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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.