Meet the Original JWoww and Snooki, Would-Be Stars of Bridge & Tunnel

Brianna and Gabriella almost escaped from Staten Island. But MTV pulled the plug on the original Jersey Shore

Meanwhile, Gabby was living in Vegas. During spring break, she'd fallen in love with a handsome Sin City stranger named Nate. Staten Island felt severely claustrophobic, Vegas was the Capital of Second Chances, and her mother lived there. She uprooted to Nevada and went to cosmetology school. "I got very successful in hair out there," she says. Out there, Gabby crossed paths with the Situation and Pauly D—there are photos of them all on TMZ. Brianna felt lost without her. "I was like, 'Gab, I would really like it if you could just come here.' "

She flew back, on MTV's dime, to stay for two weeks. On her first day in New York, Gabriella recalls, "I fought with my stepmother, my father, my best friend Amanda. I went to a surprise party. All of my friends attacked me, cursed me, ripped me a new asshole. Literally, within 24 hours of me being back in this psychotic island? The world fought with me and attacked me. Within one day. One day!"

Gabby and Brianna both wanted to escape from the nonsense, so they planned an Atlantic City sojourn with the cameras in tow. They went to the Cabana Club, a venue equipped with a pool that's closed at night. Gabby didn't care; she felt sweaty, disgusting, and wanted to go for a swim. "I have no problem taking out my hair, lying it on the table with the bottle of vodka next to it, and going swimming in my heels and dress," she says, as if it's a matter of principle. She demanded that her microphone be removed, detached her extensions, and leapt into the water. Gabriella was signed on as a Bridge & Tunnel cast member the next day.

On December 14, 1977, the New York Times quoted Studio 54 owner Steve Rubell explaining why he had to depart an elegantly overstuffed party in honor of a French viscount's wife and head to his six-month-old club. "On the weekends, we get all the bridge-and-tunnel people who try to get in," the rigidly discriminating door inspector announced. Someone asked who the bridge-and-tunnel people were. "The people from Queens and Staten Island and those places."

Eventually, the term came to mean any déclassé nightlife tourist. Jim Fouratt, an ex-manager of Danceteria who'd been hired to promote a new wave/punk club in Long Island's West Hempstead, told New York magazine in 1981, "What I learned is that the so-called bridge-and-tunnel crowd is a state of mind. There are just as many bridge-and-tunnel minds in Manhattan as anywhere else."

Pranksters Jeff Greenspan and Hunter Fine agree. "We don't have any hatred for people from these places—it's the certain behavioral traits that seem to manifest themselves when they wind up in Manhattan," Greenspan offers. This past March, as a skewering public-art stunt, the downtown-based collaborators set Bridge & Tunnel Traps, fake-steel foothold-trap jaws baited with PATH train tickets, Drakkar cologne, hair-spiking glue-gel, a Long Island Rail Road schedule, and a gold chain. "Everything [B&T kids] do becomes cartoonish," explains Greenspan. They laid B&T traps outside notorious hot spots like Pacha, the Hotel Rivington, and the since-shuttered Mason-Dixon Bar. Some observers assumed they were Jersey Shore traps, despite the LIRR nod. The targeted behavior was the same. "Putting on some cologne is fine; bathing in it, not so much," Greenspan reasons. "A little bit of yelling is fine, but everything they do is on 11. Again, a limousine is fine. A Hummer limo? It's ostentatiousness, but without any class. They're just amplifying horrible taste."

About her experience deflecting the bridge-and-tunnel crowd, Vice fashion editor Annette Lamothe-Ramos, who also DJs Fridays at the West Village's Jane Hotel, says, "They're always the snobbiest, most stuck-up people at the bar! They're pushing rank at the door, trying to take pictures with their friends on their cell phones, posing in the middle of a room." A Manhattan native, the 25-year-old has driven through Staten Island only after a wrong turn. "It's annoying," she says about B&T kids. "They just ruin the night for everyone."

This reputation for bad manners, however deserved, is exactly what drove Bridge & Tunnel. "These kids are so misunderstood," says executive producer Naomi Bulochnikov. "You tune in because you hate them. You stay tuned because you start falling in love with them."

Michelle Ippolito, 24, had never heard the pejorative "bridge and tunnel" before she got cast in the show. An alum of Staten Island's St. Joseph Hill Academy High, a private Catholic school with a 14-acre campus and a token gazebo, Michelle very quickly became Gabriella's onscreen arch-nemesis last summer. She was also a stunning, stick-thin brunette with a pharmacy-aisle tan. She, too, cavorted with a blond sisterly sidekick, a Canadian model named Natalie, which fostered a tag-team rivalry with the DeBartolis. Michelle had also briefly dated Gabby's ex Joseph Bonomo, Bridge & Tunnel's self-appointed Brody Jenner, and the two continued to be close friends.

Bonomo is known for his "mouth, my abs, and a few other parts of me that we can't talk about," he jokes when we meet for an afternoon drink at the Murray Hill location of Caliente Cab Company, the local Mexican chain owned by his close friend's uncle, where Joe bartended last summer. The 23-year-old St. John's grad doesn't lift his powder-blue polo shirt to unveil his abs (or anything else anatomical). Though there are photos of him shirtless on Facebook—in one, he's holding a giant bottle of Dom Perignon and a Super Mario hat—and his rock-ribbed stomach is, admittedly, impressive, more like a Ken doll's plastic six-pack than that aggressively dented tummy of that other MTV guy whose solar plexus is internationally famous. For that comparison, Joe already has a cheeky sound bite. "I'm not the Situation, I'm more like a Solution."

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