Film Locations: The Quality Café, L.A.

Charles Graham Dixon,

Given all the riches at Hollywood’s disposal, you might be forgiven for assuming that they would use more than one location in the whole of California to shoot café or diner scenes. However, as everyone knows, assumptions are never wise and the Quality Café, located at 1238 West 7th Street in downtown L.A., has become the diner of choice for a surprisingly large number of films and TV shows. The Quality Café is no longer an operating café and is now only open for film shoots.

After seeing this location used so many times, I started to wonder: is Hollywood having some kind of massive in-joke at our expense – ‘let’s see how many times we can use the same little café in our movies without people noticing; we’ll even use the same table, cups and window shots’. Clearly producers and directors don’t think audiences can tell the difference between L.A. and New York City, as our favourite eatery somehow manages to exist in both cities at the same time – as evidenced by its appearance in TV shows like Mad Men and CSI: New York. So, it’s not just a Hollywood and West Coast thing, it’s also an East Coast thing. Could it be that there is only one café/diner to film in all of America?!

Look! It says ‘Quality Café’ in the window...

Ghost World (Terry Zwigoff, 2001)

Million Dollar Baby (Clint Eastwood, 2004)

Se7en (David Fincher, 1995)

Training Day (Antoine Fuqua, 2001)

Sex and Death 101 (Daniel Waters, 2007)

Gone in 60 Seconds (H.B. Halicki, 2000)

Catch Me If You Can (Steven Spielberg, 2002)

Old School (Todd Philips, 2003)

(500) Days of Summer (Marc Webb, 2009)

The Stepfather (Nelson McCormick, 2009)

Stalker potential
Visiting movie locations in California is big business and there exists a plethora of tour websites that tell you exactly where to go to find a wealth of obscure spots. We’re not just talking about places like the Golden Gate Bridge or Sunset Boulevard; no, these sites tell people where to find parking lots, old toilets and ditches. The brilliantly titled tells us the Quality Café is not a great stalking location due to the fact that the place is totally boarded up when it isn’t being used for filming. So, if you like the idea of sitting where Scarlett Johansson and Thora Birch sat and reenacting the scene where they discuss whether their fellow eaters are Satanists, this discovery may come as something of a blow.

Using the café effectively
We’re never told where Se7en is set but everything points to it being somewhere in the Midwest or East Coast – the rumble of the subway, the elevated train and of course the constant rain. David Fincher uses the café well, bringing the brooding and gloomy visual aesthetic he used for the film to make this typically L.A location feel like something from the other side of the country and also refrains from making it look exactly the same as it does in virtually everything else.

The Quality Café is a time warp, a place you will see in countless films and TV shows. It spans a variety of decades and genres. Hollywood and the small screen keep coming back to it and, like effective film editing, we shouldn’t notice it but many people have and will continue to. Long live the Quality Café. 

Follow Charles on Twitter: @CharlesGD  

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