A typical Adam Sandler movie that combines gross-out humor with sentimental schmaltz, Big Daddy follows a thirty-something slacker who haphazardly decides to raise a little boy who was essentially left on his doorstep.
Big Daddy is definitely not one of Sandler’s best movies, but it was certainly one of his most popular. In fact, it ended up being the biggest live-action money-maker for the former SNL star. But the main reason I decided to delve into the world of Big Daddy is because it’s probably Sandler’s most New Yorky movie, showcasing the city in the late 90s, just as it was transitioning into the slicker, more polished entity that it is today.
Filled with lots of on-location footage, most of the action took place in the West Village/SoHo area, but production also filmed stuff throughout Manhattan, as well as Brooklyn, Queens and Yonkers.
While many of the filming locations for Big Daddy have already been identified on several websites, no one listed these two quick opening shots from the film. The shot of Sandler with a surfboard was pretty easy to find. I first searched for images of NYC taxi garages on Google, but didn’t find anything right away. Then I decided to do a search for the name, “Mystic Brokerage,” which appeared on the billboard in the background. Fortunately, Mystic (an insurance company for taxi and limousines) is still in business and at the same location in Brooklyn.
As to the the shot of Sandler in a boat, I am only guessing that it was shot at the Lake in Central Park, based on the fact that they shot another scene at Cherry Hill which is right next to the Lake. Also, that’s the only place I know in Manhattan that rents out rowboats like the one in the film. They probably set up the camera on the Bow Bridge and grabbed a quick shot before or after they filmed the scene on Cherry Hill (see “Picking Up Women” below).
When I first saw this movie, I always assumed by the looks of the dirty waterway and rusty surroundings that they shot these toll booth scenes in New Jersey somewhere (no offense to the Garden State). However, years later, after living in Bushwick, Brooklyn for some time, I became very familiar with the Borden Avenue Bridge, which was on my main biking/hiking route to the Queensboro Bridge. So, when I recently revisited this scene, I immediately recognized the bridge without even having to think twice.
Built in 1908, the Borden Avenue Bridge is located in the heart of an huge industrial area in Sunnyside, Queens, with the Midtown Expressway looming high above. (The reason the elevated expressway was built so far up was to give enough room for any tall ships traveling on the waterway.)
The bridge has been a main thoroughfare for local traffic, but in 2008, after a hundred years of use, the Borden Avenue Bridge was deemed unsafe for trucks and other heavy vehicles, and was shut down for around two years for repairs. While the main focus was to reinforce the structure, one of the more charming updates was the installation of wood-plank sidewalks on both sides.
Thankfully, they kept the old bridge keeper’s building intact (seen behind the tollbooth in the first image above).
Of course, there is no toll booth on the Borden Avenue Bridge, as it’s pretty much a simple, 84-foot overpass that runs across a minor water channel (called Dutch Kills, an inlet of Newtown Creek).
While it’s technically a retractable bridge that can open up horizontally along a series of rails, the structure hasn’t swung open for marine traffic in over ten years, and probably won’t do so ever again. However, it’s still classified as a retractable bridge, and is one of only two such bridges left in the city (the other one being the Carroll Street Bridge that spans the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn).
Judging by the cast iron buildings on the street, I figured these apartment exteriors were shot somewhere in SoHo. And with a T-intersection down the street, that helped limit the number of possibilities. I just looked at the buildings near any T-intersection until I found a match.
One nice thing about the SoHo neighborhood is that most of the buildings are landmarked, so they look pretty much the same as they did in 1999, or for that matter, 1929.
Watching Rollerbladers Fall
I figured this was likely shot in Central Park, in particular the northern part, which is a bit hillier. Fortunately, since they were near a body of water with a small park building in the background, the number of possible locations were small.
