Or, 'Where to Eat in Liberty City'
After much anticipation from millions of gamers, Grand Theft Auto 4 debuted worldwide today. This being Serious Eats, we did some digging around on the game's website for any food- or restaurant-related material inside the game, which takes place in "Liberty City," a metropolis loosely modeled on New York City. Here's what we found.
If you're not familiar, you pilot a character around a virtual city on mayhem-filled missions. Previous incarnations of the game have been praised for the incredibly detailed and vast cities that your character roams. We were surprised to see some (somewhat familiar) sights in the screenshots.
'Steinway Beer Garden,' aka The Bohemian Beer Garden
The "Steinway Beer Garden" is obviously a stand-in for the Bohemian Beer Garden in Astoria, Queens, where neighborhood locals and packs of roving hipsters swarm to swill grog on warm weekend afternoons. The virtual version even shares a name with nearby Steinway Street.
And here's what the place looks like in real life:
'Sprunk' Cola Sign, aka The Pepsi Cola Sign
I haven't played much GTA, so I'm not familiar with the mock brands that inhabit its world, but I'm assuming from the virtual sign below that "Sprunk" is some sort of cola. I think it's a safe assumption, since the in-game billboard is totally based on the Pepsi-Cola sign in the Queens neighborhood of Long Island City, just across the East River from Manhattan.
Long Island City is an up-and-coming neighborhood full of gritty warehouses and disused factories, but developers are trying to lure folks there with new waterfront recreation and luxury co-op buildings. The fake version captures this mix nicely, as you can see above.
Here's the real-world version of the Pepsi sign, in all its night-glow glory:
And here's that same sign from the back. I took this a couple years ago, before they were very far along on building a public space around the sign:
The Domino Sugar Refinery
Update: Looking a bit more closely at the Sprunk sign screenshot just now, I noticed that the building in the background bore a resemblance to the Domino Sugar Refinery in Williamsburg. Doncha think?
'The Bean Machine' at a Faux Rockefeller Center
The Bean Machine coffee shop here (above) doesn't really register immediately as a specific location, but its surroundings bear a striking resemblance to the plaza and shops at Rockefeller Center. From the architecture to the shop signage to the paving stones, it's almost a dead ringer, and it kinda has the feel of the Dean and Deluca shop there.
'Superstar Cafe,' aka Spotlight Live?
I have no idea what place this one is modeled after, if any. Could it be one of the hokey tourist traps in Times Square? Maybe. Though it does kinda look like the stage from American Idol. Would I want to get my coffee drink in a talent-show setting? No. I truly hope there's no real-world equivalent to the Superstar Cafe.
Update: Serious Eats reader Charm City Cupcakes points out that the Superstar Cafe may indeed be Spotlight Live, a mega-karaoke/performance/dining venue in Times Square. Not a direct comparison, in the photo below, but looking at the Spotlight Live website, I'd say it's a safe bet.
This one could be based on any number of third-tier burger chains and probably doesn't map to a specific location or shop, either. (As CasperOne points out in the comments here, "there is not always a real-world counterpart to the things that they put in the game.") It lies in one of the outer boroughs of Liberty City, at least according to the Liberty City map on the game publisher's website. Even if you didn't have the map, you could tell it's outer-borough because stand-alone fast-food joints in Manhattan are as rare as steak tartare.
I think "BurgerShot" is a weird name for a burger joint.
'69th Street Diner,' aka Air Line / Jackson Hole Diner?
And what about the photo this post opened with?
Is there a real-world analog? Turning to the best source of old-school New York info, Forgotten NY, I'm guessing it's an amalgam of a few classic NYC diners, though it most closely resembles a mashup of the Air Line/Jackson Hole diner near LaGuardia Airport (the diner you've seen in Goodfellas) and the now defunct Bluebird Diner near Utica Avenue in Flatbush, Brooklyn. I say this based on the fact that it has horizontal banding on its lower half and has a sort of double roof:
Check out the NYC Classic Diners page on Forgotten NY for a better view of the Air Line/Jackson Hole.
Double-checking with DinerCity.com yields no specific real-world diner, either.