Why Is This Gritty NYC Alley Featured In So Many TV Shows and Movies?

Located in Manhattan’s Tribeca-Chinatown neighborhood, Cortlandt Alley is television's and film’s go-to when the script calls for a seedy atmosphere. Dark corners, soot- and graffiti-covered brick walls, and an 8-story maze of rooftops and fire escapes earmark this 3-block-long location. Anytime producers need a murder scene or an alley tailor-made for a chase scene, they head to Cortlandt Alley. In fact, the alley is pretty much the way it was in 1880. So famous is it that it’s been featured in shows like Boardwalk Empire, Gotham, Bull and Law & Order, to name a few. Whenever film crews want to use the alley, they first have to have it pressure washed, as they don’t want people stepping on hypodermic needles. Then, once they’re finished, it has to be made dirty again by set designers. As Bill Milling, head of American Movie Company, pointed out, "There are other alleys to shoot in Manhattan, but none have more cachet than Cortlandt."


Set decorator Regina Graves says she added “homeless carts” and “the quintessential Con Ed steam pipe” for the pilot of Fox’s Gotham.

Actors Jake McDorman and Jennifer Carpenter dug through dumpsters in a New York City alley on CBS’ Limitless in 2015