L.A. Plays Itself in the Movies: Swingers (1996)

Vegas, baby. Vegas.”

The film that spawned one of the most overused Vegas quotes of our time isn’t about Las Vegas at all. Swingers is so L.A.

Location. Location. Location. For me, the thrill of watching Swingers is noticing all of the familiar locations around town. The characters in this film never stay in one spot for long, always on the move from one bar to another bar, to a Hollywood Hills party, then to a coffee shop for a late night breakfast. All in their own separate cars of course. It’s laughable, but even today I notice that most of my friends in L.A. drive separately, despite that we all live in close proximity of each other and are meeting at the same place.

When I relocated to L.A. in 2003, the very first bar a friend took me to was The Dresden Restaurant to see Marty and Elayne perform. Immortalized by the film, The Dresden remains one of my favorite lounges in L.A. Located at 1760 North Vermont Avenue in Los Feliz, The Dresden makes its appearance in the scene where Mike (Jon Favreau) hits on the Starbucks waitress at the bar.

The Dresden Restaurant

By-the-way, Marty and Elayne, who are featured in the film, have been performing at The Dresden for 18 years and you can still catch their show nightly.

Los Feliz Municipal Golf Course

Also in Los Feliz, Mike and Rob (Ron Livingston) hit the links at the Loz Feliz Municipal Golf Course, a 9-hole 3-par course located just east of I-5 at 3207 Los Feliz Boulevard.

Another famous Hollywood location used in Swingers is the 101 Coffee Shop, adjacent to the Best Western at 6145 Franklin Avenue. According to movie-locations.com, this is also where the filmmakers devised much of the script. I have spent many late nights in the 101 Coffee Shop, with its mid-century rock walls and retro brown booths, feeling like a member of Sinatra’s crew after a long night of boozing and broads.

Back in Los Feliz, the crew enters through the back entrance of The Derby in the scene where Director Doug Liman pays homage to Martin Scorsese’s famous tracking shot from Goodfellas. Now closed down, The Derby (formerly located at 4500 Los Feliz Boulevard) was hugely popular during the swing revival in the 1990s, which was central to the mood of the film. This is also where Mike meets and dances with Lorraine (Heather Graham).

After the crew departs the Hollywood Hills party scene, they pass a few other familiar locations such as Canter’s Delicatessen, located at 419 N. Fairfax Avenue (also seen in Enemy of the State), and Hollywood Star Lanes (torn down in 2002), the bowling alley best known for its role in the Coen brothers’ film, The Big Lebowski.

The Derby

If you’re still hungry for more Swingers trivia, check out the list below, swiped from IMDB:

  • Trent’s license plate reads “THX1138”, a reference to George Lucas’s THX 1138 (1971).
  • Vince Vaughn’s father plays the lucky gambler at the $100-minimum blackjack table.
  • Jon Favreau’s grandmother, Joan Favreau, is the lucky gambler at the $5 minimum blackjack table.
  • Some of the film’s casino scenes were filmed without a permit. At one point, they were asked to leave the casino by a police officer, who let them finish filming the scene before they left. If you look at the left side of the screen during the scene where Mike is betting on the $100 table, a police officer can be seen in the distance watching the filming taking place.
  • 101 Coffee Shop

    The 1964 Convertible Mercury Comet Caliente driven by Vince Vaughn was actually owned by co-star Jon Favreau.

  • The exterior and interior of Mike Peter’s apartment was the actual building and room that Jon Favreau lived in at the time the film was filmed. Favreau’s downstairs neighbor was actor Adam Scott.
  • Nicole LaLoggia, the film’s line producer, also plays two roles in the film: she plays Michelle’s voice on the phone, and she appears as one of the bar patrons at the Derby (the brunette sitting to the right of Trent when Mike leaves the table).
  • When asked to approve use of the theme music for Jaws (1975) in a scene, Spielberg saw footage of Vince Vaughn, whom he hired for The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997).
  • The Word “Fuck” is used 95 times, “Bitch” is used 31 times and “Asshole” 13 times.
  • The movie is loosely based on the experiences writer Jon Favreau had when he first moved to L.A. He had just broken up with a long term girlfriend and counted on his friends Vince Vaughn and Ron Livingston to cheer him up. The characters they play in the film are based on themselves.
  • The “Bear” monologue that Trent delivers to Mike is almost verbatim something actor Vince Vaughn told Jon Favreau one night at a bar. Favreau liked it a lot and incorporated it into the script.
  • When director Doug Liman first sent the script to studios, they were interested in financing it. When Liman said he wanted to cast the writer and his friends as actors, the studios backed off. The money to shoot the film was raised independently and Liman cast who he liked.
  • Some of the bar scenes were shot in actual bars during business hours. A sign was posted near where they were shooting warning patrons that if they came any closer, they would be unpaid extras in the film.
  • The sequence where Trent, Mike, and Sue enter the club through a side entrance closely resembles the way Henry and Karen enters a club in Goodfellas (1990), which the group refers to earlier in the film, calling it one of the best shots ever.
  • The scene with Mike and Trent talking in the car on the side of the road was also filmed without a permit (not only could the production not afford one, it is actually impossible for any film production to acquire one to film on that particular highway). Originally they had planned to film just an establishing shot of the two of them in the car, and a shot of them driving away, and then film the dialog shots later. But director Doug Liman decided instead to film the entire scene on the actual side of the road. During filming, several police showed up, and demanded to see a permit. The assistant director held up the police by telling them that they had a permit, but it was in the office across town, several miles away. To get away with the rest of the scene being filmed, Liman had to pretend he was not filming, and didn’t look in the viewfinder, and used a microphone inside of the car instead of a boom. Most of the scene was filmed like this, with the police waiting just out of shot, and the two actors and the director pretending they were in fact not shooting.
  • Since the filmmakers couldn’t afford to pay extras, the scenes filmed at parties were filmed at actual parties that were taking place, with many Hollywood up-and-comers in attendance. Among the people in the crowd of the first party (who turn and look at the group as they enter): screenwriters Stephen Gaghan and Mike White.
  • The band in the film are retro swing jazz band Big Bad Voodoo Daddy.
  • There is a reference to Reservoir Dogs (1992) while the actors are playing poker. They refer to the scene in the beginning when they walk in slow motion as “a great scene”. As the characters in Swingers leave the poker game to go to a party, they are shown walking in slow motion in a similar fashion to the scene in Reservoir Dogs.
  • A Reservoir Dogs (1992) poster can also be seen in one of the scenes.
  • The scene in which Trent angrily yells at Sue, after Sue insulted Mike, was written specifically at Vince Vaughn’s request. Vaughn wanted to show that beneath Trent’s bravado and swagger, he truly cared for Mike as a friend.
  • Trent, Mikey, Sue, Rob, and Charles represent the five members of the original Rat Pack: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Peter Lawford, Joey Bishop, and Sammy Davis Jr..

(This post is part of the “LA Plays Itself in the Movies” series).