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Wednesday March 22nd 2023

The Big Lebowski | 1998

The Big Lebowski location: Venezia Avenue, Venice, California
The Big Lebowski location: the Dude's abode': Venezia Avenue, Venice, California | Photograph: Daryl Barnett

The Coens’ goofball spin on The Big Sleep opens with a typical bit of Coen misdirection, with a voiceover from a mysteriously omniscient cowboy (Sam Elliott). The Tumblin’ Tumbleweed landscape was filmed at Pearblossom in the desert north of Los Angeles and optically added to a nighttime shot looking over the city from the Simi Valley.

First a big apology. We've been making a big mistake here, as in my defence have many other people, in identifying the Dude's abode.

The laid-back Bohemian beachfront enclave of Venice seems the natural home of slacker’s slacker Jeffrey Lebowski (Jeff Bridges), aka the Dude, and that’s exactly where he lives, at 606 Venezia Avenue, a private complex of six bungalows running south from the smart little residential street, just south of Venice Boulevard (please remember this is a private home).

The door number certainly looks like '609' in the film, but that is a similar complex across the road and not used in the film.

The Big Lebowski location: Hollywood Star Lanes, Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood
The Big Lebowski location: the Googie-style bowling alley: Hollywood Star Lanes (photo from 1996; since demolished), Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood

It’s to the rather slummy end of Santa Monica Boulevard in East Hollywood you have to travel to find the site of the bowling alley, where the Dude hangs out with Walter Sobchak (John Goodman) and the much put-upon Donny (Steve Buscemi). It was Hollywood Star Lanes, 5227 Santa Monica Boulevard, at North Kingsley Drive. Unfortunately, it no longer exists, having been demolished in 2002 to make way for an elementary school of eye-numbing ugliness.

The Big Lebowski location: Hollywood Star Lanes, Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood
The Big Lebowski location: the Googie-style bowling alley: Hollywood Star Lanes (photo from 1996; since demolished), Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood

The alley was built in 1962 in the, then cool and futuristic, Googie style of sputniks, ellipses and starbursts. Googie architecture (which is also known as populuxe or doo-wop) was named after Googie's, a coffee shop at Sunset and Crescent Heights in Hollywood, designed in 1949 by architect John Lautner. Predictably, this has been demolished, too.

Southeast of the old bowling alley location, the stretch of North Kenmore Avenue between Monroe Street and Lily Crest Avenue is where pederastic bowling opponent Jesus (John Turturro) carries out his unenviable obligation to knock on doors, telling the neighbours of his past offences.

The Big Lebowski location: Johnie's, Wilshire Boulevard, midtown Los Angeles
The Big Lebowski location: the Dude and Walter discuss the toe: Johnie’s, Wilshire Boulevard, midtown Los Angeles

A, thankfully, remaining example of the Googie style is Johnie’s, 6101 Wilshire Boulevard at Fairfax Avenue in midtown. This is the coffee shop in which the Dude and his nightmarishly helpful buddy Walter discuss the possible provenance of Bunny’s toe. Closed for many years Johnie’s is currently used only as a filming location. You can see it again in American History X, Quentin Tarantino's debut feature Reservoir Dogs and underrated 1988 thriller Miracle Mile.

The Big Lebowski location: Sheats Goldstein Huose, Benedict Canyon Los Angeles
The Big Lebowski location: Jackie Treehorn’s luxurious ‘Malibu’ beach home: Sheats Goldstein House, Benedict Canyon Los Angeles | Photograph: Wikimedia / Arch.james

The Coens keep a stylistic consistency with the ‘Malibu’ beachfront home of pornographer Jackie Treehorn (Ben Gazzara). It’s no such thing, of course, but the Sheats Goldstein Residence, 10104 Angelo View Drive in Benedict Canyon, designed in 1963 by – yes – the Googiemeister himself, John Lautner. You might recognise it as the classy pad of Lucy Liu in Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle. Please note that this is a private home.

