The Stranger: Goodbye to Piecora’s – We’ll Miss Everything About You, Old Friend
When I moved to Seattle in the summer of 1991, the first restaurant I visited—guided by a knowing local friend—was Piecora’s. As far as I knew, what I found inside Piecora’s sprawling compound—sturdy food, good beer, great music, a wide-ranging clientele, ever-available seating—was exactly what I’d find everywhere in Seattle. I was soon disabused of this notion by experiences at other key local eateries—waiting in the rain outside tiny Thai Tom, submerging myself in the throng before the counter of a full-to-bursting Red Mill Burger, zipping through the efficient revolving door of Pagliacci. Only as the years stacked up did the singular greatness of the Piecora’s experience become clear.
Before I cite specifics of Piecora’s singular greatness, let me clarify a word from the previous paragraph. I referred to Piecora’s as a restaurant, when it’s actually something slightly less and much greater—a pizza joint, one that’s designed to look and function like the Platonic ideal of a pizza joint. Space is key (pizza joints don’t require reservations), and Piecora’s offered space enough for everyone and their friends—a rarity on Capitol Hill. (Try taking your kiddie softball team to Big Mario’s.)
In addition to (and perhaps because of) all the kids and families and scraggly bands on break from Chop Suey, Piecora’s was filled with a spirit of deep casualness, energized by an obsessive stream of classic rock records played loud and in their entirety. All of my favorite Piecora’s moments involve plopping myself down in a booth to the opening chords of some beloved song—the Stones’ “Brown Sugar,” David Bowie’s “Five Years”—knowing that the next 40 minutes would march directly through the rest of Sticky Fingers and/or Ziggy Stardust. (Enhancing the classic-rock experience: Piecora’s full bar and good assortment of beers on tap.)
Lastly, there’s the food. As Socrates noted, even bad pizza is good pizza, and Piecora’s routinely served up good, middle-of-the-road “New York style” pizza. On a handful of occasions, all of the elements (oven temperature, hunger, timing of order, lunar influence) lined up to present me with some of the best pizza I’ve ever had. Most other times, it was perfectly okay-to-good. But the spirit of the place never wavered. DAVID SCHMADER
When I first moved here ’98, my boyfriend and I went for a bike ride one Saturday from our furniture-less apartment near Yesler Terrace over to what we were told was “Capitol Hill.” At the first neon beer sign we saw, we stopped for a drink. It took a couple minutes to realize that my boyfriend was, in fact, the only fella in the place. We were at the Wild Rose. The bartender was sweet as pie, and when we asked where we could get a slice, she suggested Piecora’s Pizza.
Piecora’s was perfectly loud—lots of talking and laughter—and some howling grunge-era jam was playing on the stereo. And though our waitress looked menacing and was covered in tattoos, when she flashed us a big toothy smile, I decided she was THE COOLEST waitress I’d ever seen in my life. There was a silver-foxy gay couple at one end of the dining room and a kid’s birthday party (with balloons!) at another. I thought the pizza was just pretty good (I’d come from Detroit, with its Chicago-style delusions of pizza grandeur), but the place itself immediately felt like a home away from home.
Not too many months later, I got a job at a free newspaper. Our boss would load us up with Piecora’s whenever we worked late. I became friends with a guy named Neil Rogers, who played guitar in many a punk band, including the Derelicts. When I met him, he’d been a delivery driver for Piecora’s for more than a decade—for TWELVE FRICKIN’ YEARS.
“The Piecora family was awesome,” Neil remembered this week. “That job allowed me to play in bands and to go on tour. They were flexible and very pro-musician. When I was on tour, Joe Newton, the drummer from Gas Huffer, would take my shifts.”
Neil and Joe are on a long list of old-guard Seattle musicians who flung Piecora’s pies, most notably: Dave Duet (Cat Butt), Chris Pugh (Swallow, Young Pioneers), Tim DiJulio and Paul Passereli (Flight to Mars), Carrie Akre (Goodness), Mike McCready (Pearl Jam), Mia Zapata (the Gits), and Stefanie Sargent (7 Year Bitch). And sure, bands come and go, and pizza restaurants do too. But losing that corner at Madison and 14th to yet another sterile new building feels like losing yet another piece of our Capitol Hill identity. Neighborhood tourists love to remind us that Kurt Cobain once walked these streets. But I doubt he’d recognize many of them anymore. KELLY O
Change, they say, is inevitable. We must learn to accept it, they say. The change on Capitol Hill keeps happening faster and faster, and for those of us who’ve lived here off and on for our entire lives—and for our newer-to-Capitol-Hill friends who happen to appreciate the neighborhood classics—it’s hard. It is a natural part of capitalism that businesses open and businesses close; it is a natural part of life that our favorite things in it get taken away. But there’s refuge in denial. Let’s say we get through a whole year of new enormous holes appearing in our neighborhood landscape—literal pits, suddenly gaping open where buildings that were like old friends used to be. Let’s say we get through a year in which Bill’s Off Broadway, Bauhaus, the Comet, the Canterbury, North Hill Bakery, the Capitol Club, the Broadway Grill, and the Bus Stop all close, never to be seen again (or to be reopened all cleaned up, which is arguably worse). La la la! No big deal!
The impending closure of Piecora’s represents a tipping point, judging from the outcry on Slog and on Facebook, not to mention from people’s physical outcry-holes. There’s nothing to be done. The Piecora family sold the building themselves, and can you really resent them for taking the $10.29 million and moving on with their lives after more than 30 years? Answer: Yes. Yes, you can. But it’d probably be better to try to feel otherwise.
Deep breaths. Let your mind wander through Piecora’s—the soothing dark-green walls, the vinyl-upholstered booths, the red-and-white-checked plastic tablecloths. Hell, let your physical self wander through—you have through April 15. Let the high ceilings and the seemingly endless space, room after carpeted room, soothe you. Drink water out of the old-school, pebbly-textured red plastic cups. Have a pitcher of beer. Get a pie (whole or, miraculously, half). Think about the birthday parties, the proposals, the wakes, the literature crawls, the political rallies both conservative (like one Piecora’s brother) and liberal (the other Piecora’s brother) that have happened here. Look at the prints of the Empire State Building, the photos of the Statue of Liberty; look at the tattooed rockers, the babies with their parents, the couples on dates. Wave at Tim the manager, who remembers you year after year, even if you only show up sporadically. If the pizza doesn’t seem as good as you remember, that’s just the taste of sadness. You need to taste it. BETHANY JEAN CLEMENT