Pizza Mart [Photos: R. Lopez]
At every party there's that one sober person who ends up sitting on a couch scoping out the debaucherous scene unfolding all around with a mix of amusement, confusion and a tiny bit of judgment.
Well, on the evening of Saturday, March 8, that was me. I spent the better part of an evening at Pizza Mart, the Adams Morgan home of the Jumbo Slice Pizza, observing the goings-on as night turned to early morning.
This was not my first Jumbo Slice rodeo. However, it was the first time I'd been there at that hour without alcohol in my system. Instead, I brandished a notepad, pen and iPhone and discretely tucked into a corner of the cozy eatery with a very generous friend who agreed to keep me company. Here's what we witnessed.
11:36 p.m. — A handful of patrons are already inside. This feels shockingly early, yet we're able to find prized seats on stools to the right of the entrance. It's quite clear that Pizza Mart finds it critical to distinguish itself from the other late-night pizza slice options along 18th Street, so all over the walls, words like "original" and "featured on Travel Channel" are displayed prominently. Ok, we get it. This is quite reminiscent of all the Ray's Pizzas in New York. Outside, a steady parade of stripper heels walks by.
11:41 p.m. — A brown-haired male turns to his female friend as he picks up his slice from the counter, which spills over into two paper plates and is hard to carry. "That jumbo slice is too jumbo for that box!" He chuckles. This is the first of literally dozens of references to the size of the pizza that we hear throughout the night. If overhearing sexually suggestive references on the topic were currency, we could have bought ourselves at least a whole pie.
11:44 p.m. — The first standout fashion moment happens when a mid-20s man speeds in in what my friend describes as "the Ugg of hats." It's slouchy and white and sitting wrinkled on top of his head. But as soon as we have our "Fashion Police" moment, he's speeding out.
11:46 p.m. — A loud discussion breaks out. "Do New Yorkers fold their pizza?" one guy asks another. "We do when it's crappy pizza like this," his friend cackles back, within earshot of all of the employees. "There's no need for parmesan cheese and all these spices there," he continues and then loads up on every seasoning available.
11:52 p.m. — A group of three shares a slice. One seems less-than-thrilled. "You should get drunker," his friend to the left of him instructs. "And gayer," the other of the three quips back. "Rarely is that possible," they agree, nodding.
Lines begin forming every few minutes. With the door closed the air feels stuffy and everyone fans themselves or comments on the heat.
11:57 p.m. — The stools are generally positioned on the left and right side of the room in front of counters. But a man wearing an African headpiece and pajama pants, who appears to have come in solo, moves a stool into a more central position so that he resembles a bouncer all of the customers are forced to pass. An employee makes a point of walking the wannabe bouncer's slice over to him and handing it over. "Is he a regular or some kind of big whig in the Jumbo Slice universe?" we wonder.
12:01 a.m. — A group of four huddles together near the cash register. It looks like they might be hatching a covert plan. Then their motive becomes clear: Taking a selfie with the soda machine as a backdrop. After all, who wouldn't want to capture such a treasured moment?! (Many others follow their lead).
12:04 a.m. — "Holy shit!" echoes. The two words are apparently the rage being felt by two girls who can't be much older than 20. "The prices went up," they mumble under their breath, glancing at the large sign advertising cheese slices for $5.50 and pepperoni slices for $6.50. The mustached employee waiting to take their order offers up some type of defense that we can't quite hear. But they turn around and walk out anyway, one of the girls holding both a $5 a $1 bill in her palm and forcing it back into her wallet.
12:15 a.m. — All we see is the word "Fatal" on the back of a solid black Tee in graffiti-style print. The pudgy man bearing the top is busy whipping out cash, and my friend is convinced it must be Fred Durst. It's not. But now we're being stared at in return until his pizza's ready.
Men, we've noticed, are beginning to display chivalry toward their dates in the form of directing them to the red pepper flakes or letting her wipe the grease off first. In some cases, the ladies are directed to go ahead and sprinkle their cheese first. What could be sweeter?!
12:29 a.m. — Two girls on the opposite side of the room do their rendition of the Guy Fieri hunch while sharing a cheese slice. Then, the slightly older-looking one, shakes her head defiantly. The shaking and eating routine plays on a loop. Suddenly she yells out, "Don't you dare! Don't you dare! Don't you dare!" By the fourth or fifth repetition of her now-catchphrase she finishes the command. "Don't you dare text him!"
