‘The Americans’: Random People Thought a Key Filming Location Was an Actual Bar

Of the myriad period dramas that have been popular in recent years, The Americans is probably the most popular Cold War drama.

The suspenseful premise of KGB agents in America disguised as a typical married couple drew viewers in, and kept them with its complex plots and its delicate weaving of interpersonal drama with geopolitical events. The show’s realism was also praised – it was a far cry from the sci-fi gadgets and lurid romances of James Bond, and instead explored political dynamics of the time. This emphasis on realism meant that producers cared about details in aspects such as wardrobe and set design – and one of these aspects led to some mistakes about the show from people who hadn’t even seen it! What were the show’s producers able to do so realistically that they fooled passersby?

‘The Americans’ is set in 1980s America

One of the aspects of The Americans that makes it somewhat unique is its setting. Many Cold War dramas take place somewhat earlier in the 20th century, featuring leaders like Khrushchev, Mao, and Kennedy, and often in locations along the border of the Iron Curtain. The Americans, on the other hand, takes place in the 1980s under the Reagan regime, near Washington, DC. The political events that the show explores include the anti-apartheid movement (opposed by the United States), American involvement in Central American and American support for violent far-right movements like the Nicaraguan contras, and Reagan’s “Star Wars” missile defense system. Of course, being an American-produced show with the backing of the CIA and figures like Oliver North, the show had a noticeable pro-American bias, but it introduced a new sense of nuance to the Cold War narratives that most Americans were used to.

‘The Americans’ was not actually filmed in Washington, DC

Keri Russell
Keri Russell | Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images for Disney

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Though the main setting of The Americans is Washington, DC, the filming for the DC scenes in The Americans actually happened elsewhere. In fact, in many different shows, parts of Uptown Manhattan are frequently refitted to look like the nation’s capital. The Americans was one such show that was filmed in this way, and the producers took care to remove anachronisms like 2010s technology and emblems from the locations where the show was shot. On top of this, other parts of Manhattan were used to stand in for West Germany, so the producers may even have had to remove English signs! However, the effect is clearly convincing – people seemed not to notice the producers’ careful recreation of Northern Virginia.

A bar set drew in pedestrians

The very first episode of The Americans features Keri Russell as Nadezhda as Elizabeth exiting a bar. According to Mental Floss, this bar was actually an empty storefront with its front replaced with signage for a bar. However, this clever trick  by the production crew under designer Diane Lederman may have been too clever: residents of Manhattan would walk by and see this bar that they had never seen before, and they would get excited about the new bar opening! Apparently, people would approach the storefront and ask the production crew about this new bar and when it was opening.

This is a testament to the attention to detail and care for the small things that made the show feel so immersive. Period dramas can be difficult to make look realistic, and just one misplaced contemporary parking meter or flyer can draw the viewer’s eye and distract from the plot and the setting. Creating a bar that looks good on screen and like a real bar to passersby is an impressive feat, and shows the expertise of The Americans‘ crew.