sign for 43rd Street-Broadway, which was exclusive to the shuttle’s track 4.
The station recently received a major renovation, which included the closure of track 4’s platform, and now looks very different from what’s in the film.
Normally, interior locations are hard to figure out, but because the therapist’s office had gigantic windows with panoramic views, it didn’t take me long to identify the basic location. It was sort of like figuring out a wide skyline shot (like the first location at the top of this page).
Once I knew the general location to be at the south end of Madison Square Park, I determined they were in a building just to the southwest of Madison Avenue. I found one movie website that implied they were on 23rd Street (which runs along the south side of the park), but in the 1980s, none of buildings on 23rd were tall enough to afford the same vantage point seen in the film.
I eventually concluded that the 12-story, pre-war building at 21 E 22nd Street was the only one tall enough to match the views, plus, its triple-pane windows seemed to look like what was at the therapist’s office (although some of them have since been modified).
The idea of them being in a building one block south of the park seemed a little counterintuitive, but they were simply on a high enough floor to be able to look over the 23rd Street buildings, which were between 1 and 5 stories tall. (You can see a couple of them in the 1980s tax photo above, as well as the 22nd Street building that was used in the film behind them.)
Unfortunately, the tall, skinny 51-story skyscraper that went up at 22 E 23rd Street in 2008 is not only an uninspired eyesore, but it now obstructs some of the views from the building on 22nd Street.
A Neon Cross
With this scene, the big clue that helped me figure out its location was the blue neon cross on the church. Figuring there weren’t a lot of churches in the city with such a sign, I did a general Google search and soon found a blog that paid homage to New York neon, with a 2015 post dedicated to crosses and crucifixes. Luckily, the post included a picture of the cross on E 2nd Street, which I could see was a match.
While I’ve always found neon to be a charming art medium, I usually associate it with the world of commercialism, so the idea of electric crosses being affixed to houses of worship always struck me as odd.
Today, it feels like these neon crosses have almost become a symbol of America’s past, back when they were used as shining beacons for lost souls in need of a spiritual boost. Personally, I’ve always associated them with the film noir milieu, where they’d offer an ecclesiastical alternative in an urban landscape bathed in neon lights, advertising all forms of secularism and debauchery.
It’s unclear exactly when neon crosses first appeared in the United States, but by the 1930s, they had become a popular calling card for many religious sects. For the next forty years after that, these neon crosses would continue to pop up all over the USA, and even found their way to far away lands. For example, the Moore Memorial Methodist Church in Shanghai, China, erected a 16-foot neon cross on their bell tower in 1936, which was also motorized, enabling it to both flash and rotate at night.
Back in their heyday, neon crosses were ubiquitous in NYC, but by the 1970s, all types of neon signs were being removed, mostly due to complaints about light pollution and the rising costs of electricity. According to Thomas E. Rinaldi, author of the book, “New York Neon,” there are only about a dozen of these crosses left in the city, scattered across the five boroughs. So, I felt pretty lucky that the one on E 2nd Street is still around, and I’m glad I got a photo of it, just in case it someday disappears.
But when I first tried to take a picture of the location, back in the summer of 2020, it ended with an unfortunate mishap. Using my 118-inch selfie-stick, I extended the pole as far as it would go and tried to match an overhead shot of the neon sign from this scene. As I stretched my arms over the iron fence and attempted to maneuver the camera next to the cross, one of the grip-pads came loose and my iPhone came plummeting down to the concrete, completely shattering on impact.
Of course, I eventually got a new phone and was able to take a picture for the “before/after” image above, but I abandoned any ideas of trying to replicate that overhead shot again. I guess that neon cross was not only sending bad vibes to Peter Loew, it was sending bad vibes to my selfie-stick.
The first place I identified from this extended sequence was the POV shot of the taxi cab driving on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. The clue that helped me out was a street sign on one of the overpasses which said S 9th Street, telling me they were in Brooklyn.