If there’s a ‘Beverly Hills’ mansion featured in a Hollywood movie, chances are it will have been filmed in the eastern suburb of Pasadena, which is packed to bursting with lavish estates but charges only a fraction of the rate for film permits. Perversely, the the Big Lebowski’s mansion reverses the practice with a conflation of two Beverly Hills estates being passed off as ‘Pasadena’.

The Big Lebowski filming location: Charing Cross Road, Holmby Hills, California
The Big Lebowski location: the exterior of the ‘Lebowski’ mansion: Charing Cross Road, Holmby Hills, California | Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo / Splash News

The exterior is the grand 1931 two-and-a-half acre estate at 10231 Charing Cross Road off Sunset Boulevard in the extremely swanky neighbourhood of Holmby Hills, just northwest of Los Angeles Country Club. Predictably, there's not a great deal to see from the street but the mansion, formerly home to ex-L.A. Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, was put on the market a few years ago for $45 million. It was subsequently rented out by celeb couple Beyoncé and Jay-Z.

The Big Lebowski location: Greystone Mansion, Beverly Hills, Los Angeles
The Big Lebowski location: the interior of the ‘Lebowski’ mansion: Greystone Mansion, Beverly Hills, Los Angeles

The interior of the house is the familiar Greystone Mansion, 905 Loma Vista Drive in Beverly Hills. The mansion, and its expansive landscaped grounds, are a frequently used location – the same interior was the Green Goblin’s ‘New York’ home in Spider-Man. The formal gardens, though not the mansion itself, are open to the public.

Walter’s place of business, ‘Sobchak Security’, is 6757 Santa Monica Boulevard, in the strip mall at at North McCadden Place, Hollywood. It’s from here that Walter and the Dude set out to pay the ransom for Bunny Lebowski.

The bridge from which Walter tosses the ‘ringer’ briefcase, full of his underwear, is on Torrey Road, over the Santa Clara River, south of Hwy 126, Piru. Don't be surprised that it looks a little different from the film – planks were laid over the tarmac surface to make it look like a wooden bridge.

The Dude collects his recovered, if smelly, car from the lot on West 18th Street at St Andrew’s Place, Midtown.

The Big Lebowski location: Palace Theater, South Broadway, downtown Los Angeles
The Big Lebowski location: Maude Lebowski's loft, and the unforgettable dance quintet: Palace Theater, South Broadway, downtown Los Angeles

The loft of avant garde artist Maude Lebowski (Julianne Moore) is above the Palace Theater, 630 South Broadway, downtown Los Angeles. The ‘Fountain Theatre’, in which the Dude’s landlord performs his unforgettable dance quintet, was also filmed in the Palace. More recently, the Palace was used for much of the filming of Whiplash – supposedly set in 'New York’. You might recognise the band's rehearsal room as Maude's loft.

The Big Lebowski location: Dinah's, South Sepulveda, Culver City
The Big Lebowski location: the nihilists relax: Dinah's, South Sepulveda, Culver City

The café, where the German nihilists enjoy lingonberry pancakes and pigs in a blanket with the toeless woman, is Dinah’s Family Restaurant, 6521 South Sepulveda Boulevard, Culver City. Another retro joy, dating from 1959, the good news is that – claiming to have served 20 million pancakes – Dinah’s is still very much in business, and appeared more recently as the restaurant in which Jake Gyllenhaal recruits an assistant in Nightcrawler.

Driving south on Cahuenga, the Dude turns into La Mirada Avenue toward Vine Street when, after dropping a roach into his lap, he crashes the car and discovers the homework of little Larry Sellers.

Supposedly on ‘Radford in North Hollywood’, the Sellers home, where the ever-enthusiastic Walter trashes the red Corvette, is Stearns Drive between West Pico Boulevard and West 18th Street, in the Fairfax district.

The final scattering of ashes is on the coastal bluffs at Point Fermin Park, 807 West Paseo Del Mar, San Pedro, off limits to the public, south of Los Angeles.

• Many thanks to Daryl Barnett for help with this section.