When Hollywood Built a Fake Diner in Tribeca

Amid Jane Freeman’s cache of photos from the 1980s and 90s—the most recent installment is here—was a thorough look at the set built at the northwest corner of W. Broadway and N. Moore for It Could Happen to You. Shot in 1993 and released in 1994, the film is about a cop (Nicolas Cage) who splits his winning lottery ticket with a diner waitress (Bridget Fonda, whom I’d like to see more of these days). “There are 400 coffee shops in Lower Manhattan, but none of them satisfied TriStar Pictures, so they’re building the set on this lot, which I always have used as a short cut despite the ubiquity of rats,” wrote Freeman in her journal (excerpted here). “The diner they’re building—the Ideal Coffee Shop—looks like it’s been there for a century; it has the right sinking-in-the-pavement look; and how well they fake weathered wood and old grime. The ‘brick’ is just painted fiberglass; the walls are plywood; the ‘stone’ sills are made of wood. Bogus tin ceilings. Everything fake, yet realer than real. The fact that it’s make-believe is what’s so interesting—a really giant miniature, and I’m already mourning the day the set will be struck, its existence sacrificed to celluloid.”

The set designers also constructed the four-story loft building to the north, along with a newsstand and a ghost sign. And in the third photo below, note what the Atalanta building at 25 N. Moore looked like before its windows were (re-?)added.



  1. Atalanta was built mostly windowless, for refrigeration.

    “Designed by John B. Snook Sons, Architects in an Industrial Style and constructed in 1924 for the Merchants’ Refrigerating Company in reinforced concrete.

    “Atalanta was windowless on the fourth to fourteenth floors and was part of a complex of refrigeration buildings for the dairy business as part of the nearby Washington Market. With the relocation of the Market and freon becoming illegal, the building became redundant.”


  2. Movie stills:



  3. Thanks for the great pictures! I remember this—we saw it after it was finished we were disappointed when we realized it was fake. In those years I was rollerblading on the part of the esplanade that was finished, and one morning a hot air balloon floated down the river and there were boats and divers waiting for it to land in the water near Rockefeller Park. It turned out to be used in a scene in the same movie.

  4. My bearings are all turned around it seems. This is where 1 N Moore is, yes?

  5. Wasn’t that lot also turned into a Gas Station for Zoolander?

  6. I remember that! I remember asking someone on set what the movie was called and he said, “Cop and a Waitress.” Kind of wish they’d gone with that.

  7. The older 19th century buildings had classic design look.

  8. the movie set fit in perfectly with a look that you thought belonged

  9. i remember this. I thought it was great.

  10. my memory is really fuzz about this but maybe someone else can confirm…

    the movie set was on a parking lot but the parking lot had not been there long. in the 1980s, there was a 18th century farmhouse on that lot. the house was torn down because the area was about to be land-marked. apparently, the owner was afraid that land-marking the structure would lower the value of the property so they tore it down.

    this sadly was not an uncommon practice. another 18th century house was razed on hudson street near bubby’s for the same reason.