Washington is home to enough grade-A pizza to satisfy even the pickiest New York Times writer, as my colleague Maura Judkis conclusively proved yesterday. But if all those upper crusts didn’t convince you, local history blogger Sarah Adler has more proof: She has traced the history of pizza culture in D.C. all the way back to 1938.
That’s the year, Adler says, that Luigi Calvi first advertised a pizza dinner at his Lido restaurant on 18th Street south of Dupont Circle. (It was cheaper than Jumbo Slice. According to the ad, unearthed by Ghosts of DC, dinner cost one dollar and included wine.)
But those early years were dark ones for D.C. pizza. Until 1948, you couldn’t order pizza for lunch. ("Here's a bit of good news for you Pizza Pie lovers,” reads a 1948 Post article, “Luigi, who might be termed King of the Pizza, has announced that instead of waiting until 5:30 or so to get your Pizza you can have it any time from noon on.") And until the early 1950s, Adler says, pizza was rarely available on the nightlife circuit. She didn’t come across any mention of late-night pizza until this gem of a Post review from 1953:
The pizza's hot and so's the jazz at the Club Bayou below the K St. overpass. The club reopens tonight with Bobbie Conway and his Dixie Six providing the rhythms and the competent chef turning out pizza pies that have surprisingly become one of the big culinary hits for folks wanting late evening snacks.
But even then, Adler says, it wasn’t until the ‘90s and early ‘00s that ads and articles about pizza began mentioning things like wood-fired ovens and D.O.C. certification. She suspects it has to do with demographics: Plenty of pizza shops advertised to college kids in the ‘70s and ‘80s, but “it wasn’t until D.C.’s influx of white middle-class families … that gourmet pizza became as important in the city as it is now,” she says.
Pizzeria Paradiso opened its first Dupont Circle location in 1991. Ten years later, 2 Amys began serving Neopolitan-style pizzas in Cleveland Park, which kicked off a wave of upscale pizzerias: Matchbox, Comet Ping Pong and Pete’s New Haven Apizza all opened in the aughts.
“The city's homegrown pizza parlors hadn't exactly put it on the map over the years,” The Post’s Justin Rude wrote in a 2011 article that isn't available online. “But during the past decade -- 2 Amy's started the trend in 2001 -- the landscape has changed, as a flood of Neapolitan and boutique pizza-makers raised the bar for Capital City pizza.”
Of course, it’s not like the District never knew high-quality, Neopolitan-style pizza before the early ‘00s. Per The Post archives, Ciro Galloti -- an actual native of Naples (!) -- served “the most beautiful pie you ever saw” a few blocks from the White House in the early 1940s. We challenge New York to beat that.