Most tourists come to New York to see the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building or a Broadway show. For fans of "The Sopranos," however, the real sights can be found across the river in northern New Jersey.
But if you want to see those, you gotta get on the "Bada"-bus.
More than 9 million people tuned in to "The Sopranos" premiere on
last month. That's not bad, considering America's first crime family -- well, maybe second, behind
Corleone clan -- has been on a 21-month hiatus since their last gathering.
One way devout "Sopranos" fans have passed the time waiting for Tony and Carmela's return has been to take
"The Sopranos" tour of northern New Jersey. Started in 2001 by a company called On Location Tours, which also runs a
"Sex and the City"-based tour of Manhattan, "The Sopranos" bus tour hits all the hot spots made famous by the series, including Satriale's Pork Store in Kearny, N.J., and the now infamous Bada Bing strip club.
The four-hour tour costs $42 and leaves from midtown Manhattan. And unlike many of Tony Soprano's guests at these establishments, you can rest assured you'll make it back safely.
Woke Up This Morning...
A quick survey by the tour guide as we shoved off from Manhattan showed the universal appeal of the HBO juggernaut: the comfortable bus was packed with tourists from Australia, England, Scotland, South America and a few Southern states.
The guide, a bit player on the series, spoke fluent mafia as he peppered the passengers with "Sopranos" trivia tidbits while the bus followed the route Tony takes home at the start of each week's show. Never has traveling through the Lincoln Tunnel been so enjoyable as seen through actor James Gandolfini's eyes.
Note that passengers on the bus, unlike Tony in his luxury SUV, are not allowed to light up $25 Montecristo cigars. But we did watch Tony himself light up on television screens, which flashed scenes from the series in synchronization with the bus' progress.
The tour's first stop was the Muffler Man, in Jersey City, which can be seen in the opening credits. Passengers are allowed to get off the bus to take pictures with Mr. Bill, the 25-foot statue Tony winks at on his way home to suburbia.
To view Gregg Greenberg's video version of this article, please click here
The second stop on the tour -- near a diner under the Pulaski Skyway -- is a bit more gruesome: it's where Tony's nephew, Christopher Moltisanti, gets shot. (Christopher recovers, of course. His beautiful fiancée, Adriana, however, is not as lucky later on.)
As we traveled along the highways -- and under the skyways -- of northern New Jersey, our guide pointed out that most of the indoor shots from "The Sopranos" are taken at the
Silvercup Studios in Queens. That suits the show, however, because, according to the guide, only actors of Italian descent who have lived in New York or New Jersey are eligible to appear (or disappear unexpectedly) from the show.
Roast Pork and Cannoli
The third stop on the tour is Satriale's Pork Store, outside of which Tony and his gang sip espresso and conduct their mob-related business. Don't expect to buy any cold cuts there as a souvenir, though. The store is no longer a butcher shop, it's just used as a setting for the show.
The tour concludes -- where else -- at the Bada Bing. On the show, the Bada Bing is a strip club run by Tony's consigliere, Silvio Dante, who is played by real-life Jersey legend E Street band member Little Steven Van Zandt. Sil may run the Bing, but Tony keeps his office upstairs to manage the various enterprises that bring in the money.
That's also why the family's most sacred commandment is "Don't disrespect the Bing!" even if they have little respect for the law.
In real life, though, the Bada Bing is an adult club called Satin Dolls, located in the quiet town of Lodi, N.J. The fact that it is a strip club did not stop the tour members from going inside to check out Tony's base of operations. Real dancers performed on real poles for the tour members, just like in the show.
But unlike on TV, the dancers did not show their "not-so real" wares, as according to New Jersey law nudity is not permitted where drinks are sold. However, souvenirs are available in abundance for those looking to remember their trip to the world's most famous strip club. Hats, T-shirts and other clothing can be purchased if memory won't serve.
At this point, you might be thinking that a four-hour tour would make you pretty hungry, especially since you can't get a pork sandwich at Satriale's.
Have no fear. The tour serves not only a huge helping of Sopranos trivia, but also provides a cannoli for the road, which -- like the tour -- is more than satisfying.
Stanley Greenberg is a freelance writer living in Long Island. Aside from his long-running "Over 60 ... And Getting Younger" column in the Syosset-Jericho Tribune, his work has appeared in Back In The Bronx magazine, as well as multiple weekly newspapers and publications on Long Island.