Of course, since Peter was, in theory, going to the Bronx, having him take the BQE didn’t make any geographical sense. But I figured they were just substituting Brooklyn for the Bronx, which is something other film productions have done (such as 1979’s, The Warriors). And it was this expressway footage that sort of screwed me up as I tried to find the location of Alva’s home, as I had it fixed in my head that it was somewhere in Brooklyn.
The one clue I was focusing on for was a shop called State Cleaners, which could be seen at the far end of the street as Peter’s cab drives up to Alva’s house. However, when I searched “State Cleaners” on Google, I couldn’t find any listing in New York.
I then took on a different tactic after I noticed the street jogged to the left a bit at the cleaners. With that in mind, I began searching a map of Brooklyn and Queens for any streets that were slightly offset — and it turns out, there’s a lot of them.
Fortunately, as I was scouring Brooklyn-Queens for any offset streets, Blakeslee came in on the job, and had the acuity to expand the search beyond NYC. Shortly after coming on board, he found an address for the State Cleaners, which was (and still is) 49 South Street in Jersey City. From there, he and I were able to determine that Alva’s home was just up the street at 316 Webster Avenue.
Admittedly, I was a little frustrated when I found out her home was in New Jersey, especially since when I initially researched “State Cleaners,” the Jersey City address popped up on Google, but I simply ignored it because I was fixated on Brooklyn-Queens.
Romero’s Auto Shop
This is another location I came close to finding, but Blakeslee was the one who sealed the deal.
Naturally, the first thing I researched was Romero’s Auto — the name of the gas station in this scene. I thought the sign looked authentic, but when I tried to find an address, I came up empty. (I did find an address for a Romero’s on Jamaica Avenue in Brooklyn, but that turned out to be wrong.)
After my Romero’s search didn’t get me anywhere, I began focusing on a set of street signs across from the gas station. The image was a little bit blurry but I was pretty sure one of them said, PARK. Unfortunately, I couldn’t read the other one but I already had a good starting place.
Assuming they were in Brooklyn, I figured I would just cruise along Park Avenue in Google Street View, hoping I could find a matching building. Of course, in case Romero’s had been razed, whenever I would see a modern-looking corner building, I would look up the address in the old tax records to see if it used to be a gas station or repair shop. I probably went back and forth on Park Avenue at least two or three times but never found anything promising.
Meanwhile, Blakeslee found a great behind-the-scenes photo of the director next to the taxi cab used in this scene. In the background, there was a great lead — an industrial building with “Vogel’s Material Handling Equipment” painted on it. After doing a little digging around, he found an ad for the company with an address of 751 Bedford Avenue, which just so happened to be half a block from Park Avenue.
Blakeslee then calculated that Romero’s was most likely on the northwest corner of Park and Bedford Avenues. But when I looked at that corner in Google Street View, there was a 6-story apartment building there. In fact, I remember seeing that building when I was looking up and down Park, but since I thought it looked like it pre-dated 1987, I never bothered to look it up in the tax archives.
That was clearly a mistake. Because, even though its masonry and design didn’t look like something from the 21st century, the building was actually constructed as recently as 2009. And after looking up a 1980s tax photo of the lot, I discovered it was, in fact, the former location of Romero’s Auto Repair.
Taking the Bridge
Even though the characters were supposed to be coming back from the Bronx, it was obvious they were really coming back from Brooklyn. I immediately identified the Williamsburg Bridge in the first shot of the cab, but it took me a minute to realize the reverse POV shot was filmed on a completely different overpass.
What’s interesting is seeing how much the Brooklyn coastline has changed in just the last few years. Up until around 2013, the waterfront area in Brooklyn looked pretty much the same as it did in 1987. However, it has since been “updated” and beautified where most of the industrial buildings have been taken down.
Buying Vampire Teeth
Like the New Museum, this was one of those places I was thoroughly convinced had a fake name. I thought, who would open a store with the name “Magickal Childe?” But after doing a little research, I found out who — a Wiccan high priest named Herman Slater.
