‘Sopranos’ booth, worn and decaying 17 years after last scene, sells for $82K

Tony Soprano was last seen eating onion rings and listening to “Don’t Stop Believin’” while sitting in a red restaurant booth. TV sets across the world abruptly cut to black, and fans of “The Sopranos” have since debated the mafia boss’s fate.

The scene became so well-known that the booth turned into a tourist attraction at a Bloomfield, N.J., restaurant. Since 2007, fans have visited Holsten’s, an ice cream shop where HBO filmed the final scene, to snack on onion rings while sitting in the famous booth.

But on Monday, Holsten’s employees and customers saw their time with the booth fade to black. The booth was on the brink of breaking apart, co-owner Christopher Carley said, so Holsten’s auctioned it on eBay.

“If I didn’t have to do it, I wouldn’t be doing it,” Carley, 68, told The Washington Post.

After 238 bids, the booth sold for $82,600.

While “The Sopranos” first aired in January 1999, it has continued to influence pop culture. The show has attracted young audiences, and the characters’ outfits have spurred a viral trend of women dressing like mob wives.

The booth from the final scene was installed at Holsten’s in 1973. In the early 2000s, Carley said an HBO location scout asked to check out the restaurant for a possible scene in “The Sopranos.” Carley, who had been a fan of the show since it started airing, was excited.

The location scout shot a few photos, but Carley didn’t hear from HBO until the end of 2006. The show’s producers had decided to film the final scene at Holsten’s.

Holsten’s closed for a few days in March 2007 as about 120 crew and cast members filled the restaurant. The scene showed Tony, Carmela and A.J. Soprano eating while they discussed their days. The camera panned to other customers entering the front door, leaving viewers wondering whether they were there to kill Tony. Carley even made an appearance as an employee flipping hamburgers.

Fans have debated the mysterious scene since it aired in June 2007. The show ended with a close-up of Tony’s face before the image cut to black. Some viewers think Tony died. Others think he lived on as a mafia boss. Despite watching on set a few months earlier, even Carley was shocked by the final scene. (He thinks Tony lived.)

In the months after the episode premiered, Carley said Holsten’s was packed with customers. Although the restaurant had always served onion rings, they became one of Holsten’s most popular items after Tony called them the “best in the state” in the finale.

HBO left the jukebox on the booth — even though Carley said it doesn’t actually play music. Carley added a plaque to the divider wall that says the booth is reserved for the Soprano family.

In the years since, many have exited the Garden State Parkway to visit Holsten’s, which is less than 20 miles west of New York City. Customers usually wait about an hour to sit in the booth on busy days.

When actor James Gandolfini, who played Tony, died of an apparent heart attack at 51 in June 2013, Carley closed the booth for two weeks. Customers left flowers, cards and drawings, which Carley eventually boxed up and gave to Gandolfini’s son, Michael.

But after years of customers sitting in the booth, Carley said he realized near the start of 2023 that it needed to be replaced. It wasn’t just “The Sopranos” booth. Carley said all 16 of his restaurant’s booths were decaying. He considered keeping the one from the show, but he worried it would look odd among the rest of the new booths.

“They’re just looking really shabby,” Carley said, “and that’s not what we want to portray.”

With new seating en route to the restaurant last week, Carley auctioned “The Sopranos” booth on eBay.

“The time has come. All good things sometimes need an upgrade. The famous Sopranos booth is getting a much needed face-lift,” Holsten’s announced on social media on Feb. 28, spurring outcry from some customers.

Danny LaVarco, who lives about a mile from the restaurant, said that sitting in the booth made him “feel like Tony Soprano.” He imagined being the mob boss during the final scene, watching as family members and strangers opened the front door.

LaVarco said he doesn’t like onion rings, but he still ordered them at Holsten’s because of Tony’s endorsement. The 37-year-old veterinary technician said he might stop eating there.

“It’s kind of taking that aura out of the restaurant,” LaVarco said.

Others were eager to own the booth. The opening bid last week was $3,000. That increased to $30,000 about six hours later.

Carley said he hoped the booth would sell for about $50,000, but the highest bid exceeded that within a day. He plans to spend the money on the renovations.

On Sunday, Holsten’s placed a bowl of onion rings on the booth and closed it for dining so customers could take pictures. A line formed outside the front door.

Carley said he hopes the new booth, which was installed Monday, will remain a tourist attraction. The top of the booth is still yellow, and the wood surrounding it is the same shade of brown. The main difference is the cushions, which are a brighter red.

“Obviously, we aren’t going to change the nostalgia of our beloved shoppe,” Holsten’s wrote on social media, “… we aren’t crazy!”

After Monday night’s sale, Holsten’s left “The Sopranos” fans with another cliffhanger. A restaurant employee said the buyer wants to remain anonymous — for now.

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