Tunnel lights flashing past. A sign for the New Jersey turnpike. The Manhattan skyline shrinking in the rear-view mirror. Light a cigar. “Woke up this morning, got yourself a gun…”
Even fifteen years after it first aired, The Sopranos still has a brooding power, not least because of the New Jersey landscape that speeds by in its opening: all dented steel and rust and heavy skies. Rewatching the new Blu-ray edition reminds you of the awful beauty of many of its filming locations, but as a tourist you are unlikely to visit the various underpasses and scrub lands, unless you’re holding a shovel and someone has a gun to your head.
Luckily, The Sopranos Site Tour will take you around the show’s most famous settings before dropping you off back in downtown Manhattan. Tony has quite a long commute (around four hours) but the trip passes all of the landmarks from the opening montage as well as familiar locations like Barone Sanitation. Yes, this is a tour where you find yourself snapping photographs of a garbage dump. Thankfully it’s not an open topped bus.
Guide Marc Baron, a frequent extra on The Sopranos despite burning to death in the first episode, spits out more information than an FBI informant under cross-examination. While weighted a bit heavily to the hardcore fan (hands up who knows the name of Uncle Junior’s cardiologist) it’s as close as you would ever want to actually being involved in the DiMeo crime organisation. On our trip Vito the closeted gay gangster (or at least Joseph Gannascoli, the actor who played him) was there to see us off and hawk his own Sopranos themed merchandise. “The life of an actor,” he shrugs, “you’ve gotta hustle.” Although happy to pose for photos, Gannascoli seems worried when he realises we are there as guests of HBO.
Don’t worry Vito. We’re no snitches, but journalists have to hustle too.
Centanni’s Meat Market
Centanni’s Meat Market 815 2nd Ave, Elizabeth, NJ 07202
Satriale’s, the pork store and deli that served as a front for the gang’s criminal enterprises, is a car park now. The abandoned building has been knocked down and while you’re welcome to sit outside and sip espresso from a tiny cup, the atmosphere isn’t quite there. Instead, why not head to Centanni’s Meat Market in Elizabeth? In the show’s pilot episode, this real life butcher was used as the gang’s hangout. It still offers the full range of Italian sweet and spicy sausages, hand made on site. Hopefully that’s the only blood you’ll see on your trip.
Tony Soprano’s House
The real house used for Casa Sopranos is around an hour outside the city of Newark, and the current owners don’t appreciate visitors. There’s been too much vandalism from fans looking for souvenirs. But travel through the wealthier suburbs, with their million dollar mini-mansions, and you will see dozens of similar examples.
Bob Shaw, known for his production design on The Sopranos and work with Martin Scorsese, is a New Jersey native. “It gets me a lot of work,” he quips, “especially in Europe.” He has family in local building firms, and explains that the Sopranos’ tasteless opulence was typical of the housing boom of the time: “They suddenly had so much space, they had to fill it with things. They all have grand statement staircases with sitting areas at the top where no one ever sits. In The Sopranos there was a balcony no-one saw where you could look down on ‘The Great Room’, as they all called it, with three sets of furniture.”
When scouting for locations, he knew exactly what to look for. “When we were going round these houses, they always had a game table in the corner, and my test was I would ask if they ever played games on it. And they would say ‘No, but we sometimes put hors d’oeuvres on it if we’re entertaining.’”
Holsten’s Brookdale Confectionary
1063 Broad St, Bloomfield, NJ 07003. holstens.com
An ice-cream parlour isn’t an obvious place to end an ultraviolent mob epic, but The Sopranos was never an obvious show. Holsten’s in Bloomfield was a local landmark before David Chase chose to stage his finale there, perhaps remembering its homely atmosphere from childhood. The Soprano family booth has been left as it was during the final episode so tourists can take pictures. Luckily the jukebox isn’t connected, otherwise Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ would be on a constant loop.
Although famous for cheek-suckingly thick milkshakes and handmade chocolates, that isn’t what attracted Tony. In the episode, the mob boss claims that Holsten’s onion rings are ‘the best in the state’, a big claim for a big man. “The funny thing was they didn’t actually serve onion rings.” Shaw remembers, “I got there in the morning and props were unloading these bags of frozen onion rings, and I was horrified. These crappy looking frozen things are the best in New Jersey? It’s insulting. Maybe they’ve started making them since then.”
They have. They’re pretty good.
230 Route 17 South, Lodi, NJ 07644. satindollsnj.com
And finally, it’s not a Sopranos tour without a trip to the Bada Bing, the strip club that served as the base of operations for the Soprano crew? In real life, the Bing is a real life go-go bar called Satin Dolls. It’s even owned by a guy called Tony.
Walking in is truly uncanny: there have been some upgrades, but it looks exactly as you remember from the show. You will feel more at home than you should sipping beer in a strip club at three in the afternoon. It’s all so familiar: the same wrap around bar, the same stage, the same polls, some of the girls even featured in the show.
That said, certain sight-seers might be disappointed. New Jersey state law bans businesses from offering both alcohol and nudity, meaning the performers keep their clothes on and your Blu-ray collection is more explicit than real life. But you’re not here for that. A Heineken costs $4.50 and you get 10 hot wings for $2.50 on game nights, but you’re not here to eat. And of course there’s merchandise, but who needs a Sopranos sleeveless T-shirt or g-string? You’re here because this is as close as you will ever get to feeling like Tony Soprano… hopefully minus the guns and mother issues.
The Sopranos: The Complete Series is now available on Blu-ray from HBO Home Entertainment.
Jonathan was hosted by HBO. All of our contributors maintain editorial independence at all times and conduct first-hand research.
Experience the The Sopranos Sites Tour for $47 + $2 ticket fee every Saturday at 10am. Pick up from 7th Avenue near 39th Street, Manhattan. onlocationtours.com
Jonathan travelled to NYC with support from Premier PR. When Radio Times contributors receive assistance from travel providers such as tourist boards, airlines and hotel to conduct first-hand research, we retain our editorial independence at all times, and never accept anything in return for positive coverage.