I just hovered over the park in Google Maps, looking at all the bodies of water that had a building somewhere along its shoreline. A few minutes later I zeroed in on the Harlem Meer and checked out the paths across from the old boathouse, which matched perfectly. The only thing missing was the boulder at the bottom of the hill, but that was obviously fake and placed there by production.
Going to a Bar
When I began seriously researching NYC films around 2015, there were plenty of movie sources on the web and in the library, but the information out there wasn’t as extensive as it is today.
These days, if I start doing new research on a fairly popular movie, there’s a good chance a lot of the locations have already been identified and published somewhere (especially if the movie isn’t very old). And yet, part of me still wants to try and identify the locations on my own before looking at someone else’s itemized list. But to be fair, if something stumps me, I don’t wait very long before I go to one of my standby resources and see what they’ve got.
But with this bar location, I didn’t have much of a chance to do anything on my own, because as soon as I did a general Google search for New York Blarney Stones, I stumbled upon several movie websites that listed the address of the one used in Big Daddy.
Of course, I always follow up with my own research to make sure the website gave the correct address, as I will encounter errors on a regular basis. As to this location, since the facade of what is now called “The Celtic Rail” looks different from what was in the film, I thought it was possible these websites got it wrong — especially since there have been many generic “Blarney Stones” in New York over the years.
However, after a little digging around, I found an old photograph of the bar taken in August, 2009, shortly before the exterior got remodeled. Aside from the awning, it matched perfectly with what was in the film.
Of all the NYC locations, this pub was probably the most memorable for Sandler. It was here that he met his future wife, Jackie Titone, who played the waitress in the scene.
More Park Skaters
This scene was naturally shot in Central Park, and I figured the body of water in the background was the Jackie Onassis Reservoir, based on its size and the fountain in the center. Then, using the distant buildings as a guide, I was able to pinpoint the general location of this scene to be somewhere near the northwest corner of the Reservoir. From there, I searched along the drive looking for the large tree that appeared on the left side of the frame, since it was the most distinctive looking.
Luckily, the tree is still around (although it has since lost one its major limbs) and I was able to nail the location of the bench (which was undoubtedly placed there by production) within a few feet. Figuring out where exactly the rollerbladers skated was a little trickier, but I think I got the general spot, based on the curve in the road.
It’s interesting that a recurring joke in this movie is mocking and abusing rollerbladers. I guess inline skating, which was becoming vastly hip and popular in NYC in the 90s, had somehow invoked the ire of Adam Sandler. So much so that he needed to make them the source of ridicule in his movie. I can only imagine what his feelings are towards today’s scooterers and hoverboarders.
There wasn’t any work needed to figure out the location of this scene since the Felix restaurant has been a well-known, if not supercilious, SoHo staple for several decades. While the atmosphere might’ve changed since when this movie was being made, back in the 1990s, this vogue French bistro was known for its pretentious Gallic dishes (braised rabbit or escargot anyone?), imperious customers and alienating waitstaff.
I was actually a little surprised the restaurant owners let their name be displayed so prominently in this scene. While I imagine being featured in a major motion picture would help increase business, the only thing it probably did was encourage drunk passersby to urinate on their doors.
It might be noted that in this scene, there occurred the first of several geographical inconsistencies. When Sonny wants to check the time from the corner of West Broadway and Grand, he looks at a clock at the Jefferson Market Library on 6th Avenue. Only problem is, the clock is over twenty blocks away. He’d have to have bionic, x-ray eyesight to be able to see that.
Going to McDonald’s
While this sequence contains two completely incongruous locations, it’s played as if they are close to each other. I assume they just threw in that quick shot at 200 Water Street because they wanted to show off the unique digital clock built into the facade.
Created by modernist graphic designer Rudolph de Harak, the three-story high clock was installed in 1971 upon the completion of 200 Water Street (although it’s visually positioned above the smaller corner building at 135 John Street). The giant kinetic timepiece consists of 72 individual squares, each containing a number from 00 to 59, which light up accordingly to indicate the date, hour, minute and second.
