The impressive diversity of the Upper West Side—towering skyscrapers and charming brownstones, open plazas and leafy parks—makes it as appealing to location scouts as it is to residents and tourists. To call out every movie and TV show filmed here would be close to impossible, especially as new movies and series continue to discover the neighborhood (welcome, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”). Below is a walking tour that will take you past some of the more notable and photogenic locales.
“Gossip Girl” fans know the Empire Hotel (44 West 63rd Street, between Broadway and Columbus Avenue) as the hotel Chuck Bass buys in season three. The hotel, which prior to its appearance in the series was probably best known for its iconic neon rooftop sign spelling out its name, allowed the show to shoot inside as well as outside, a decision that benefited it financially: Bookings increased as much as 10% following its “Gossip Girl” appearances. You can even order the I’m Chuck Bass cocktail, which features Dewar’s and apple cider, in its lobby bar.
Just a few blocks away is a pivotal location in the original “Ghostbusters.” Zuul, the gatekeeper to Gozer the Destroyer, resides in an apartment at 55 Central Park West (between 65th and 66th Streets); unfortunately for cellist Dana, it is the same unit in which she lives. (In real life, the Art Deco co-op, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, was home to such luminaries as Rudy Vallee, Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, and David Geffen). Through the magic of special effects, the 19-story building appears eight floors larger and more imposing in the film. Other UWS locales seen in “Ghostbusters” include legendary restaurant Tavern on the Green (Central Park West and 67th Street), outside of which Dana’s milquetoast neighbor Louis becomes possessed. And of course, there is Columbus Circle (Central Park South and Central Park West), where the gargantuan Stay Puft Marshmallow Man lumbers by. In the movie, Stay Puft also stomps on the Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, next to Dana’s building. Worry not: The church still exists, holds services, and runs a soup kitchen to this day.
More otherworldly dealings take place farther north on Central Park West, at the Dakota apartment building (72nd Street and Central Park West). Built in 1884, it likely gained its name because at the time, West 72nd Street was considered as far away from the action of lower Manhattan as the Dakota Territory was. Its myriad gables and spandrels, ornate carvings, and black iron sconces and railings give it a forbidding mien, making it perfectly suited to serve as the exterior of the Bramford, the apartment building home to the devil worshipers in “Rosemary’s Baby.” The protagonist of “Vanilla Sky,” played by Tom Cruise, lived here as well. Lauren Bacall, Leonard Bernstein, Judy Garland, Lillian Gish, John Madden, and Rudolf Nureyev were just a few of its starry nonfictional residents. Most famously, the Dakota was home to John Lennon, who was killed outside its doors; his widow, Yoko Ono, still lives there.
Arguably the most famous “resident” of the American Museum of Natural History (79th Street and Central Park West) is the Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton in the main hall. Dubbed Rexy in “Night at the Museum,” it is one of the first of the exhibits to come alive at night in the film and wants nothing more than for Larry, the night guard played by Ben Stiller, to play fetch with one of Rexy’s own bones. After the film’s 2006 release, visits to the museum during the holiday season increased 20% from holiday 2005. The museum was also the setting for a benefit gala in “The Devil Wears Prada” and figures in the screwball comedy “Bringing Up Baby.” In the first several seasons of “Friends,” Ross Geller works at the museum. And one of its dioramas not only lent its name to the indie film “The Squid and the Whale” but is also the site of the final scene.
The food market Zabar’s (2245 Broadway, at 80th Street) has made as many, if not more, appearances in films and TV shows as the American Museum of Natural History. “Seinfeld,” “Will & Grace,” “Sex and the City,” “Law & Order,” and “Broad City” are among the series that reference or set scenes here. Of the movies in which Zabar’s features, the rom-com “You’ve Got Mail” is probably the best known, with Woody Allen’s “Manhattan” a close second. Nora Ephron, the director and co-writer of “You’ve Got Mail,” once described the movie as an ode to the Upper West Side, and it does make for a fabulous advertisement to attract tourists. Petite Verdi Square (between 72nd and 73rd Streets and Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue), the Starbucks at 81st and Broadway, Cafe Lalo (201 West 83rd Street, between Amsterdam Avenue and Broadway), and Barney Greengrass (541 Amsterdam, between 86th and 87th Streets) are just a few other noteworthy UWS locales featured. Perhaps most memorable is the 91st Street Garden in Riverside Park, where the climactic kiss between Tom Hanks’ and Meg Ryan’s sparring love interests takes place.
The corner of Riverside Drive and 88th Street is home to lead characters from two sitcoms in two fictional universes. The title characters of “Will & Grace” live at 155 Riverside Drive. Across the street, at 160 Riverside, Liz Lemon of “30 Rock” lives for much of the series’ run. Of course, only the exteriors for both shows were shot here, with the interiors filmed in a studio. But the fact that two quintessential New York City series were set across the street from each other on the Upper West Side is a testament to just how pivotal a role the neighborhood plays in the Manhattan mythos.