Scene It Before: The Dresden from What Women Want

Mel Gibson romances Helen Hunt at a popular Los Feliz bar in the flick, which turns 15 next week

The day after my family moved to Southern California in early 2000, my mom and I stumbled upon the filming of the movie What Women Want in Old Town Pasadena. All facets of show business had always intrigued me, so there couldn’t have been a better introduction to my new city. I have since had the pleasure of witnessing countless filmings and, somehow, the experience never loses its magic.

Amazingly, What Women Want will be turning 15 in just a few days (it premiered on December 15, 2000). I recently sat down for a re-watch and was flooded with memories of seeing it shot firsthand.

Though set in Chicago, the majority of interior filming and some exterior filming took place in Los Angeles. Locales featured in the movie include the now defunct Saks Fifth Avenue in Pasadena where Nick Marshall (Mel Gibson) takes his daughter, Alex (Ashley Johnson), to shop for a prom dress. That location is now the site of a Forever 21. After settling on a dress, Nick and Alex grab lunch at Il Fornaio a couple of blocks away. The eatery is still open and looks much the same as it did onscreen 15 years ago. The oft-filmed Greystone Mansion makes an appearance as the site of Gigi’s (Lauren Holly) wedding. And the Millennium Biltmore Hotel, also no stranger to the silver screen, is where Alex’s prom is held.

The Dresden, located at 1760 North Vermont Avenue in Los Feliz, stars in the film as well. The historic restaurant has been a Hollywood staple since it was founded over 60 years ago. The site was initially home to a paint store, but was transformed into the Pucci Café in the 1930s. It later became the Dresden, so named for the china dolls that decorated the eatery. In 1954, Wisconsin native Carl Ferraro purchased the business and although he did away with the dolls, he kept the name. The interior has not been touched since Ferraro completed renovations in 1963. Walking into the Dresden is like stepping back in time.

A screen capture from What Women Want
A screen capture from What Women Want

Thanks to that retro aesthetic, the eatery’s interior has long been favored by location scouts. In What Women Want, it masks at the Back Door, the bar where Nick and his new boss, Darcy Maguire (Helen Hunt), grab some late-night drinks—and share a kiss.

The Dresden also pops up in The Two Jakes, That Thing You Do!, and Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. In the latter it masquerades as Escupimos en su Alimento Mexican restaurant. (Translation: We Spit in Your Food.)

But the eatery is perhaps most commonly associated with its appearance in the 1996 movie Swingers. It’s in the Dresden’s bar area that Mike (Jon Favreau) hits on his neighborhood Starbucks barista Nikki (Brooke Langton) while listening to the restaurant’s resident lounge act Marty and Elayne (they’ve been performing on the premises regularly since 1982!).

The Dresden’s also something of a celebrity hot spot. Even Ol’ Blue Eyes himself, Frank Sinatra, was known to drop in for a drink. But whether or not you are interested in rubbing shoulders with A-listers, the dimly-lit restaurant is the perfect place to decompress with a warm drink, especially now that L.A. has finally gotten some chillier weather.

Lindsay Blake is an actress, writer, celebrity admirer and Los Angeles enthusiast who contributes to CityThink each Thursday. Her true love is filming locations, and she founded the Web site IAMNOTASTALKER in 2007 to document her vast findings on the subject. For more “stalking” fun, you can follow Lindsay on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.