As part of the project, De Harak also designed several unique street-level pieces, including vibrant metal loveseats, modernist trash cans and a red phone booth. All of those items were subsequently removed (although the the brightly-colored loveseats weren’t taken out until 2011 when a Starbucks moved into 135 John Street), however, the enormous digital clock remains.
When it came to identifying the McDonald’s where Sonny yells at the counter workers, it was was one of those places I didn’t even have to think about — I instantly knew it was the one on W 3rd Street in Greenwich Village. In fact, if memory serves me correctly, it was one of earliest McDonald’s franchises to be established in Manhattan. This was back when the city was geared more towards local businesses, and national fast food chains like McDonalds or Taco Bell were few and far between.
However, when I went to take a modern picture of the location a few weeks ago, I was shocked to see that the McDonald’s was actually closed and boarded up — I always figured that that place would never close. Although admittedly, it won’t be terribly missed, as it was notorious for having a sort of “Wild West” reputation, especially late at night. Brawls, half-assed hold-ups, regurgitating drunks, and bold rats were not uncommon sights there — which may or may not be more frightening than a screaming Adam Sandler.
Getting Hit by a Car
The street where Sonny gets hit by a car was easily identifiable. I was already quite familiar with Minetta Lane, which has been featured in countess films over the years and has thankfully remained more or less the same.
Built over an old brook that connected to the Hudson River, the quaint and narrow Minetta Lane and Street make up the quintessential West Village spot — the kind of place that served as an inspiration for the New York recreations on Hollywood backlots. While the adjoining Sixth Avenue and MacDougal Street are often jammed and rambunctious, the Minettas have remained mostly severene. In fact, rumor has it that if you stand on the crooked street at the dead of night, you might be able to hear the brook still babbling below the concrete.
As to the location of the parking lot, this was the last place I identified for this film. Since the scene more or less just showed a wall, finding an address seemed nearly impossible. But fortunately, through the window of a parked car, you can get a quick glimpse of the ground floor of a nearby building. The columns looked like something in SoHo, so I just looked around the neighborhood in Google Street View to see if I could find a match. I also made sure to put the Street View at the oldest setting possible, figuring the open lot was gone today, but perhaps still around 10-15 years ago.
Looking at a 2011 street view of Wooster, I came upon a parking lot that looked promising. I then checked out the nearby buildings and saw that the columns at 340 West Broadway matched what was in the film. And it turns out that that was also the location of Felix restaurant, which was used in an earlier scene (further confirming that I found the right place).
And in case you’d like to rent an apartment in the new building at 27 Wooster Street, a 2-bedroom goes for around $30,000 a month. If that seems a tad high, keep in mind that the rent includes heat and hot water, so it’s not so bad.
This is a location that had plenty of clues to go on — mainly, the signage on the store and restaurant, which both looked authentic. After doing a Google search for “82nd street fruit and vegetable market,” I found a reference to it in a 1982 issue of New York Magazine, listing its address to be 1576 Second Avenue.
After looking at that address in Google Street View, I was able to find enough matching elements on the buildings to confirm I got the right place. Not to mention, I later noticed that the awning at the restaurant said 1584 Second Avenue on it.
The one thing that did puzzle me was the brick wall where Julian goes to the bathroom. The wall that’s there today looks nothing like what was in the movie and I thought perhaps they shot it somewhere else. But after consulting the old tax photos of 1584 Second Avenue, I could see the wall used to look more like it did in this scene.
Sonny Calls His Dad
Like many of these scenes, the location of this one was patently obvious since I was very familiar with the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House — not only because it was featured in several other films (such as Ghostbusters II, and Batman Forever) but because I used to give guided tours of the Bowling Green area and the building was always a part of it.
Lunch in the Park
Even someone vaguely familiar with New York City would likely know exactly where this scene took place, thanks to the iconic Washington Square Arch in the background.