In the early 1970s, when Slater and his partner originally opened a witchcraft bookshop in Brooklyn Heights, it was under the moniker, “Warlock Shop.” But in 1976, after they moved the business to 35 W 19th Street (where this scene took place), they renamed it, “The Magickal Childe,” in response to the negative connotations of the word, “warlock.”
Soon after moving to Manhattan, their shop became, according to several online articles, “the premier occult store in New York,” which I guess means there were actually competing stores.
I imagine one of the reasons the Magickal Childe was chosen to be featured in this film was because it had a reputation for being a major gathering place for the neopagan community. And by the time this movie was being made, it had, in effect, become the one-stop-shop for all of your conjuring needs.
While most items that appeared in this scene were real, like the voodoo dolls, love-spell kits, skull-shaped candles and jars of magical herbs, I doubt the store ever sold plastic vampire teeth. Although, I can imagine it being the type of place that might hook you up with an orthodontist who could convert your teeth into fangs.
In 1999, about seven years after Slater’s death, the Magickal Childe on W 19th Street closed its doors for good. There still is a website for the shop, but it looks like it hasn’t been updated since 1999.
Running Amuck in a Park
Like the club scene that took place near the beginning of the film, the location of this scene just came to me from having lived in NYC for so long. In fact, my former apartment on Perry Street was just two blocks away from this playground.
The two things I immediately recognized from this scene were the liquor store over on Hudson Street (see the 3rd “before/after” image above) and the unique-looking park benches (which ended up getting replaced when the recreational area got renovated around 2012).
The first shots from this sequence was pretty easy to find. I had a feeling it was shot on Madison Avenue, but the clincher was the former Villard Mansion at no. 455 which appeared at the top of the traveling shot. Its distinctive U-shape and its antiquated sandstone exterior are hard to be mistaken for anything else in the midtown Manhattan.
In the second shot, the thing that stood out for me was the building with white vertical stripes, which I thought could be the back of the GM Building. I first doubted that it would be that simple, but after going to the backside of the building in Google Street View, I could see that I was correct.
The third shot, featuring what looked like a factory or warehouse, gave me a little run for my money, but I still got it pretty quickly. Obviously, the sign in the foreground with “23rd Street” on it was the main clue, but since it wasn’t proceeded with an E or W, it couldn’t be in Manhattan, and had to be in Brooklyn or Queens. Another clue was a shadow being cast on the side of the building, which looked like it could be a bridge or viaduct.
Looking for industrial areas near a bridge or overpass, I started with 23rd Street near the Gowanus Expressway in Sunset Park, but that was not right. Next, I went to where 23rd Street crossed the 59th Street Bridge in Queens and noticed that there was a new building on the northeast corner. So, I went to the tax archives to see what used to be there, and after finding a 1980s tax photo of that corner lot, I could tell I found the right place.
Needless to say, I didn’t have to do any legwork to figure out the last shot, which was obviously looking south at the Statue of Liberty in the New York Harbor.
Going Out Clubbing
After I found the location of Peter’s apartment, I was curious to see if I could dig up any background on the building. Turns out, the four-story Italianate brownstone at 100 E 17th Street started off as a single-family home when it was constructed in the 1850s. Over the next 70 years or so, the fashionable rowhouse was occupied by several prominent New Yorkers, including a stock broker, a prolific inventor and a government inspector of “Indian supplies.”
In 1933, the home was converted into individual apartments, but the exterior more or less remained the same. It wasn’t until a few years after this movie was made that the intricate carvings around the windows were inexplicably removed, rendering the frames flat and mundane. The only ornamentation that remained on the building was the carving above the entrance.
You can read more about no. 100’s history in the ever-exhaustive website, Daytonian in Manhattan.
