Wednesday night, a packed crowd at Holsten’s in Bloomfield, N.J. — the now-legendary restaurant that hosted the confounding final scene of the Sopranos — was trying to make sense of something else: the death of actor James Gandolfini, who played the HBO drama’s family man and father, Tony Soprano. Gandolfini, 51, died of an apparent heart attack while traveling in Italy on Wednesday. Last night, a busy evening of slinging ice cream and hamburgers at the restaurant got even busier as news of Gandolfini’s passing began to spread. Patrons flocked to the store for a taste of Sopranos lore — but found one booth unavailable.
The kitschy northern New Jersey ice-cream shop (which also serves a full dinner menu) usually boasts a small sign touting the booth as “reserved for the Soprano family.” But last night it took that message to heart, out of respect for the deceased star. The “reserved” sign sat at the foot of the table, with diners passing by to reflect on the mafioso who once sat at the table. Restaurant proprietor Chris Carley remembered Gandolfini, fondly from the episode’s filming six years ago. “During his down time, he’d be outside smoking a big cigar, talking to people. He seemed like real regular guy,” Carley told the New York Post.
The legend of the Formica-topped table and red-leather benches comes from the final scene of the Sopranos, which aired on June 10, 2007. After six seasons and 85 preceding episodes, the way the directors chose to end the Emmy-winning show confounded many — including the stars themselves. The HBO drama series was wrought with violence and tension for six seasons, and when the final scene of the final episode came due, fans expected a bombshell. The shock, though, came in a spontaneous cut to black as the entire family gathered for dinner in the booth at Holsten’s.
Tony Soprano was testy, emotional and clearly involved in shady dealings — but, much like Gandolfini himself, he was always considered beloved. The HBO drama gave way to a new breed of dramatic antiheroes who walk a fine line between good and evil. And Tony Soprano will always have a seat at the table.