A Goodfellas Tour of NYC
“As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.” – Henry Hill, Goodfellas
Maybe that opening line from Goodfellas, starring Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci, and Ray Liotta, rings a bell? For me it does, so when Brian Cicioni invited me to join him on his Goodfellas NYC Tour, I was excited to learn more about the real-life stories of the people who inspired the film. I hadn’t seen Goodfellas in many years.
Henry Hill's Boyhood Home in East New York, Brooklyn
Smith & 9th Street F-G Station
Sweet May's Bakery
Goodfellas NYC Tour Stop #1: Smith & 9th Streets in Gowanus
The first stop on the tour was along the Gowanus Canal. In the film, this location marked the scene where Jimmy tries to get Karen to check out some stolen dresses after Henry had been released from prison. Brian showed us the scene on his iPad. The street has changed a bit, but the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and the elevated train line are still there.
Goodfellas NYC Tour Stop #2: Henry Hill’s Boyhood Home in East New York
Henry Hill grew up on Pine Street in the East New York section of Brooklyn. The boyhood scenes were filmed in Astoria, Queens, but Brian took us to the former Hill family homestead just outside the Euclid Ave subway station. He explained how Hill began admiring the local gangsters who socialized near his home. As a teenager, he started working at the Pitkin Avenue Cab Company across the street.. Slowly but surely, Hill began meeting these local mobsters and getting himself into all sorts of trouble related to petty crimes, arson, theft, and more. Nowadays, East New York is no easy place to grow up. The area is still known for its high crime rates, poverty, and widespread drug addiction.
Goodfellas NYC Tour Stop #3: Sweet May’s Bakery
After visiting the Brooklyn sites associated with Goodfellas, it was time to explore Queens. Our first stop was Sweet May’s Bakery along the busy Liberty Avenue thoroughfare in South Richmond Hill. Brian introduced us to meet Mavis, who is one of the many Guyanese immigrants who has set up shop in what is now the unofficial Little Guyana of New York. Mavis shared her story of how she ended up in Queens and let us sample some of her cupcakes. We also had a chance to watch her put the finishing touches on one of her artfully designed wedding cakes. This was the one stop on the tour that had no direct connection to the film, but it was interesting to see how one of the neighborhoods that Henry Hill and company once called home has changed over the past 40 years.
Goodfellas NYC Tour Stop #4: Robert’s Lounge
Up until the famous Lufthansa heist, Robert’s Lounge in South Ozone Park, Queens was the headquarters of Jimmy Burke (Conway in the movie). As Brian mentioned during the tour, the heist was planned in the basement of the building, which was owned by Burke. Nowadays, it’s a Caribbean restaurant and karaoke bar. Many of the locals who frequent the place are likely unaware of its dark history. The shooting of Spider (played by a young Michael Imperioli in the film) is alleged to have happened in the same basement where the heist was planned. Henry Hill referred to Robert’s Lounge as Jimmy’s “private cemetery.”
Goodfellas NYC Tour Stop #5: Neir’s Tavern
After stopping by the now-defunct Salerno’s Restaurant, where the double date scenes with Henry, Karen, Tommy, and his “love interest” from Long Island were shot, we headed to our last stop. The Christmas party scene (after the Lufthansa heist) was filmed at Neir’s Tavern in Woodhaven, which claims to be the oldest bar in New York City, dating back to 1829. Its walls are covered with Goodfellas memorabilia as well as pictures from a couple other films that shot there. The staff was very welcoming and eager to discuss the rich history of the place.