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The Site of the “A Few Good Men” Crab Restaurant

Jul 21st, 2017 | By | Category: Movie Locations

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To paraphrase Dorothy (Judy Garland) in The Wizard of Oz, our heart’s desires can often be found right in our own backyard.  Even though I’ve seen the 1939 film about a gazillion times, I failed to heed Dorothy’s advice while searching for the crab restaurant Lt. Cdr. JoAnne Galloway (Demi Moore) took Lt. Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) to in fave movie A Few Good Men.  The eatery had long been at the top of my Must-Find List, but because I always assumed it was located in the D.C. area where the 1992 courtroom drama was partially shot, I never put much energy into tracking it down.  When I found out that the Grim Cheaper and I would be journeying to the East Coast last fall, though, I immediately sprang into action – and was shocked to discover that the locale was right in my own backyard the whole time.  Or at least, it was.  The restaurant has, sadly, since been razed, hence the odd photo above which shows roughly where it once stood.

For those who don’t remember the scene (or perhaps have never seen the movie, which I can’t imagine is possible!), toward the middle of A Few Good Men, JoAnne shows up unexpectedly at Danny’s apartment and asks if she can take him out for dinner (it’s not a date, though!) at a good seafood place she knows.  After razzing her quite a bit, Danny accepts the invite and the two head to a very East Coast-looking spot, where they proceed to eat crab off of a paper-covered table, with mallets as their only utensils.

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The scene absolutely mesmerized me.  Though I grew up in San Francisco, home to fish restaurants galore, until watching A Few Good Men, I had never seen crab eaten in such a way and wanted nothing more than to visit a place like that myself.  So, on one of my first visits to D.C., back in 2001, I told my friends who lived in the area that I was not leaving town without going to a similar spot.  (This was before I became a master stalker, so it never even occurred to me to try to track down the actual A Few Good Men restaurant during that trip.)  My friends happily obliged and that meal is one of my fondest memories of the whole vacation.  A page from my D.C. photo album is pictured below, showing us enjoying crab in all of our messy-handed glory.

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For this trip, I decided I had to track down the real spot.  Most sources I came across online claimed that the A Few Good Men scene was lensed at The Dancing Crab, a D.C. institution that had been around for more than 40 years, but was, sadly, shuttered in 2014.  At the time of its closure, the restaurant was located at 4615 Wisconsin Avenue NW in the District’s Tenleytown neighborhood.  The photos of the site posted on Yelp did not look anything like what appeared in AFGM, though.  So I did some digging and learned that the eatery had moved locations in recent years.  It was originally situated one storefront to the south at 4611 Wisconsin Avenue NW.  Though I could not find any images of The Dancing Crab from its time at that spot, I could tell from looking at the outside of the building via Google Street View that it was not the right place.  Two large windows are visible in the background of the AFGM scene, but the original Dancing Crab site (pictured below) has no such windows.  So it was back to the drawing board.  (Come to find out, The Dancing Crab does have an A Few Good Men connection, but more on that in a bit.)

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I decided to start contacting crew members and got lucky when one responded right away.  His reply to my query absolutely blew my mind.  He informed me that the AFGM crab restaurant could not be found in Washington, D.C., but much closer to home, about 20 miles south of Los Angeles.  As he explained, the eatery was a diner in the San Pedro area that had been redressed to look like a seafood restaurant for the shoot.  Then he shocked me even further when he mentioned that the same site had also been used in When Harry Met Sally . . .!  At the time, I was unaware that the 1989 romcom had done any filming in the L.A. area.  My crew member friend did not remember the name or address of the diner, so I started looking into things and fairly quickly came across its whereabouts thanks to the book Shot On This Site, which stated that a scene from When Harry Met Sally . . . had been lensed at the Port Café in Wilmington.  I was devastated to learn upon reading further that the eatery, once located at 955 South Neptune Avenue, just steps from the Port of Los Angeles, had since been demolished.

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Scant information about the Port Café is available online, other than a few building permits and the short blurb below which was featured in the book Wilmington (Images of America).  Originally built in 1941, the diner was mainly patronized by people who worked on the docks nearby.  Aside from moving about 100 feet to the north in 1956 in order to accommodate the enlargement of a nearby terminal, little of the restaurant was changed over the years.  Sadly, I could not locate any photos of the interior of the space to compare to screen shots from A Few Good Men.

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So I popped in my When Harry Met Sally . . . DVD and was dismayed to see that the café, featured in the beginning of the movie in the scene in which Harry Burns (Billy Crystal) and Sally Albright (Meg Ryan) stop for a roadside meal during their drive from Chicago to Manhattan, did not look anything like the A Few Good Men crab restaurant.  I started to think that maybe my crew member friend had gotten it wrong.  Even though I knew that the space had been completely redressed for AFGM, I thought that some small detail at the very least would be recognizable from WHMS.  I could not find a single matching element, though.  Nothing.  Nada.  Zip.

