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27 May 2017Last updated
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In love with Los Angeles

Shot in more than 40 locations in Los Angeles, the musical La La Land is ‘a love letter to the city’, according to its producer. As it competes for a staggering 14 Oscars at Sunday’s Academy Awards, LA local Ciaran McEvoy reveals the stories of some of the film’s iconic settings

Ciaran McEvoy
24 Feb 2017 | 12:00 am
  • Source:Supplied

Judge Harry Pregerson Interchange

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La La Land’s opening scene is a six-minute dance number to the song Another Day of Sun, playing out amid LA’s notoriously bad traffic. It’s also where the film’s protagonists, struggling actress Mia (Emma Stone) and jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), first encounter each other – albeit in a road rage incident. The scene is said to have been filmed over two hot days in a ramp at this interchange between the carpool lanes of the 105 (Century) and 110 (Harbor) freeways in south LA. The downtown skyline and surrounding mountains can be seen in the distance.

SmokeHouse Restaurant, Burbank

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This is the setting for the scene in which Mia discovers Sebastian’s talent for the piano. The fictional Lipton’s restaurant – where jazz purist Sebastian grudgingly agrees to play Christmas music – is in reality a venerable eatery long frequented by actors, producers and other showbiz types. It has been on this spot, across the street from the Warner Bros studio, since 1949 (4420 West Lakeside Drive, smokehouse1946.com). In the film, the exterior of Lipton’s is the You Are the Star mural, which features Marilyn Monroe, Charlie Chaplin and others, and is on the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Wilcox Avenue in Hollywood.

Cathy’s Corner, Mount Hollywood Drive

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‘Not much to look at, huh?’ Sebastian cracks about the gorgeous city view. ‘I’ve seen better,’ Mia replies. This section of the road that winds through Griffith Park (laparks.org/griffithpark) is the setting of the duo’s six-minute song-and-dance number, A Lovely Night, after they reconnect at a Hollywood Hills party. It overlooks the San Fernando Valley and features prominently on the film posters. Cathy’s Corner is near famed Mulholland Drive, but prepare for disappointment if you’re expecting a bench and street lamps. They only exist in the movie.

Warner Bros, Burbank

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Mia works at the studio’s coffee shop, where Seb comes to meet her. As they wander the studio’s lot, Mia points out ‘the window that Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman looked out in Casablanca’. It’s still a working studio, with 35 sound stages and 14 exterior sets (tours $62 [Dh228] adult, $52 child, wbstudiotour.com). La La Land was also filmed at LA’s Hollywood Center Studios.

The Lighthouse Café, Hermosa Beach

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Sebastian introduces Mia to ‘pure jazz’ at this nightclub, which has been a hot spot for jazz since 1949, and shares with her his dream of opening his own club. He later gets a job here as a piano player. Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Cannonball Adderley and Dizzy Gillespie are among the legends who have performed here. Today the Lighthouse is no longer a jazz-only club; it hosts salsa, country and reggae, too (no cover except special events and $5 after 9pm on Friday and Saturday, 
30 Pier Avenue, Hermosa Beach, thelighthousecafe.net.) Nearby is Hermosa Beach Pier, where Sebastian first sings City of Stars, a recurring song in the film.

Rialto Theatre, South Pasadena

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The lovers meet here to watch a 10pm screening of Rebel Without a Cause. Dating from 1925 and described by the Los Angeles Times as ‘an odd mashup of Spanish baroque and Egyptian kitsch’, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This single-screen cinema, one of the last of its kind in southern California, seats 1,300 people and once hosted vaudeville shows. Michael Jackson’s Thriller video was filmed here, as were parts of The Player and Scream 2. It closed in 2007, though there are plans to reopen it (1023 Fair Oaks Ave).

The Blind Donkey, Long Beach

This bar is the setting of Sebastian’s jazz club at the end of the film – where Mia and Sebastian have their final, bittersweet encounter. In real life you won’t find jazz though, just a selection of the usual beverages you’d get at a bar (149 Linden Avenue, theblinddonkey.com). Also in Long Beach is the nearby setting of Mia’s pink apartment, shown earlier in the film. Built in 1928 in Spanish colonial style, Rose Towers (1728 E. 3rd St., Long Beach) is a 20-unit complex that was restored about a decade ago in a project lauded by the Los Angeles Conservancy.

Jar, a modern American chophouse, Central LA

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Jar is the retro-modern restaurant where Mia abandons her boyfriend, Greg (Finn Wittrock), by walking out on a double date. Opened in 2001, this restaurant has featured in TV series such as Ray Donovan and Modern Family as well as 2009 rom-com I Love You, Man. Noted for its steaks, Jar has been ranked among the city’s best restaurants by local food critics. Shortly after Mia leaves the restaurant – to swelling music – she walks north on Harper Avenue. (Mains from $25, 8225 Beverly Blvd, thejar.com.)

Griffith Observatory, Griffith Park

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From Cathy’s Corner, Mia and Sebastian continue their date at this 1935 art deco landmark and tourist attraction, named for Welsh industrialist and philanthropist Griffith J Griffith. Though his reputation was marred when he was prosecuted in 1903 for shooting his wife, the observatory named after him is well-loved and offers popular planetarium shows and spectacular views of the city and the nearby Hollywood sign. It was also the site of the knife fight scene in 1955’s Rebel without a Cause, commemorated by a bust of its star, James Dean. (Admission free, 2800 East Observatory Road, griffithobservatory.org.)

El Rey Theatre, Miracle Mile

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This is where Sebastian plays keyboards for the Messengers, a pop-jazz group fronted by his old acquaintance Keith (John Legend). It’s the first big sign that his music career is taking off. Opened in 1936, graceful, art deco El Rey was a cinema and a dance club before becoming a music venue in the 1990s (5515 Wilshire Blvd, theelrey.com). With a capacity of 770, it has hosted myriad indie bands, including Yo La Tengo, as well as Bob Dylan and former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr. Rock agent Tom Windish reportedly called El Rey one of ‘the best mid-sized venues in LA’.

Ciaran McEvoy

Ciaran McEvoy