The Tunnel Nightclub
This was the only location that was already identified on several websites, including IMDb, as taking place at Tunnel, a nightclub which used to be inside the Chelsea Terminal Warehouse at 220 Twelfth Avenue from 1986 to 2001. However, these websites were only partially correct.
All the interiors were filmed inside the real Tunnel, but the exteriors were filmed at a different location. I discovered this when I tried to find a door at the Terminal Warehouse which could’ve been used for this scene. Even though the style was somewhat the same, none of the doors at the Chelsea location looked like the one seen in the film. Plus, once I realized the street that appeared in these exterior scenes was much narrower than anything that surrounded the warehouse, I concluded they shot them outside a different building.
In fact, it was the very narrowness of the street that helped me find the exterior location. While the street had the width of an alleyway, the buildings looked more presentable than what you’d normally find in some back alley. I knew of only one street in Manhattan that had those qualities, and that was the quaint, Belgian-block-paved Collister Street in Tribeca, located near the Holland Tunnel.
I first heard about the relatively-unknown Collister from savvy New York drivers who said they’d use it as a shortcut after exiting the tunnel as a way to avoid the heavy traffic on Hudson Street. Like the nearby St. John’s Lane, Collister Street (named after an 18th century sexton of Trinity Church) served as a rear access to the elegant townhouses that once lined the main streets.
As soon as I checked out the short, two-block street in Google Street View, I realized my guess was correct and determined that they filmed the club exteriors outside of no. 60 (which obviously had fake signage added to it for the film).
My guess as to why there were two locations has to do with accessibility. I’m sure they were able to film inside the actual Tunnel nightclub, so long as they did it in the day, when it was normally closed. But for the exterior scenes, they couldn’t film them in the daylight, and since Tunnel would be busy at night, production had to find a different place to use.
Along with Vampire’s Kiss, interiors of Tunnel were featured in several films, such as the 1989 sequel to Ghostbusters and the 1995 indie feature, Kids. The club was also one of the settings in Bret Easton Ellis’ novel, “American Psycho.”
It’s funny, Blakeslee and I spent a good amount of time looking for this “sunrise” location, but it turns out, it was also filmed on Collister Street, just one block south of the nightclub location.
But before I figured that out, when I started researching this quick scene, I had a little trouble identifying any of the surroundings because the beginning was very dark and the ending was all blown out.
I was able to lighten up the dark parts to get a rough idea of what the building he passed looked like. And the two things I could make out at the end was what looked like a river and a metal awning on one of the buildings, which would indicate they were in Tribeca near the Hudson. (Of course, that would mean the sun was actually setting and not rising).
With that in mind, I started trying to figure out Nicolas Cage’s proximity to the Hudson River. When he turns the corner and faces the sun, it looks like he was only one or two buildings away from the river, so I figured they shot this scene at some mid-block street that was in between Greenwich and West Streets. But after looking through a map of the area, I couldn’t find anything that looked right.
As I was looking through a map of Tribeca, Blakeslee was studying the ending of the scene, focusing on the area near the river, which apparently had a wall and a couple tall metal structures alongside it.
After a little bit, Blakeslee concluded that that was a construction site and those metal things were probably cranes of some sort. That would mean, we were essentially looking through an empty lot towards the river, making the mid-block street Cage comes out of one extra block to the east.
Armed with this new information, I rechecked the map of Tribeca and almost immediately zeroed in on Collister Street which runs north-south between Greenwich Street and Hudson Street. I then went to check it out and discovered the building on the corner of Beach Street seemed match the one Cage walks past.
To further confirm this location, I looked up the construction date of the building on the far side of Greenwich Street, and saw that it was completed in 1989. So, it would make perfect sense that the construction was just in the beginning stages when they filmed this scene in late 1987.
Grabbing a Stake
This is one of several scenes from the final act of the film that shows very few details of its location, making an identification seemingly impossible. However, there were a still a few tip-offs. The biggest one was what looked like a crook in the street behind Nicolas Cage, but since this scene was shot with a very long lens, the background was a little distorted, so it was possible the crook was just an illusion. But assuming it was real, I figured there would only be a limited number of streets in NYC that would fit the bill.