If you compare the before/after image above, you can see there’s been a few changes to the park since 1998. The most obvious difference is the concrete bench they sit on which was replaced with new black-topped granite benches during the 2007-2014 park renovation. Another, more subtle change involved the large center fountain in the background, which was shifted over to better align with the archway.
Trick or Treating
Even though it looked like it took place in the West Village, this is one of the few scenes whose location wasn’t immediately obvious to me. So, I decided to rely on another website for its identification.
The most thorough site I found for this film was The Movie District, which listed this scene’s location to be on Commerce. And after looking at the location in Google Map, I could see the listing was a correct.
It might be noted that the grumpy man who refuses to come to the door was played by the movie’s director Dennis Dugan, who has directed a good chunk of Sandler’s other movies, including Happy Gilmore.
The Spit Trick
Aside from the subway signage by the hotdog stand, one of big clues in identifying this location was the Gay Liberation Monument in the park. Sculpted by artist George Segal, the monument consists of four white-painted bronze figures —two standing men and two seated women— in casual poses. The sculpture was originally commissioned in 1979 to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, and was completed in 1980. Placed at the northern end of Christopher Park near the Stonewall Inn tavern, the monument was notable for being the first public art piece dedicated to gay rights.
Picking Up Women
I was able to figure out the location of this third scene in Central Park by identifying the distinct twin towers of the San Remo apartment building in the background.
Located at 145 Central Park West, the San Remo opened in 1930 and was the first of several twin-towered apartment buildings to be situated along the park. Designed by Emery Roth, each of the the 10-story, Beaux-arts towers are topped with an English Baroque mansion, adorned with lavish carvings and sculptures. Its conception is the epitome of extravagant architecture that was happening in New York at the cusp of the Great Depression.
Like most luxury buildings in NYC, the San Remo has seen its share of notable residents, such as boxing legend Jack Dempsey, fashion designer Donna Karan, and a truckload of famous actors, including Bruce Willis, Demi Moore, Dustin Hoffman, Mary Tyler Moore, Hedy Lamarr and John Barrymore. Today, the San Remo remains one of the most desirable and expensive apartment buildings in Manhattan. But surprisingly, it was featured in the TV sitcom, “The Odd Couple,” as the home of Oscar Madison and Felix Unger, who were hardly the high-profile, affluent types who typically reside there.
I relied on The Movie District website for this location, too. However, it’s hard to know who did the original research since a few other websites listed the laundromat’s address as well.
I don’t imagine it would’ve been too hard to find, though, since the name, “Expressway Laundromat” is clearly visible in the establishing shot, and that laundry business is still around and at the same location today.
Upon initial inspection, I thought this location would be hard to find since all you see is a tight shot of some playground equipment and a partial view of a few generic apartment buildings in the background. But since they shot a lot of stuff in the West Village, I thought it was likely they used a playground in that neighborhood as well.
Figuring I could confirm the location by matching those buildings in the background, I first went to the Bleecker Playground— a place I was familiar with since it was only a couple blocks from my old apartment on Perry Street— and I was delighted with what I found. Not only was I able match the buildings in the background, I discovered that the playground’s green and tan equipment was still the same.
I assumed the equipment would’ve been updated at some point since 1998, but turns out that the playground had just been renovated the year before they filmed this scene, so it makes sense that it’d still be the same today. Amazingly, the equipment looked to be in pretty good shape, considering it was the recipient of nearly 25 years worth of clambering kids.
On a Date with Layla
I relied on other websites for the locations of this extended date sequence, although they all seemed fairly findable. The Corner Bookstore was probably the most obvious, considering it’s amazingly still in business today, and its facade looks practically unchanged from 1998.
I assume the somewhat nondescript brownstone apartment was found because it was on the same block as the bookstore. However, the Movie District website had the wrong address — listing it at 22 E 93rd Street when it was really at 18. I realized the mistake after taking pictures of the front stoop and noticing that the pattern on the post didn’t match the film. Then, after boosting up the brightness, I could see an 18 above the front door.
