The ‘Goodfellas’ Throwback from ‘The Irishman’ You Probably Missed
Did Martin Scorsese drop a clever homage to his 1990 mob epic ‘Goodfellas’ in ‘The Irishman’?
As Martin Scorsese’s latest mob drama The Irishman is viewed by the masses after dropping on Netflix, there’s been a lot of talk about whether its opening scene — a slow tracking shot through an assisted living home — is a nod to Goodfellas’ famous tracking shot through the Copacabana. But as fans debate which, if any, figurative elements of The Irishman are homages, they might be missing a more straightforward one.
Some 30 minutes into The Irishman, Whispers DiTullio (Paul Herman) pulls up to a diner to meet with Robert De Niro’s eponymous character, Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran. Here’s the exterior shot:
As movie shoots go, while the diner is billed as Philadelphia’s Melrose Diner, the scene was actually shot in Queens, New York — but if you look closely, you might find it familiar.
The diner used for the Melrose in The Irishman is the same one featured in a few scenes from Goodfellas — most famously, the diner where Jimmy “the Gent” Conway (also De Niro) knocks over a phone booth after finding out that Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci) has been whacked. It’s also the scene where Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) explains to viewers that he and Jimmy can never become “made men” because they have Irish blood. Watch it below:
The diner is prominently featured again later in Goodfellas when Jimmy tries to send Henry down to Florida, ultimately leaving Henry afraid for his life. That scene is remembered as one of the greatest uses of a dolly zoom/Vertigo effect in cinema:
The exterior of the diner was also used in the scene where Jimmy wakes up the feds who have fallen asleep in their car while surveilling him and Henry.
In Goodfellas, the diner stands in for the Sherwood Diner, a real diner in Lawrence, NY, patronized by the real-life Henry Hill and Jimmy Burke. But in reality, the scenes were shot at the Clinton Diner in Maspeth, Queens. The Clinton Diner came to be known for its appearance in Goodfellas, and by 2014, the owners changed its name to GoodFellas Diner. (The New York Times profiled the diner and its GoodFellas fame in 2016.)
Here’s a comparison of the Clinton/GoodFellas Diner as seen in Goodfellas and The Irishman:
It’s unclear if using the same location for both movies was intentional, but aside from the diner carrying the name of Scorsese’s 1990 Mafia classic, the diner was also conveniently located near where much of the film was shot in Queens, and has been a common production spot for years — so this might all just be a happy accident.
In fact, revisiting the diner has becoming something of an unintended tradition for Goodfellas actors. In 2017, Ray Liotta shared a photo on Facebook of himself in his booth from the dolly zoom scene. He had returned to the diner to film Shades of Blue.
It looks like Scorsese shot the Irishman scene just in time, too. The Irishman shot between November 2017 and March 2018, and the GoodFellas Diner caught fire in June 2018. (Coincidentally, the real-life Melrose Diner in Philadelphia that this location stood in for in The Irishman also had a fire erupt in July 2019.)
Below is the GoodFellas Diner as it appeared in 2012, and then after the fire in 2018.
The Irishman shot the interior diner scenes at GoodFellas Diner as well, but sadly they didn’t use either of the two booths Liotta and De Niro sat in during the diners’ two interior scenes in Goodfellas.
Visit the Diner
While the GoodFellas Diner has been closed since its fire last year, the exterior is still standing, and it’s worth a visit for fans of either movie. It’s located at 5626 Maspeth Ave. in Maspeth, NY. But keep in mind it’s private property, so, you know, no trespassing and all that jazz.
For more obsessive coverage of Goodfellas filming locations, check out these other pieces I wasted my timing writing:
Astoria on Film: Revisiting the Locations of “Goodfellas” 30 Years Later
In the summer of 1989, Martin Scorsese captured the Astoria neighborhood . Three decades later, not much of it is left.