Nancy Gould ushered her visiting nieces into the Bull & Finch Pub on a recent weekday for a quick peek at the bar that inspired the television situation comedy "Cheers."

But if this was the place where everybody knows your name, you could have fooled them.

Sure, steps led down to a basement watering hole with brick walls. But where was that wide island bar Sam Malone used to tend? Where was the wisecracking Carla Tortelli, not to mention the jukebox and pool table?

"It doesn't look like it," said Carolyn Bowerman, 14, her face crestfallen as she entered the front room, with its long, narrow bar against one wall and tables to the right.

"No, it doesn't," agreed her aunt, 41, a mother of two from Wayland, Mass. "It's a bit of a disappointment. You expect Norm to be sitting at the bar."

In a strange case of life imitating art -- or at least television -- a remedy is at hand. A new "Cheers" bar that is a virtual stand-in for the Hollywood stage set opens in downtown Boston today, intended to satiate a sentimental appetite for something that never really existed.

"We have copied the copy," owner Tom Kershaw said.

Norm Peterson -- aka actor George Wendt -- was expected to be on his stool tonight at a launch party for "Cheers at Faneuil Hall Marketplace," which opens for business today along with an adjacent retail store. The timing coincides with the 25th anniversary of Faneuil Hall, a popular tourist attraction along Boston's Freedom Trail.

And it comes as the cable television channel Nickelodeon plans to begin running digitally remastered "Cheers" episodes that will introduce a new generation to the sitcom, which halted production in 1993 after 11 years.

The new restaurant is expected to be a huge tourist draw, particularly among European visitors who watch "Cheers" at home. The Bull & Finch, to be renamed "Cheers on Beacon Hill: The Original" pending architectural commission approval for a new sign, is one of the city's top tourist destinations, drawing nearly 1 million visitors each year.

By comparison, Faneuil Hall attracts 13 million people annually with its mix of historic architecture and period-costumed actors, modern chain stores and busy cafes.

The two bars also will be linked on a map that shows walking stops along the Freedom Trail.

"When we interview people about what they do in Boston and what needs improvement, they say, 'There are only paid toilets,' and 'How come Cheers doesn't look like it's supposed to look?" said Patrick Moscaritolo, head of the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau. "The power of television has made it so that the perception becomes the reality. As far as the visitors who come out of the Bull & Finch are concerned, it isn't the real Cheers."

Kershaw heard the complaints, but long resisted altering the original bar to fit the television image. Regulars revolted years ago when a name change was first suggested.

Kershaw recently renegotiated his licensing deal with Viacom Inc., however, allowing him to open more "Cheers"-themed bars in exchange for royalties on food, beverages and merchandise. Licensed goods will include everything from shot glasses to $210 wool-and-leather "Cheers" jackets.

"For years, I've been asked why didn't I change it?" said Kershaw, who watches three taped episodes of "Cheers" on his exercise bicycle every day and is known in political circles as a leading GOP fundraiser. "One, you never change the original. And two, physically, it would have been impossible. They didn't serve food. We have a kitchen."

His new two-story restaurant across from Abercrombie & Fitch will have two bars, stage set lighting and a catwalk, and an abundance of television show paraphernalia, from photos and clippings to Sam's (Ted Danson's) satin Red Sox jacket and Cliff Claven's (John Ratzenberger's) mail carrier uniform.

Missing will be a pool table, back office and the original bar, which remains on display at the Hollywood Entertainment Museum.

After the last episode of "Cheers," the "Tonight" show was broadcast live from the Bull & Finch, which calls itself "The Neighborhood Pub That Put Boston on the Map." Some people who remember earlier days welcome the new "Cheers" in hopes that the old one may return to its roots as a quiet local joint.

"As long as the hordes of tourists are drawn toward Faneuil Hall, I'm all in favor of it," said Jack Johnson, 46, a former regular who met his wife 20 years ago upstairs at the Hampshire House, which is also owned by Kershaw.

Others are opposed to change of any kind.

"This is it. This is the authentic one," said Brian Cudahy, 65, of Burke, Va., as he stepped out of the Bull & Finch with his son and grandsons on a recent afternoon.

"And no new Fenway Park, either," he added.

Boston's Hampshire House houses the pub that inspired the stage set of "Cheers," now in reruns. Fans find original bar a letdown from one in TV series.Tom Kershaw owns Bull & Finch Pub and models a Red Sox jacket worn by actor Ted Danson.