Unfortunately, I didn’t figure all that out until after I returned home, so I had to go back to 93rd and retake the pictures. (As I mentioned earlier, it’s always important to double check another website’s work!)
As to the restaurant, I probably should’ve recognized it right away, since I went to that particular place a few years ago to take pictures for the 1979 movie, The Wanderers, which shot an extended sequence there.
Named after a region in Italy, Puglia has been a family-owned restaurant for over 100 years, located at the same address in Little Italy since its grand opening in 1919. While the food is fine, Puglia is best known for its live entertainment and jovial atmosphere with its long, communal tables that encourage you to break bread and toast a glass a wine with your neighbor.
Doing Things Right
The Plaza Hotel and Liberty Island were two obvious locations, but the school was a little harder to pinpoint. I probably could have searched through images of NYC public schools looking for a match, but instead, I went to the Movie District website and it fortunately had the Brooklyn address listed there (which was apparently a contribution from a reader).
The Custody Hearing
While most of the interior scenes were shot on soundstages at Silvercup Studios in Queens, these courtroom scenes were shot at a real courthouse in Yonkers, about 25 miles north of the studio.. The courthouse has been used in several other productions, such as the 1996 drama, Sleepers, and the TV show, The Sopranos.
I’ve noticed in both my research for this website and my experiences working in the film industry that many productions don’t bother to build courtroom sets at a studio and choose to film on location instead. I can only assume the rental costs to take over a courthouse is fairly low — enough to justify a whole crew traveling outside the city for what was certainly a multiple-day shoot.
Kevin Meets His Son
This final location from the film was easy enough to find. I just did a Google image search for “hooters midtown manhattan” until I found a picture that looked like the Hooters from the film. The side entrance and it being located next to a parking garage were the two key features I was looking for.
I eventually found a couple photos on a vegan blog from 2014 which looked like a match. After going to the address in Google Street View, I confirmed it was the correct location. Even though the restaurant has since closed down, older street views show it in place on 56th Street, and the surrounding buildings all match with what appears in this scene.
Strangely enough, IMDB listed the Hooters location to be on Staten Island, which is patently wrong. (The big problem with that website is that anyone can submit a filming location without really any sort of verification.)
It is true that Staten Island once had a Hooters there. It was located on Hylan Boulevard, not too far from the Verrazzano Bridge, but looked nothing like what was in the film. It closed in 2003.
There doesn’t seem to be anymore Hooters in NYC except for one on the very far edge of Queens, but it’s definitely a restaurant chain that we could do without. I went to a Hooters once with my uncle at the Carousel Center Mall in Syracuse — and once was more than enough.
All in all, even though Big Daddy isn’t great, it is definitely a watchable film, with a handful memorable jokes. Naturally, the cast is chock-full of Sander regulars, such as Rob Schneider and Steve Buscemi (who I think is the best part of the movie), along with a supporting role by Jon Stewart right before he began his tenure at The Daily Show.
The role of Julian was actually played by a pair of identical twins — Dylan and Cole Sprouse.
Using young twins is a common practice in film and television, as it helps production stay in compliance with the strict child labor laws. Although, I’d be curious if one twin was reserved for certain types of scenes, while the other was used for other types.
The pair of boys continued to act throughout their childhood, including work on the Disney channel, but Cole might be best known for playing Ross’s son Ben on the TV show, Friends.
Cole and Dylan Sprouse. (Photo by Maureen Donaldson/Online USA, Inc.)
When I decided to include Big Daddy on this website, it admittedly felt like a sort of odd choice. But I’m glad I explored the movie, as it serves as an interesting reminder of what the city was like as it was inching towards the 21st century. And while New York has changed quite a bit since this movie was made, at least one thing has remained a constant — public urination.
Some things are just built into the the fabric of a city.