Photo by Jay Paul
The Pizza Place isn’t just a hangout with a clever name. It’s a self-described late-night drop-in right in the heart of Shockoe Bottom where you’ll get not only pizza, but a master class in people-watching.
I arrived just before midnight a few Saturdays ago, and was greeted by several patrons on the sidewalk, slices of New York-style pizza in hand, walking to or from one of the area’s many nightclubs. The interior was brightly lit with elementary school-style fluorescent lights, and the walls were peppered with a few dozen autographed headshots from such ‘90s luminaries as Everclear’s Art Alexakis. (Not kidding.) The counters featured several signs shouting futile instructions:
ABSOLUTELY NO CELL PHONES IN LINE.
VOTE FOR MIKE DUKAKIS.
OK, that last one wasn’t true, but you get the point. This place hasn’t changed in three decades.
The menu above the counter is surprisingly long for a late-night slice joint: In addition to domestic beers and Red Bull, there are calzones, strombolis, pizza rolls and house-made Jamaican meat patties. Immediately behind me in line was Derek, a long-haired gentleman wearing a studded leather jacket with Motorhead patches pinned to the sleeves. As was the case with nearly every visitor I encountered, Derek didn’t want to linger at one of the booths. He ordered the last three meat patties in the shop and devoured them quickly in front of the condiment table. He then thanked the man behind the counter as if he were a Sherpa on Everest, and went on his way. Then there was the group of women who weren’t, shall we say, weather appropriate for a November evening; a guy sitting alone, texting something very serious to whomever was on the other end of the line; the off-duty security guard coming in for a snack before last call, the hardest part of his evening.
In all, I spent two hours at The Pizza Place. Based on my observations, I’m confident in saying that no one has ever spent two hours there. It’s pretty clear that The Pizza Place isn’t exactly a destination for most patrons, but rather a diversion. Which is exactly what it’s supposed to be.