In 1998, before the series had shot its first episode, location manager Seth Burch asked co-owner Andy Secular, 40, if his kitschy Tex-Mex eatery could be considered for a then-unwritten scene. "It's a New York institution," says Burch of the 18-year-old West Village hangout, which features bingo and hula hoop nights. "But in three years," says Secular, "the writers never came up with a reason why the girls would come here." This season, though, a double date with their exes Aidan and Steve lands Carrie and Miranda in the cramped but cozy restaurant.
Although the city in Sex and the City gets second billing, "it's important that we shoot places in New York that are as hip and vibrant as the characters," says Seth Burch, 30 (below, right), who has been the show's location manager since its start. Two to three weeks before an episode is shot, he and production designer Jeremy Conway (left) read through a script and scout out restaurants, clubs and stores, looking, he says, for "simplicity, sleekness and lack of clutter." Adds Conway, 47, who, with Sex creator Darren Star, came up with the overall look of the show: "We aren't trying to glamorize New York, but we do want to show that it's a great place to live." Although the series usually pays $5,000 to $10,000 to cover the cost of lost business, owners have to put up with a film crew of 75 or more for several hours or even an entire day. Some think the exposure is worth the trouble. "People still walk in talking about the scene that was shot here," says David Swinghamer, 44, co-owner of Eleven Madison Park, the restaurant where Carrie and Mr. Big break up in the second season's finale.
ABC CARPET & HOME
The bed department at Bloomingdale's was originally slated for this scene, in which Charlotte and Trey pick out a mattress with unwelcome input from Trey's domineering mother (Frances Sternhagen But Burch suggested that ABC's 350,000-sq.-ft., 10-floor landmark building in Manhattan's Flatiron District be used instead. "We try as much as possible to anchor the show in New York," he says, "and there are Bloomingdale's and Saks stores all across the country." To save time and money, two scenes for another episode—originally meant to be set in other stores—were shot the same day at ABC. "With three blocks of trailers and trucks," says Burch, "it's great to not have to pack up and move."
For a momentous scene, like the one in which Carrie and Mr. Big have a run-in while on dates with other people, "we needed to stage a big event where it would be natural for them both to be," says Burch. The answer: a glitzy restaurant opening. Tao's spacious bar and dining room (featuring a giant Buddha statue and a fountain) have actually been open since November, and the pan-Asian eatery on East 58th Street has become "one of New York's hottest hangouts," says Burch. "We want to always show what's new, what's happening, what's relevant."