The village of Mystic, founded in 1654, built and sent whaling ships around the world in the 1800s. But since Oct. 21, 1988, it also has been indelibly associated with pizza.
That is when the coming-of-age film “Mystic Pizza,’’ with 20-year-old Julia Roberts in her breakout role, was released. Filmed locally, the story centers on the love lives of sisters Daisy (Roberts) and Kat Arujo (Annabeth Gish) and their friend Jojo Barboza (Lili Taylor), who all work in the local pizzeria.
Over the years, the real Mystic Pizza shop, which opened in 1973, has become, along with the Mystic Seaport Museum and Mystic Aquarium, one of the village’s main tourist attractions.
Even 30 years later, most of the filming locations remain recognizable, inside and out, with stories of their own to tell.
Mystic Pizza (56 W. Main St., Mystic): Before the movie, Mystic Pizza was just a local spot whose waitresses wore T-shirts bearing the slogan “A Slice of Heaven.’’ Roberts’s star turn in “Pretty Woman’’ in 1990 revived interest in the movie. Lines outside the 10-table pizzeria became a regular occurence, and soon menus and other items emblazoned with the restaurant’s name began disappearing, leading to the launch of a brisk merchandisebusiness that continues to this day. The memorabilia-filled restaurant has expanded twice; there is a second location in nearby North Stonington; and devotees can buy frozen pizza bearing the iconic moniker.
Even now, said co-owner Chris Zelepos, who was in college when “Mystic Pizza’’ was filmed, he gets asked about the movie “probably every day’’ during tourist season.
Waiting for a table with her daughter recently, Sunshine Roundpoint, from upstate New York, said visiting the pizzeria was a highlight of her first trip to southeastern Connecticut.
“We wanted to see where the movie was made,’’ said Roundpoint, who recalled seeing it as an 8-year-old. “I expected it to be old like it was in the movie.’’
Like many others, she didn’t know that the interior scenes were filmed on a set built on the second floor of what was the Garbo Lobster Co. at 73 Water St. in Stonington Borough. Now occupied by the New England Science & Sailing Foundation, the building also was used for exterior shots, evident from the distinctive windows that remain.
Ferriera Lobsters (15 Riverview Ave., Noank): The lobster-processing plant where Kat and Daisy’s mother worked is actually Ford’s Lobster (www.fordslobster.com). Back then Ford’s was strictly a retail lobster outfit but now
it also operates a year-round (except for February) BYOB restaurant, with the delectable crustacean featured, from classic to gourmet.
Co-owner Kerrie Nyman said customers occasionally ask about the movie, “but not as often as you’d think,’’ she said.
Through the fall all the cooking is done in its outdoor kitchen. The deck seats just 50, so expect a wait on weekends, and parking is limited.
Local trivia: About a quarter mile away at 47 Church St., aviator Amelia Earhart married George P. Putnam, son of the publishing magnate, in a brief, private ceremony on Feb. 17, 1931, six years before she disappeared over the Pacific Ocean during a flight around the globe.
Also nearby, at 78 Front St., is the exterior used for the church where Jojo fainted as she was about to marry her fiance, Bill. Now a private home, the front of the house looks familiar, even without the steeple.
The interior scenes were filmed at a church in nearby New London that is now a homeless shelter.
Mystic River Bascule Bridge, downtown Mystic: The 96-year-old, 223-foot span is featured in a number of scenes. In one, Jojo yells at Bill from the bridge as he heads out in his fishing boat, which he has now renamed “Nympho’’ instead of “Jojo’’ after being left at the altar in the opening scene. In another, the three women turn left from Cottrell Street toward the bridge, with the former Noyes Dry Goods building visible in the background. Mystical Toys now occupies the site.
Peg Leg Pub (201 N. Main St., Stonington): Other than some cosmetic remodeling, the exterior of what has been Zack’s Bar and Grille (www.zacksbarandgrillect.com) since 2005 hasn’t changed. Inside, the area occupied by the pool table where Daisy showed her skills now is a casual dining area. On the far wall, to the right of where Daisy and her wealthy love interest Charlie tossed darts, hangs a framed, original movie poster. Next to it is a handwritten letter from co-producer Mark Levinson, whose wife and son once vacationed in the area, to co-owner Lynn Tsagaritis. It notes how “years ago filmmakers and the people of Mystic together created a memorable movie that still has life.’’
Drive north on North Main Street from Zack’s, past 253-year-old Stone Acres Farm (www.stoneacresfarm.com), whose farm stand sells vegetables, herbs, flowers, and fruit grown on site, and you’ll come to where Charlie’s Porsche gets a flat, and Daisy hitchhikes their way out. The location is on the right side of the road, approximately 600 feet before North Main intersects with Pequot Trail (Route 234). The location is identifiable by a pair of trees with distinctive trident-like branches roughly 50 feet apart on either side of a break in a stone wall. That stretch of road features a canopy of trees, beautiful in the fall, which is when the scene was filmed.
Mystic Harbor Yacht Club, (66 Water St., Stonington Borough): The scene of Daisy and Charlie’s first date is now the Breakwater restaurant (www.breakwaterstonington .com). It sits on a wharf behind the New England Science & Sailing Foundation building. In the scene in the movie, visible behind them is the breakwater in Stonington Harbor, notable for its granite obelisks that have been dislodged by storms over the years.
A block further toward the foot of the Borough is Cannon Square, pictured in a quick scene in which Kat rides past on her scooter after delivering pizzas to her mother at the lobster dock. In the background is the Greek Revival-style Ocean Bank building, built in 1851, fronted by four Ionic columns, and now home to another bank. The square honors residents who defeated the British Royal Navy in the Battle of Stonington in 1814, and features two cannons (they fired 18-pound caliber-rounds) from the battle.
Also in the Borough, on Church Street, is the large, white house used for the exterior of the Windsor home, where Daisy’s dinner with Charlie’s family (including 17-year-old Matt Damon in his first film role) ended badly.
Approximately 6 miles away in Pawcatuck are the houses used for the exteriors of the Arujo and Barboza homes, at 187 and 185 Mechanic St., on the Pawcatuck River.
Across the river in Watch Hill, R.I., is the private Misquamicut Club, site of Daisy, Kat, and Jojo’s escapade outside the stone clubhouse that featured Daisy dumping two barrels of fish from Bill’s truck into Charlie’s two-seater.
For generations of fans, “Mystic Pizza’’ comes alive in the movie locations that still exist. But the film itself continues its run on cable TV channels, in the memories of devotees — and on a continuous loop on two televisions in the dining rooms and one in the foyer of the once-small pizza shop that inspired it.