Sopranos Hotspots Tour

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The Sopranos: The Movies Come To Television

When Tony Soprano started cracking heads, collecting his vig and making his enemies disappear, a new entertainment genre was born: cinematic television.

The Sopranos, starring James Gandolfini, proved that grit, the kind that gets under your nails and between your teeth, was not just for movies. Created by David Chase, The Sopranos pioneered cinema-style tv over 6 seasons, between January 1999 and June 2007.

I took the Sopranos Sites Tour, run by New York City-based On Location Tours, to learn more about this game-changing show. Almost 10 years after it ended, The Sopranos remains as popular as Johnny Cakes on a cool, New Hampshire morning. It didn’t take long to see how much the show still excites people.

On the day of my tour, two young European women arrived a few minutes late. They had run, panicked that the bus to gangsterland had left them behind.

“Is this…(gasp)…the bus…(gasp)…for the Sopranos Sites tour?” they asked.

Marc Baron, our clipboard-wielding Sopranos Hotspots tour guide, finished writing something before answering. One bit her lip, the other wiped sweat from her forehead anticipating the verdict: Yes, they were on time!

Not only that, Marc explained, but Sopranos actor Joe Gannascoli, who played Vito Spatafore, was standing nearby to meet and greet tour participants. They floated over to Joe with lottery-winner smiles.

Image shows actors James Gandolfini, Michael Imperioli and Vincent Curatola on the set of the HBO series The Sopranos. Filming was on location.

James Gandolfini smiles between takes while filming the Sopranos on location. Standing nearby on their cellphones are fellow cast members Michael Imperioli and Vincent Curatola.

Heading To Northern New Jersey: Sopranos-land

Aboard the packed bus, some wore Sopranos t-shirts, others had posters. The Australian gentleman next to me had a mock New Jersey license plate that read SOPRANOS. Everyone’s cameras were cocked, itchy trigger fingers ready to shoot anything associated with the show.

The Sopranos Sites Tour begins just like every episode: in the Lincoln Tunnel. Our guide shared behind-the-scenes tidbits and asked trivia questions.

The Sopranos intro plays as we travel through the tunnel. Dozens of heads bob up and down to the funky Woke Up This Morning tune.

We emerge from the tunnel in New Jersey. People listen to Marc while scanning the North Jersey landscape. The bricks. The cement. The steel. The factories. The old bridges. The aluminum-sided houses.

We pass by a city that honors its industrial heyday with a boastful and ambitious sign: Welcome to Union City, Embroidery Capital of the World. People’s expressions seem to say, So this is where Tony Soprano is from.

Minutes later we arrive at our first stop, the now-closed Skyway Diner, located under the rusty and ominous Pulaski Skyway. It’s where Christopher Moltisanti, played by Michael Imperioli, gets shot by his incompetent cohorts, Matt Bevilaqua and Sean Gismonte.

Across the street are a gray highway, a grayer cemetery and industry. It’s a tough, unforgiving, hard place. Qualities you would need to survive there– legally or not. Television gives you this sense, but only in person will you feel it.

Photo of the Pulaski Skyway in Jersey City, New Jersey. Area is very industrial.

The essence of North Jersey: steel, cement, industry. This is the area of New Jersey closest to New York City and closest to Tony Soprano’s business endeavors. This photo was taken next to the Skyway Diner.

 Sopranos Sites Tour Stops

You’ll see the tour’s locations in 3 ways:

  •  The location is pointed out while driving by it.
  • The bus stops at location. You don’t get off bus, but location is discussed in detail and you are shown clips.
  • Full stops: You leave the tour bus, listen to explanations, take pictures, ask questions and stretch your legs.
Image of a bank directly across the street from Holsten's Diner in Bloomfield, New Jersey. The final scene in The Sopranos television series was filmed inside Holsten's. The bank is seen in this episode.

