The date is Nov. 22, 1963, when Teamsters chief Jimmy Hoffa, mobster Frank Sheeran and their entourage are sitting in a soda fountain in Martin Scorsese's "The Irishman." On a television behind the counter comes the news: President John F. Kennedy has been shot. As patrons react with horror and grief, Hoffa, never a friend to JFK, calmly goes back to his sundae.
It's a short but crucial scene in the three-and-half-hour epic, which features Al Pacino as Hoffa, Robert De Niro as Sheeran and Joe Pesci as mobster Russell Bufalino. At the moment, "The Irishman" is widely seen as the front-runner for this year's best picture Oscar. Like many scenes in the film, the one that touches on Kennedy's death was shot on Long Island, specifically at Hildebrandt's, the frozen-in-time ice-cream parlor in Williston Park.
"There were about 70 people in the store, between the sound crew, the lighting crew, all the equipment crew," says Thomas Bauman, a Hildebrandt's manager who has worked at the store for nearly 35 years and was present during filming. "Scorsese was here, all the actors were here, it was fun."
The three-day shoot took place in October 2017 and included filming of the restaurant's marquee, with its distinctive neon-lined script. To maintain the period detail of the 1960s, Bauman says, the crew replaced the restaurant's newish chairs with old-style chrome ones, though they used the existing pale-yellow tables. When a shot was hampered by a waitress station — the kind with a waterspout and sink — a plumber temporarily removed it, Bauman says. Monitors for viewing the shots were set up outside, he adds.
Bauman got his own job with the sound crew — he was the freezer guy. "The freezer that we have, it makes noise," he says. "So I had the job to control that, turn it on and off while they were filming so they didn't lose any sound."
"The Irishman" is filled with so many scenes of ice-cream — Pacino's Hoffa has that aforementioned craving for sundaes — that GQ ran an entire essay about it. In the weeks following the film's release, Hildebrandt's has seen an uptick in business, says Bauman. After all, who wouldn't want to eat the same sundaes as Pacino? Alas, though many crew members scarfed down Hildebrandt's ice cream during filming, Pacino did not.
"He travels with his own ice cream," Bauman quips.