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Archive for Saturday, March 11, 2006

New Jersey tour showcases hit sites

March 11, 2006

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— As the tour bus curves out of New York into New Jersey, Marc Baron prepares his guests for what they are about to see: what Tony Soprano sees during the opening credits of "The Sopranos."

"Get your cameras ready," he tells the group of 51 people as they pass the glorious Manhattan skyline. "Welcome to New Jersey."

One of the biggest stars in the hit mafia drama "The Sopranos" - which returns to HBO this Sunday after a nearly two-year hiatus - is the state of New Jersey itself.

New Jersey will be in the spotlight when the first of 12 new episodes airs this weekend.

A New York company has capitalized on the show's popularity, offering a four-hour "Sopranos"-themed tour of northern New Jersey. For $40 a head, fans visit the real home of the "Bada Bing" (a strip club called Satin Dolls) on Route 17 in Lodi and the fake storefront of "Satriale's," where Tony and his crew often talk shop, in the town of Kearny.

Film crews are regularly spotted across New Jersey, where fictional mob boss Tony Soprano and his family live and work. The show, which began in 1999, filmed scenes last month in downtown Newark and Clifton.

"On Location Tours," which also runs bus tours of "Sex and the City" sites in Manhattan, has taken about 20,000 Soprano fans across Jersey since the trips to the Garden State began about five years ago, said company owner Georgette Blau.

"This is the new literary landmark tour," she said.

Some sites are clearly recognizable: the "Pizzaland" shack and the 25-foot-tall statue of a man holding a roll of carpet during the show's opening credits.

Other less-important "real" sites from the show are quickly pointed out as the bus rolls through the towns of Harrison and Kearny: the auto body shop run by Sal "Big Pussy" Bonpensiero, the newspaper box where Christopher Moltisanti steals papers with his name in it, or the high school Anthony Junior vandalizes.

Tour guide Marc Baron, center, gestures, Saturday, March, 4, 2006, as he describes a scene of the HBO show "The Sopranos" filmed at an abandoned diner under the Pulaski Skyway bridge in Jersey City, N.J. As the tour bus curves out of the Lincoln Tunnel into New Jersey, Marc Baron prepares his guests for what they're about to see: what Tony Soprano sees during the opening credits of "The Sopranos."

Tour guide Marc Baron, center, gestures, Saturday, March, 4, 2006, as he describes a scene of the HBO show "The Sopranos" filmed at an abandoned diner under the Pulaski Skyway bridge in Jersey City, N.J. As the tour bus curves out of the Lincoln Tunnel into New Jersey, Marc Baron prepares his guests for what they're about to see: what Tony Soprano sees during the opening credits of "The Sopranos."

Gareth Edwards, visiting from Wales with his wife, said the tour was a highlight of their five-day trip to New York City.

"I'm a big fan of the Sopranos. We've got all the DVDs," he said. "I've seen every single one more than once."

They ranked the "Sopranos" tour as important as tours of other New York landmarks they visited, including the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center and ground zero.

"It's better than a museum," Edwards said.

Cameras clicked at "Satriale's," which of course wasn't open, but props were visible inside. Baron said HBO holds a lease on the small building.

As he peeked inside, Jim Washer said the show enjoys a cult following in London, where he lives.

He said "The Sopranos" offers an insight into the mafia.

"It's a world people would rather watch than be involved with," he said. "It's a soap opera. It's about family life."

Perhaps the highlight of the trip was the last stop: a visit to the "Bada Bing," the strip club that serves as home base for the organized crime operation run by Tony and his "capos."

Inside, the purple lights are the same, but the room seems smaller. Dancers wore tops - unlike in the show - as they preened around two poles.

"I was surprised they had clothes on," said Stacey Thomson, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Participants were taken to an area where they could buy hats, T-shirts, shot glasses and trinkets bearing the "Sopranos" and "Bada Bing" logo.

Baron also pointed out how several buildings near the strip club have been used in the show, including a party store where Bonpensiero meets an FBI agent.

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