Murky bars, seedy clubs, nondescript car parks where coked-out gangsters conduct their grim business - okay, so 'The Sopranos' tour isn’t for everyone… but it's one way of seeing New Jersey
There are many reasons to visit New York – the striking cityscape, the vibrant nightlife, the stunning array of exotic foods (why don’t they sell knishes in the UK?). As an obsessive fan of David Chase’s The Sopranos, however, I was determined that at least part of my time in the Big Apple would be spent embracing The Sopranos Experience. Never mind that doing so would mean abandoning one of the most photogenic cities on the planet, to drive to the rather less iconic New Jersey…
Before Jersey, I still had Sopranos business to take care of in NYC. Easily accessible by bus or subway, Little Italy in lower Manhattan is centred around Mulberry Street; you may remember it as the area where Johnny Sack beat up a guy in Ralphie’s crew before "buying him a drink". You might want to stop by the Mulberry Street Bar (176 Mulberry Street) where several scenes of the show were shot. Alas, during our visit, the bar’s clientele seemed entirely legit.
On to the coach tour proper, then. We had been told to meet up 15 minutes before the excursion was scheduled to start – and the reason soon became obvious. Joe Gannascoli, who played the gay gangster Vito, was signing autographs! For money. While seeing Veet in the flesh was mildly entertaining, paying for the privilege seemed a little off. Maybe we’d have been more tempted if it had been Paulie Walnuts.
Once on the coach and Jersey-bound, our guide introduced himself. A chirpy fellow, he would entertain us – more or less – throughout the trip, with information about the sights we were seeing as well as Sopranos trivia. As we drove away from New York, I was reminded that Tony takes a similar journey in the credits at the beginning of every episode. I wondered how he’d have dealt with the corny yammering of our host. Gazing back at Manhattan dwindling into the distance, it was impossible not to fall in love with the place – and ask myself what I was doing, leaving to go slumming it around low-life bars and seedy strip joints.
Of all the sites we visited, the empty retail unit used to film Satriale’s Pork Store was perhaps the most shockingly un-Sopranos-esque. Sure, it was novel to visit the meat merchant's where Tony and his cronies used to sit outside drinking espresso. Stripped of any reminders of its past use, however, the place was anonymous and unremarkable.
Other key locations proved similarly underwhelming; we visited the diner where Christopher had been ambushed by his protégé hoods, and the ice cream parlour where the notorious final scene of the show took place. We passed the famous Pizzaland shop, as seen in the show’s opening credits, and also found time to stop off for a cannoli (a cream-filled pastry). Each stop on the route proved less than exhilarating – but then, what did I expect? Had I been hoping that Silvio Dante would emerge from the Bada-Bing to start breaking out the Michael Corleone impersonations?
Ah yes, the Bing. Towards the end of the tour, we found ourselves attending Silvio’s dubious club. After a brief snoop around the car park where the wretched Ralph Ciffaretto beat his stripper girlfriend to death, we ventured inside the joint (known as Satin Dolls in the real world). I have no further comment to offer, save that New Jersey licensing laws make it illegal for strippers to operate on premises where alcohol is served; the ladies were dancing with their kit on.
So what did I think? Honestly, the magic of the television show isn’t reflected in the oddly characterless locations we visited; the thought arose that taking photographs of these resolutely dreary sights seemed more than a little absurd. That said, I’m glad I took the trip, if only to witness the gulf between fantasy and reality. If you don’t want to shatter any illusions, however, you might be better off sticking with Mulberry Street. You can book a place on the Sopranos tour at www.screentours.com/tour.php/sopranos/ .
Holidaying on a budget, we stayed at the Pod Hotel in central Manhattan and opted for bunk beds. The compact size of the room wasn’t a problem – and it wasn't too much of a bind to trot down the corridor to use the washing facilities. The larger rooms, by comparison, do have en-suite facilities. The rooms are surprisingly stylish, and there’s even a dock for your iPod if you want to listen sans headphones. For 130 bucks or so a night (for two of us), it felt like we were getting a good deal – especially since we were just nine blocks from Central Station.