Set Design

6 Secrets of The Sopranos’s Sets You Probably Didn’t Know

Read this as you binge watch David Chase’s iconic series in honor of its 25th anniversary
Tony Sirico Steven Van Zandt and James Gandolfini in The Sopranos which premiered January 10 1999.
Tony Sirico, Steven Van Zandt, and James Gandolfini in The Sopranos, which premiered January 10, 1999.Photo: Anthony Neste/Getty Images

This week was one for the TV history books. HBO’s seminal mob drama The Sopranos, created by David Chase, premiered exactly 25 years ago on January 10. The fanfare around the anniversary—the cast came together in New York’s Little Italy on Wednesday and are set to do so again at the Emmy Awards on Monday—proves just how beloved Tony (played by the late James Gandolfini), Carmela (Edie Falco), and the rest of the cast still are to their legions of fans. Online, it seems, a new generation is discovering the joy of watching the dynamic duo of Paulie (Tony Sirico) and Christopher (Michael Imperioli) and has even turned one of the most iconic lines from the show—AJ (Robert Iler) asking his parents, “So what, no f—in ziti now?”—into a meme. So whatever your opinion on HBO’s recent rollout of the episodes as 25-second TikTok videos, there’s no denying that The Sopranos only seems to be getting more deeply ingrained in pop culture as it ages.

As a recent article in The New York Times points out, one thing that made The Sopranos so successful was the authenticity provided by the decision to film in and around northern New Jersey, where the story is set. “The reality factor for Sopranos is what’s so important and so effective,” Mark Kamine, author of the upcoming memoir On Locations about his time as the location manager of the show, told the publication.

While some Sopranos landmarks, like Satriale’s Pork Store in Kearny, New Jersey, are no longer standing, others, like Tony’s house in North Caldwell or the Muffler Man statue on US Route 1/9 Truck in Jersey City seen in the opening credits, look largely the same as they did when the show first aired. We recently had the opportunity to see some of these places with On Location Tours. The company takes fans to movie and TV filming locations across the country, and their four-hour Sopranos bus tour not only stops at Bada Bing (a.k.a. the Satin Dolls club in Lodi, New Jersey), but reveals some bits of movie magic that you may be interested in as you embark on your requisite 25th anniversary rewatch. Read on for the most interesting fun facts we found out.

Not all New Jersey businesses wanted to participate

A Kearny, New Jersey, building dressed as Satriale’s Pork Store.

Photo: Bobby Bank/WireImage

For the pilot episode, Centanni’s Meat Market in Elizabeth, New Jersey, appeared as the hangout spot of Tony and his associates. But the real-life butcher shop (which still exists) bowed out of its role early on, forcing production to find a similar-looking building in Kearny, New Jersey, which they then turned into the fictional Satriale’s Pork Store. Today, that building is no longer standing, but from the parking lot that took its place you can get the same view as Paulie Walnuts as he sat outside getting a tan.

Those who did lend their space were paid nicely

The owners of this New Jersey home were paid to have it featured as Tony’s family home on The Sopranos.

Photo: Bobby Bank/WireImage

Greenlighting this show was a gamble for HBO, who not only distributed The Sopranos but also produced it. In the early seasons, there wasn’t much money for elaborate filming locations, but the owners of the businesses and homes featured were paid more handsomely as the budget per episode ballooned from about $2 million to $6 million. Kamine recalled to the Times that the owner of Satin Dolls “would just rub his hands when he saw me coming and be like, ‘How much money are you going to give me this time?’” by the later years. The owner of Tony and Carmela’s home “put an addition on his house probably partially thanks to us,” Kamine said. And according to our tour guide, The Irish American Association of Kearny, New Jersey, tacked on an extra fee when they were asked to replace their Irish flag with an Italian one for filming. The Association made about $20,000 from the show over the years.

Some businesses appear completely unchanged

Edie Falco as Carmela Soprano and Robert Iler as AJ Soprano

Photo: Anthony Neste/Getty Images

Though Satin Dolls was given a new persona as Bada Bing, some local businesses had true cameo appearances. In the season three episode “The Telltale Moozadell,” AJ Soprano and his friends break into the high school pool, vandalize it, and get caught after leaving behind a pizza box with a very specific order inside. The incriminating slice is from La Pizza in Harrison, New Jersey, which is a real spot still open today, located just down the street from Washington Middle School, which stands in for AJ’s high school. Another fun fact: A young Lady Gaga appears in this episode as one of AJ’s delinquent friends.

Holsten’s restaurant added onion rings to their menu just for Tony

Holsten’s in Bloomfield, New Jersey

Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images

The groundbreaking final scene takes place inside Holsten’s in Bloomfield, New Jersey, a charming vintage diner that smells like ice cream cones and looks like it hasn’t changed much since it opened in 1939. Tony, Carmela, Meadow, and AJ are all meeting there for a family dinner, and although some people have wondered why the show chose to have them convene in a brand new location in the finale episode, our tour guide speculates (and we think he’s onto something) that Chase did this to indicate that Tony wanted to take the family to a wholesome place without mafia ties. Tony’s order of onion rings totally tracks here (he’s a consummate comfort eater), but in real life Holsten’s didn’t have them on the menu. They were added after the finale, and to this day the restaurant continues to lean into its status as an iconic Sopranos pilgrimage site, selling merchandise and allowing plenty of pictures in Tony’s booth.

Movie magic makes filming locations seem more spread out than they actually are

Tony Sirico and James Gandolfini outside the set of Satriale’s Pork Store, where their characters often hung out.

Photo: Bobby Bank/WireImage

In the season two episode “The Knight in White Satin Armor,” we see Salvatore “Big Pussy” Bonpensiero (Vincent Pastore) talking to an FBI agent in an alleyway. The show, of course, makes it seem like this meeting is taking place in a safe location, but the scene was actually filmed right next to the Kearny, New Jersey, firehouse, and mere steps from Satriale’s Pork Store. If Puss had actually met with the feds here, he likely would have met his fate much sooner.

No rivers were polluted in the making of this program

New Jersey’s Pulaski skyway with a view of Manhattan in the background

Photo: Alex Potemkin / Getty Images

The Pulaski Skyway, which connects Newark and Jersey City, appears many times throughout The Sopranos. In the season five episode “Rat Pack,” we see Tony stand atop it and throw a painting into the river below. In the show, the painting is lost to the waters of northern New Jersey, but in real life, a member of the production crew was waiting below in a boat, ready to fish out the prop so they could do another take.