The number 3 appears throughout the final scene of The Sopranos. Here’s what we spotted: Before walking into diner, Tony walks by 5 lights, 3 of which are lit. Tony stands in doorway with 3 lights behind him. 3 vertical pictures on wall– 2 of them contain a 3. Tony’s wearing a 3-tone shirt and is waiting for 3 people. Waitress takes order from table of 3. Cook grills 3 hamburgers. The word “magic” appears 3 times among jukebox songs. When a woman opens diner’s front door, a car horn sounds 3 times. Carmela is 3rd person to enter. 3 sconces on wall behind Tony and Carmela. A table with 3 boy scouts. Waitress brings customer coffee with 3 creamers. Customer’s hat has 3 letters. Carmela’s wearing 3 bracelets. Suspicious guy on stool stirs coffee 3 times. Bathroom door has 3 letters on it. The Sopranos eat 3 onion rings. Meadow parks on her 3rd attempt in front of building with 3 windows (above). According to our guide, David Chase shot this scene shortly after signing a 3-picture deal. (Sal, cue the Twilight Zone music, please.) To take this picture without any cars blocking the view, we waited for 3 traffic light changes. Can you spot a couple (or 3) more? Did you, by chance, notice this is the 3rd photo in the post? In the 3rd section, naturally. In an unrelated (but related) side note, while recalling James Gandolfini’s generosity towards his castmates, Steve Schirripa, who played Bobby Baccalieri, said, “After Season 4, Jim called all the regulars into his trailer and gave us $33,333 each, every single one of us…” (Source of Schirripa quote: New York Post, online edition, 03/01/12)

Here’s a partial list of places we saw/visited (I emphasize partial because there are more):

  • Barone Sanitation
  • AJ’s high school and favorite pizzeria
  • Searchlight Diner
  • Columbus statue in downtown Newark
  • Newark Courthouse
  • Auto body shop owned by Big Pussy, later run by his wife, Angie Bonpensiero
  • Site where Big Pussy meets up with Agent Skip Lipari
  • Pizzaland Restaurant
  • Richie Aprile’s clubhouse
  • Location where Christopher steals newspapers after proudly learning he was described as a “reputed mobster.”
  • Church where Christopher attended rehab
  • Where Emil (a.k.a. Email), the check guy Czech guy, was buried in the Meadowlands
  • Holsten’s Diner (where the show’s final scene was filmed)
  • The Bada Bing
Image of a tour group listening to tour guide's explantation. Tour group members are part of the Sopranos Hotspots Tour, which features locations throughout northern New Jersey that were used during the filming of the television show The Sopranos.

During a stop on the Sopranos Hotspots tour in Kearny, New Jersey, tour guide Marc Baron explains where and how Sopranos scenes were filmed.

Major Stops On The Sopranos Sites Tour

We stopped in Kearny, New Jersey. Kearny (pronounced Carney) was home to several Sopranos locations, including Satriale’s Pork Store.

The building no longer exists. It’s a parking lot. Only memories of the Sopranos crew drinking espresso out front remain. I’m still trying to forget some of the things they did inside the store. Sandwich, anyone?

After Kearny, we enter a quieter, greener, wealthier, more suburban Jersey. In Bloomfield, we visit Holsten’s Ice Cream Parlor, where the final Sopranos scene was filmed.

We mixed in with the local customers, ordering food, checking out the Sopranos merchandise and, of course, having our pictures taken in the “Sopranos booth.” James Gandolfini’s untimely passing made coming here bittersweet.

The final stop on the Sopranos Sites Tour was perhaps the hottest: the Bada Bing strip club, which in real life is called “Satin Dolls.” And, yes, there will be “professional dancers” on the stage when you get there.

Have a beer, buy Sopranos merchandise or see where Tracee, the Bada Bing stripper, met her demise at the hands of of Ralph Cifaretto.

The Sopranos tour’s locations up-close will make you appreciate the show even more, whether you’re from New Jersey or New Zealand. That was the case for me.

Image of a man photographing another man sitting on a bench in Holsten's Diner in Bloomfield, New Jersey, where the final scene from the Sopranos tv show was filmed.

If you’re hungry when you arrive at Holsten’s, be sure to order your food as soon as you get there. Then, stand in line to have your picture taken in the “Sopranos Booth,” where the show’s final scene was filmed. This humble booth was made world-famous by its role in television history.

 

Image of Satin Dolls strip club in New Jersey, which was used as the Bada Bing Clug location during filming of HBO's The Sopranos.

The Bing is the final stop on the Sopranos Hotspots tour.

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