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Feature Image
Exterior of the Satriale's Pork Store (it's a former auto
parts store that HBO is renting to use as an exterior).

Many people travel to be in the spots they've seen in movies or read about in books. Agatha Christie fans have traced Detective Jane Marple's steps in England. People take tours of Kuai to stand under the waterfalls where Fantasy Island was shot. Fans of the hit television series "The Sopranos" are so devoted that they'll spend a day in the roughest sections of New Jersey, just to see the diner where Tony had a salami sandwich, and ordered one of his underlings to whack somebody. The last original episode of "The Sopranos" aired way back in May of last year -- and the next original show won't air until September. Contributor Jeff Lunden missed the mob family so much that he recently took, not one but, two Sopranos bus tours. The clash between the dueling consiglieres is heating up. Ba-da-bing!

"Sopranos" Tour Wars

By Jeff Lunden, 4/5/2002

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Fuggedaboutit. New Jersey may be nicknamed the "Garden State," but if you watch The Sopranos, you know it isn't exactly filmed in garden spots.

Chris Lucas: This is Hudson County that we're in, and Jersey City is the seat of Hudson County. So, you'll see, as we go through here momentarily, you'll see graveyards, toxic waste sites, factories, housing projects -- everything all right next to each other in one area.

That's Chris Lucas, an actor who actually had a couple of lines in 10 last season. Chris runs his tour out of New Jersey. His competition is Georgette Blau. She runs her tour out of Manhattan. Both tours cover much of the same gritty territory -- they drive down bleak highways, past abandoned factories, diners, parking lots and auto body shops. With scenery like that, Georgette says, you'd better be entertaining.


Reporter Jeff Lunden under the diner at the Pulaski Skyway,
where Chris (in "The Sopranos") got shot in the parking lot.

Georgette: You really have to make the tour itself very colorful, because, um, this isn't exactly the nicest area of New Jersey and, you know, New Jersey has a lot of beautiful areas -- but this isn't it.

And, Georgette's tour has a slight edge right from the start, because it actually goes through the Lincoln Tunnel -- just like Tony Soprano in the opening credits -- and as you emerge into the New Jersey sunlight, the show's theme blares from the bus speakers.

But, as the tours drag on -- and they both run for over 4 hours -- you really appreciate your guide's gift for gab. And, boy can Chris gab! A New Jersey native, Chris fills every minute of his Sopranos tour with little facts and anecdotes.

Chris: If you look to the left, you'll see Satriale's Pork Store, over here -- the famous pork store from the show. You notice right next to it is the Irish-American Association here, proudly flying the Irish flag. Well, when they film here at Satriale's, they pay this Irish-American Association $5,000 a day to take down the Irish flag, put up an Italian flag and cover up all the shamrocks and everything else, because it wouldn't look right having Tony sitting here with the Irish flag flying right behind him.

John Launder, the substitute host on Georgette's tour, is from Jersey, too. And, while he's never been on The Sopranos himself, his car has! Now, John's a little more laid back than Chris, but he still gets out his zingers.

John: Up on the top of the hill is another thing from the opening credits: Pizzaland. 'Gotta be the smallest pizza parlor in New Jersey. It's supposed to be so small, they only sell slices.

But, back on the other bus, stuck somewhere on Route 17, Chris wins me over with a brilliant analysis of the term "fuggedaboutit."

Chris: A lot of people ask me, they say, "What does that mean?" I say, "well, it could mean any number of things, depending on how you use it." Fuggedaboutit, fuggedaboutit, fuggedaboutit, fuggedaboutit.

And, Chris has the best snack, too -- a major consideration on a long tour. He gives his customers a choice of two Italian pastries: sfogliatelle or cannoli. Georgette's customers only get cannoli, but on the day I went, we got an extra treat -- a visit from an actor on the show. Joe Gannascoli's claim to fame is that his character Vito whacked Jackie Jr. in season three.

Woman: Do we get to take pictures of you?

Joe: Yeah, we're gonna do a little business first, and then we'll do that. That good?


Jeff buying some Sopranos memorabilia from a guy who once had a small
part in the series, and sells memorabilia out of the trunk of his car.

All too authentically, Joe popped the trunk on his ancient Mercedes, and proceeded to sell Sopranos-themed merchandise from out of it, including a T-shirt that has his picture on the front, firing a gun. On the back it says, "I did Jackie Jr."

Jeff: Do you come out? Do you meet the bus every Sunday?

Joe: I, yeah, pretty much. I just started doing this, you know.

Jeff: Uh, huh.

Joe: So, it's nice. I move a little merchandise.

I must confess, I bought a little merchandise. Not the T-shirt, but a hat that has The Sopranos logo on the front and says "Bada Bing" on the back. The Bada Bing is Tony's strip club in The Sopranos. Both tours visit the "real" Bada Bing -- the Satin Dolls Night Club in Lodi, where exteriors, interiors -- and posteriors -- are shot.

Chris: They have a sign up there that says "the Bada Bing," but they took it down now, 'cause it says "God Bless America, The Panty Raid Party," which, (laughter) I don't see the connection between the two, but… I'm not making it up, you can see it's up there.

For both tours, it's the the final stop. And, Georgette says that the strip club actually welcomes busloads of tourists.

Georgette: I think they like us coming in, spending money on drinks, T-shirts, bottles of wine that they're selling. So, you know, it's good -- they're trying to exploit themselves.

A strip club engaged in exploitation?

By the way, Georgette forgot to mention that you can also buy Bada Bing g-strings and bum panties, whatever they are. After 15 minutes, the buses return to Secaucus or Manhattan, and, yes, both tours have Sopranos trivia contests along the way, to keep the tired tourists happy. If these tours seem similar, it's no accident. Chris Lucas used to work for Georgette Blau. After a falling out, he started his own tour.

Chris: There's another company that we actually wrote the tour for them originally, and now it's two companies doing The Sopranos tour, which gets really confusing with people. They call me -- "Which Sopranos tour are you?" But we actually run into each other every once in a while on the tour, so…

Run into each other? Georgette says he's been stealing her customers at their mutual pick-up site in Secaucus.

Georgette: He's been taking my people who are pre-paid, I guess, to look like there's people on his bus.

And now, it's getting downright ugly. Georgette recently initiated legal action against Chris. Regardless of how the turf war turns out, the people who take either tour are having a blast, like Betty Licomia.

Betty: What in God's name am I doing on this tour? It's a birthday present from my daughter to her father, 'cause he loves The Sopranos. This isn't, I mean, this is not the part of New Jersey I would ride around on a Sunday afternoon, but it's fun. What a way to make money. Gawd.

Fuggedaboutit. In New Jersey, I'm Jeff Lunden for the Savvy Traveler. Fuggedaboutit, Fuggedaboutit, Fuggedaboutit.
Savvy Resources:

On Location Sopranos Tour
http://www.sceneontv.com/sopranostour.html

Sopranos Locations Tour
http://www.sopranoslocations.com/

New York City Search on Sopranos Bus Tour (Check out the "reviews")
http://newyork.citysearch.com/user_review?fid=11&id=11474467



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