The Sopranos is synonymous with many things: family, the mafia, violence, Journey, and, perhaps above all, New Jersey. Having grown up in the North Caldwell area, creator David Chase made an effort to flesh out the show’s surroundings, and those strides toward authenticity were evident in the finished product.
While the show may not be as painstakingly detailed as HBO’s The Wire, the city of Newark’s history and influence is also felt throughout. Even the Soprano crime family was heavily influenced by the real-life DeCavalcante family. With all that in mind, here’s a look at just a few of the loving homages to the Garden State by The Sopranos, which is currently available to stream on HBO Now.
The opening credits tells a story all its own.
The show’s opening sequence is, on the surface, simply Tony leaving New York City in his rearview mirror before he heads onto the New Jersey turnpike on his way home, the stark industrial backdrop slowly giving way to small pizza shops and crowded sidewalks.
As he gets closer to his own neighborhood, creeping into the Newark suburbs, the varying aspects of Tony’s life began to come into view. When he reaches his home off West Caldwell, a wealthy New Jersey neighborhood, the contrast emphasizes how far he’s come over the course of his lifetime in the mafia.
The importance of Bloomfield Avenue.
Tony referred to it affectionately as “guinea gulch,” the street that ran through the proudly Italian neighborhood that he still felt very much a part of. Livia’s house, which was occupied by Tony and his sister Janice over the course of the show, was located just off Bloomfield Avenue, as was Junior’s sports book and the Gervasi crew’s underground casino.
It’s been called the greatest street in New Jersey, and its construction dates back to the earliest years of the 19th century, long before was named Bloomfield Avenue in the 1880s. The street is still recognized by fans of the show, who often make it a point to look for some of the show’s exteriors across the 10-mile stretch of road that runs through oft-referenced towns like Montclair, Bloomfield, and West Caldwell.
Frank Sinatra’s mug shot hangs in the back of the Bada Bing.
It’s appropriate that a show that used his rendition of “A Very Good Year” to kick of its second season and featured cameos by Frank Sinatra Jr. and Nancy Sinatra (each of them playing themselves) would have a kind of long-running homage to the Chairman of the Board. There, in the back office of the Bada Bing, Frank Sinatra’s mugshot hung from the wall, the shot originally taken in 1938 after he’d been arrested for carrying on with a married woman.
Claiming that, as an entertainer in that era, dealing with them was inevitable, Sinatra had long-standing ties with the mafia. He was said to associate with the likes of Lucky Luciano and Benny “Bugsy” Siegel, and was even present at the infamous Havana conference of 1946. The FBI kept him under surveillance for decades, with over 2,400 pages of reports on him over that time.
“That’s South Jersey, Paulie.”
The first time the Pine Barrens are mentioned, it’s halfway through The Sopranos‘ first season, when Christopher enlists the help of Georgie the bartender to help him dig up the body of his first victim, Emile Kolar. When the show finally depicts the Barrens—in an episode called, appropriately, “Pine Barrens”—Christopher and Paulie Walnuts travel there to bury a Russian associate after a routine collection goes wrong. Then things go from bad to worse when Christopher and Paulie find themselves trapped in the woods overnight.
While only a little south of Newark, the real Pine Barrens remain a vast and relatively undisturbed area. 1.1 million acres were designated as the nation’s first National Reserve in 1978 in an effort to preserve it. Despite its proximity to both Newark and New York City, the area remains sparsely populated, with longtime residents to the area commonly known as “Pineys.”
The Blue Comet
As Bobby indulges himself by purchasing another model train set, he and the clerk discuss the Blue Comet, a passenger train that ran from New York City to Atlantic City for twelve years, starting in 1929. “If that train still ran New York to AC, Atlantic City’d be a much different place today,” says Bobby, growing romantic over a bit of New Jersey history.
The actual Blue Comet, which was operated by Central Railroad of New Jersey, was dubbed “the Seashore’s Finest Train,” and offered first-class service at standard fair prices. The blue and cream colored carts were said to symbolize the New Jersey shore, and made the trip in around three hours time. Factors such as The Great Depression, a well-publicized wreck, and an overall decline in passenger train traffic thanks to the automobile caused the train to be pulled after its last journey on September 27th, 1941.
“Let me put it this way, how big can you make your hair?”
When FBI Chief Frank Cubitoso asks agent Deborah Ciccerone (Lola Glaudini, who replaced Fairuza Balk in the role) to pose as Adriana’s BFF, she sheds her professional demeanor for a considerably more gaudy look. Adriana, of course, makes fast friends with her, and before long Ciccerone finds herself privy to all sorts of Soprano family business.
The line about “big hair” refers to a long-running assumption that the New Jersey hairstyle of choice was a “bigger is better” approach, though the state had consciously tried to shed that image, proclaiming itself no longer to be a “big hair” state in the mid-1990s. The effort has yielded mixed results, thanks in part to the massive popularity of the reality TV show Jersey Shore, which helped make the hairstyle popular once again a few years later.