I’ve found that most of the streets in Manhattan that have a bend in them are fairly narrow and are typically in residential neighborhoods. But the street in this scene looked somewhat wide and the area looked pretty industrial. So when I searched a map of Manhattan for any crooked streets, I focused mostly on areas along the Hudson River since that’s where industrial neighborhoods tend to be.
I eventually zeroed in on Washington Street in the Meatpacking District which had a distinct bend in it near Little West 12th Street. Like I said before, the long lens flattened and distorted the background in this scene, so it was kind of hard to match up any buildings, but I particularly thought the street seemed promising since it was only a few blocks away from the Jane Hotel location.
Unfortunately, one problem with the Meatpacking District is that it has changed quite dramatically over the past couple decades, where a lot of the rough industrial elements have been removed or changed beyond recognition. So, I went back to the 1980s tax archives and looked for any images of Washington Street, hoping one of them would jive with the movie. Thankfully, I found an image of 833 Washington that seemed to show several matching elements, including a stop sign, some awning posts and a fire hydrant.
After finding that very promising tax photo, I felt more confident I got the right place and decided to do a deeper dive into the area. After a little digging around, I found a few vintage photos on some websites that showed different angles of the same intersection and again seemed to support my conclusion that they shot the scene there.
Surprisingly, I also discovered that one of the loading bays that appears in the background when Cage is running across the street is still around today and looks relatively unchanged. Once I saw that, I was thoroughly convinced that I got the right place.
One quick note about this scene where Nicolas Cage incoherently begs a couple strangers on the street to kill him. According to director Robert Bierman, those two people had no idea they were being filmed. He has claimed that they were two real homeless people who just wandered into the scene and were genuinely frightened by “Peter Loew’s” rantings before running away.
In a 2019 interview, Bierman reiterated this claim, saying that by allowing real New Yorkers to be a part of the film, it helped Cage with his performance. The director postulated, “It was an interesting way of galvanizing his character. He became part of the New York scenery at that time.”
I have some doubt that this is entirely true, but Cinematographer Stefan Czapsky seems to assert the same thing, explaining, “I just set the camera up across the street and photographed it.” This, of course, would account for the need to use a long lens, but doesn’t necessarily mean none of the street folks were hired extras.
I know that back in the 1980s, the rules were a lot looser with photographing passersby without getting their permission. But if someone is featured prominently in a scene and interacting with the principal actor, I would think that production would need to get a release signed, even on a low-budget film like Vampire’s Kiss.
Emilio Races to Manhattan
In the sequence, Blakeslee found the first shot and I found the second shot. I believe he found it by looking up the address of one of the businesses that appears in the background, which ended up being only a block away from the Romero’s gas station location.
When I started looking for the location of the shot under the El train tracks, I already knew production filmed a few bits on Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. So I just checked out any streets that ran under tracks that were nearby and I eventually ended up on Myrtle Avenue, which is under the M train in nearby Bushwick.
When it comes to finding a church location, Blakelsee and I usually start off by doing a Google image search for “New York churches” and then scan through the results, looking for a match. This method invariably works, but can sometimes be time-consuming. That’s why, when I have a good idea what neighborhood a scene took place in, I will instead open Google maps of that area do a search in that. I then just click on each of the pinpoints that pop up and they will usually link me to several images and/or a 360° street view.
Since I suspected this church was in the East Village, that’s the method I used to find this location. The reason I suspected that this scene took place there is because the church members appeared to be East European, and the East Village was known for having several East European communities.
After a few clicks on the map, I landed on St. Nicholas Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Church on E 10th Street, and after looking at the linked photos, I determined that it was a match.