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Enter my friend/fellow stalker Michael (you know him from his many fabulous guest posts).  Michael’s eye is much keener than mine, so I asked him to take a look at the AFGM crab restaurant scene and compare it to the WHMS diner scene to see if I was missing anything.  Sure enough, I was!  As he noticed, a post and lintel (denoted with a purple circle below) and a beam (denoted with a green arrow) that match each other perfectly are visible in the respective scenes.

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Upon taking another look at the two movies, I also spotted the post and lintel (albeit the opposite side of it) in an exterior shot in When Harry Met Sally . . .

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And I noticed that the stainless steel/green/pink wall schematic (denoted with a purple bracket below) was the same in both flicks.  (Love that the Port Café’s 955 address number is visible just to the right of Billy Crystal in the WHMS cap.)

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The two movies (which were both coincidentally, or not so coincidentally, directed by Rob Reiner) really showcase different sections of the Port Café, which, along with the re-dressing of the space for A Few Good Men, makes it appear to be two totally distinct places.  Helping with the visual manipulation is the fact that the restaurant seems to have had two counters (denoted with purple arrows below) and two kitchens (denoted with green arrows below) – one of each in the center of the space and one of each on the side.

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Though the side counter is mainly featured in When Harry Met Sally . . . , Michael pointed out that we get brief views of the central counter, as well, when Harry and Sally enter and exit the restaurant.

When Harry Met Sally Diner Counter

The diagonal edge (denoted with purple arrows below) of the counter in A Few Good Men, the wood material, the metal piece running parallel to the floor (denoted with green arrows below) and the foot rest (denoted with yellow arrows below) all correlate to the center counter briefly seen in When Harry Met Sally . . .  The green flooring visible in both movies is also a match.

WHMSAFGM Counters

Because I was having trouble envisioning how the Port Café was laid out (the two counters/kitchens really threw me), Michael was kind enough to draw up a diagram, which I transformed into the graphic below.  The areas of the eatery utilized and visible in A Few Good Men are denoted in red (the initials TC and DM stand for Tom Cruise and Demi Moore, respectively), those utilized and visible in When Harry Met Sally . . . are blue (BC and MR stand for Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan), and those utilized and visible in both movies are teal.

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When Harry Met Sally . . . provides us with some great views of the exterior of the Port Café.

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I thought those views, along with the Historic Aerials image pictured below, would help me discern the Port Café’s exact former location when I went out to stalk it last week.

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When I got to the area, though, I could not make heads or tails of anything and failed to take photos of the precise place.  The picture below is the closest I got to the correct location.  The Port Café was formerly located pretty much in the spot where the purple arrow is pointing.

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Had I panned just a bit to the north, I would have captured its exact former site.  Thank God for Street View!

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The purple box outlines where the eatery was formerly situated.

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In When Harry Met Sally . . ., Sally’s car travels north on Neptune Avenue before turning left (west) onto East Pier A Place and then into the Port Café parking lot.  A very crude graphic showing her route is pictured below.  The pink line depicts the path of Sally’s car.

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Many of the tanks visible when she drives to the restaurant have been razed, as you can see from my photograph below (which, believe it or not, is pretty much a matching angle to the screen capture), though the tall white one on the left-most side still stands.

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The tank situated on the side of the Port Café also still stands.  It is pictured below, albeit from a different angle.

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As I mentioned earlier, A Few Good Men does have a connection to the now defunct Dancing Crab restaurant.  In his DVD commentary, Rob Reiner states that while filming in the D.C.-area, he took the cast and crew out for dinner at The Dancing Crab.  The ambiance of paper-covered tables and mallet utensils made such an impression on him that he was inspired to place an AFGM scene in a similar setting.  So when they got back to L.A., he did just that.  And the rest, as they say, is history.

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For more stalking fun, follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Los Angeles magazine and Discover Los Angeles.

Big THANK YOU to my friend Michael for helping me to identify this spot!  Smile  You can check out Michael’s many fabulous guest posts here.

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Until next time, Happy Stalking!  Smile

Stalk It: The Port Café, aka the crab restaurant from A Few Good Men, was formerly located at 955 South Neptune Avenue in Wilmington.  The spot where it once stood is denoted with a pink box below.

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  1. […] day, another diner from a Meg Ryan movie!  Unlike the Port Café, the Wilmington, California eatery that portrayed East Coast establishments in both When Harry Met […]