12:33 a.m. — The doors are now open, which leads indecisive customers to poke their heads in and out. One, a dreadlocked 30-something screams to no one in particular, "Have you seen Aquea?" No one looks up. He tries again. I ask if he's looked inside since the rest of us don't know who Aquea is. The suggestion confuses him. Instead, he offers up, "You stay classy." I tell him, "That's always the goal."
12:44 a.m. — For the second time someone walks in and can't quite bring himself to make a purchase. This time, it's a dark-skinned guy in a bright red Arsenal jacket. He squints so severely that we ponder whether he has eyes. He seems drunk, yet particular about food choices.
12:59 a.m. — "That's a bad decision slice," a bro-tastic guy in a hoodie declares as his group enters discussing what they'll order. Closer to the pizza pickup area, a preppy, clean-cut man in a blazer dusts dirt off his shoulder while making for the door. He glances behind him and says, "This coat costs more than my car does!" A bald, muscular guy who appears to be the target of the comment, makes an annoyed face. "Yeah, it costs more than my haircut!"
Outside more police are forming, and a squad car is diagonally parked across 18th Street. A few of the cops are eating pizza themselves, and one red-faced officer with a vest spends about 20 minutes standing at the Pizza Mart entrance chatting up a pack of stilettoed girls.
1:05 a.m. — So far the eatery has never had fewer than a dozen people in it at a time. We estimate that we've seen at least a few hundred people pass by us. Now's as good a time as any to peek into Pizza Boli a few doors down to see the difference between the two. Inside, "What is Love" is pumping, the first of a series of 90s dance songs that might be from a Now mixtape. The booth is filled with busty women in tight fluorescent dresses who alternate between sitting and dancing backside to backside. We've seen enough.
1:15 a.m. — Back at Pizza Mart, we walk in to commotion. A husky bearded man in a green sweater is doing pelvic thrusts between bites of pizza. Meanwhile, a lanky guy in a t-shirt a few feet away channels "Jersey Shore" and screams "DTF" out of nowhere. That leads to a call-and-response to chants of "Ohhhhhhh." The whole room is in on the "Oooooohhhhs" for about a half-dozen rounds. Then the leader walks off, announcing "I love you all."
1:17 a.m. — People have strong feelings about what to put on their pizza. This becomes abundantly clear. A redheaded male lectures the group standing by an opera poster hanging on the wall that they need to be adding more garlic. It's the "silver bullet," he insists. "You just can't make out afterwards."
1:32 a.m. — The vibe is shifting. We're noticing periods of silence and then piercing screams. Then more quiet followed by hollering.
A few feet from us, a tall blonde who breathes out of her mouth and speaks with a dramatic upspeak has burned herself twice on her slice. "Let's gooooo. I don't want to be in here. Do you?" she pleads with her male companion.
1:37 a.m. — It was only a matter of time before seeing a familiar face. And now two are standing in front of me, debating the sketchiness of the ATM at the front of the shop. Ultimately they leave with a pizza slice apiece.
1:45 a.m. — A teenage worker in a black apron walks around gathering up trash. The floors and counters are filthy. Cigarette cartons, plates and napkins cover the floor and cheese is scattered loosely all over the counters. He picks up some of the mess that doesn't require bending down and replaces two parmesan cheese containers. The floor is just as dirty as when he started cleaning.
1:51 a.m. — "You have two choices," a burly guy walks in saying. "Pepperoni or nothing!" The remark is for his friend but it gets a smattering of laughter. By this point our dream of seeing someone order a salad, which is inexplicably on the menu, seems to be dying.
2:05 a.m. (which becomes 3:05 am, thanks to the time change) — The atmosphere is louder, more chaotic. Someone's making hyena noises. The feeling is more primal, considerably drunker. People are now shoving pizza into their faces like it's an Olympic contest. "Hooty hoo" rings out in the background. Carla Hall is not scarfing down a jumbo slice, however.
Every minute or so, pounding resembling a judge slamming a gavel cuts through the rest of the chatter. The sidewalk outside is packed, and inside there's no longer such a thing as personal space.
3:11 a.m. — A strung-out looking man mouths something in our direction. It doesn't seem to be in English. His friends assures us that the sentence was merely, "Have a good night" and offers to buy us pizza. It's last call, only not at a bar. This marks our second pizza purchase offer. Score!
3:24 a.m. — Teetering in sky-high heels, a young-looking brunette has been walking around looking lost. "You can do it," a male she does not know tells her, piling on the sarcasm and clapping as she searches for her phone.
3:31 a.m. —- "You guys enjoying the show?" an employee who's been there the whole time asks us, point blank. We're caught off guard but I tell him,"Yeah, actually." Then we make for the door.
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