Going Batshit Crazy
This is another location that seemed nearly impossible to find. It’s a pretty tight long shot and you really don’t see much other than a nondescript corner building and a lamppost. But after finding that location in the Meatpacking District, I took on this scene with an unusual feeling of confidence.
And my confidence grew stronger when I noticed something that had previously evaded me — the traffic on one of the streets was two-way. This was a major development, as there are only a limited number of streets in Manhattan that are actually two-way. And knowing that production filmed a bunch of stuff in the East and West Villages, if the same was true for this scene, that would limit things even more.
My first instinct was to begin my search in the East Village since I knew all the lettered avenues there went both ways. Starting on Avenue A, I just virtually traveled up and down the thoroughfare in Google Street View, looking for a corner building that could be a match. Once I moved onto Avenue B, I was taken aback when I suddenly stumbled upon the building on the corner of E 11th Street that had a residential entrance very similar to the one that was in the film.
But since it was hard to see if it was a perfect match, the first thing I did was look up the address in the 1980s tax archives to see if it offered a few more pieces of evidence.
Thankfully, the tax photo was clear enough to show some details and was actually taken from approximately the same angle as the one used in this scene. To help myself match things up, I created one long panoramic composite image of the scene in Photoshop, showing Nicolas Cage’s complete walking path as the camera followed him. When I lined it up the tax photo with my composite, I was amazed to see that not only did the position of the door and windows on the building match up, but the graffiti on the north wall also matched up.
With that, I was certain I found the right place and was completely shocked that I found it as fast as I did. It just came down to luck and instinct.
Talking to a Wall
Blakeslee was the one who found this location, which was one of the last places we were working on. Both of us suspected that this scene took place somewhere in SoHo, but he was the one who took the reins and searched for the large cornerstone. I believe he found it simply by checking out a bunch of intersections on Google Street View. Since the SoHo neighborhood is not very large, and most of the buildings have remained unchanged, it doesn’t take very long to find a location using that method.
Returning to His Apartment
Filmed on the streets of New York in seven frenetic weeks during the late summer/early fall of 1987, director Robert Bierman has described this undertaking as “complete chaos.” However, he has concluded that it was a productive chaos. With a budget of only around two million, the feeling on the set was probably almost like being on a student film, which probably helped foster creativity and gave them the freedom to take chances.
While I think some of the stories Bierman has told about the filming process were probably apocryphal, I think the overall flavor of NYC in the late 80s was close to what he has described. As he recalled in a 2019 interview with writer Zach Schonfeld, “At that time, Manhattan was full of bums and crazy people and the homeless. When Nic was on the street, we were shooting back on longer lenses. Some people didn’t know who he was. They just thought he was one of the crazy people on the street.”
When I first saw this film on cable as a teen, I just saw it as a so-so dark comedy. However, upon more recent viewings, I can appreciate it as a story that shows how one of those “crazy people on the street” got to that point in their life. It explored the absurd details of someone you normally would ignore and just let blend into the outlandish fabric of the city.
But by having this rambling crazy person start off as a self-indulgent, well-to-do yuppie really showcased the acute dichotomy that existed in New York City during that time, where the rich and the unfortunate constantly shared the same streets. While those dualities still exist today, they don’t intermingle the same way they used to. Nowadays, the destitute are more often relegated to the outer fringes of the city limits and don’t intersect with the swank, Instagram crowd.
New York was more schizophrenic back in the 80s, and Bierman and cinematographer Stefan Czapsky managed to capture that unsettling atmosphere in a very creative way, often making upscale, fashionable places look eerie and foreboding. They gave the metropolis an almost gothic feel to it, which was the perfect setting for a vampire-themed, comedic, over-the-top, social commentary. (Boy, is that a mouthful!)
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It’s clear you spent years on this. Great job, Mark!
Congrats, I enjoyed a lot with this post.
P.S.: Few days ago I did watch Al Pacino’s Cruising, where I see many locations of Manhattan. It’s in your list of movies to analyze?