‘The Irishman’ Was Shot in the Same Diner As ‘Goodfellas’
If you watch all 40 minutes of the new Criterion Collection documentary about the making of Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, you saw a fascinating revelation towards the end that is worth highlighting all on its own. The diner that serves as the location for a key meeting between Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) and Whispers (Paul Herman) is the same diner that was the site of several memorable scenes in Scorsese’s Goodfellas. If you watched The Irishman and thought the scene in The Irishman recalled the ones in Goodfellas, you weren’t imagining it — because they were shot just a few feet apart in different booths of the same restaurant.
The place was originally known as the Clinton Diner. Located in Queens, it became so well known for its appearances in Goodfellas that the owners actually changed the name to the Goodfellas Diner. It’s the site of several huge scenes in the movie, including the one where Ray Liotta’s Henry Hill thinks De Niro’s Jimmy the Gent is going to have him whacked and Scorsese tracks in and zooms out at the same time.
It’s also where Jimmy learns that Joe Pesci’s Tommy DeVito got whacked, which is where you get a clear look at the exterior of the diner:
It’s a low angle instead of a high one, but that unmistakable roof design is visible in The Irishman scene where Whispers parks and enters the diner:
In the Criterion documentary, The Irishman production designer Bob Shaw says he was worried about even suggesting they shoot the film’s diner scene at the Goodfellas Diner. “We took it as a given that we can’t show [Martin Scorsese] the Goodfellas diner. We never asked him,” says Shaw. “We were showing him ‘Well, how about this diner?’ He’s like ‘I can’t really do this shot there.’ And then we showed him another diner. Finally, one day he said ‘There was a really good diner we shot in Goodfellas. Could we just shoot there?’ And it was like, ‘Okay!’”
Almost the entire Irishman diner scene takes place in two close-ups of Frank and Whispers. We only get an establishing shot of the interior when Whispers gets up to leave, which makes it clear that he and Frank were not sitting in the same booth as Jimmy and Henry.
The Goodfellas scene in the diner starts with a slow tracking shot from the opposite perspective, which eventually finds Jimmy seated at a table beyond the counter. That’s how you can tell the two scenes were not shot in the exact same spot.
Before you start envisioning a Scorsese Cinematic Universe where the characters occupy the same fictional space and Jimmy the Gent might have somehow bumped into Frank Sheeran, you should know that while the physical spaces are the same, the Clinton Diner is standing in for two different diners in two different locations in these films. In Goodfellas, it’s supposed to be the Sherwood Diner in New York; in The Irishman, it’s playing the Melrose Diner in Pennsylvania. That’s probably why Scorsese didn’t show too much of its interior in The Irishman or dwell too long on the obvious physical similarities — within the world of The Irishman, it’s not supposed to be the Goodfellas diner, even though that’s where it was shot.
Still, it’s a fun little detail, and the connection works well on a thematic level. The Irishman serves as a summation of Scorsese and De Niro’s career together, and there are many allusions to their shared past. Shooting in the Goodfellas Diner. is one of those little nods to their history. Sadly, you can’t make a pilgrimage to the diner yourself. A few months after The Irishman shot its scene at the Goodfellas Diner, the restaurant burned in a fire. To date, it has not reopened. It’s such a cruel ending to this story, it makes me want to topple over a phone booth.
You can watch the Criterion Collection’s Irishman documentary below. The Irishman is still streaming on Netflix.
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