Like bacon and cats, pizza has been elevated by the Internet into a symbol that transcends its own physical properties. In cyberspace, pizza isn’t just a food item but an ideology—online shorthand for instant gratification and a party-hearty attitude.
It’s an attitude I’m reluctant to embrace, and that’s the reason I approached Sunday’s Pizza Summit with a hefty layer of skepticism. An adult pizza party in Wicker Park with a pizza museum and “It’s Time to Party” singer-musician Andrew W.K. as the keynote speaker? It sounded like a jokey Internet meme transmuted into a cool-seeking promotional event for Old Style.
For a while, it kind of was. Hundreds of Chicagoans forked over $35 and poured into 1st Ward to get their hands greasy on unlimited pizza and five complimentary cans of lager. Ten or so vendors ranging from old Chicago standbys (Lou Malnati’s, Home Run Inn) to hipper newcomers (Boiler Room, Dimo’s) to the unexpected (a gooey pizza in a bag from Taco in a Bag) offered a steady flow of free slices. Meanwhile, a DJ wearing a pepperoni-patterned hat spun dance tunes while Internet-friendly pizza memes were projected on a wall overhead.
If all that didn’t cause heartburn, the pop-up “U.S. Pizza Museum” on the second floor offered a bizarre array of memorabilia. Some of it, like charming old menus from pizza restaurants, was fun to see, but most of it, like an empty frozen pizza box from Gino’s East and a VHS copy of the 1988 romantic comedy Mystic Pizza, felt ridiculously irrelevant.
After stuffing myself with five slices but somehow staving off a pizza-induced coma, I wondered: Is this all? I was looking for the “summit” part of the Pizza Summit. That appellation conveyed some semblance of respectability, like there was going to be a TED talk about how pizza would covertly save contemporary society. And that’s what Andrew W.K. delivered.
Clad in his trademark white T-shirt and an American-flag hat, W.K. walked out on stage and stood at a podium designed to look like a slice of pizza. The long-haired performer had announced just days beforehand that he was starting the Party Party–an alternative to the corrosive politics of the Republicans and Democrats in the current presidential campaign (you can probably guess the party’s only platform).
It all makes sense if you’ve ever read W.K.’s Zen-like advice column for the Village Voice. In one column, “My Dad Is a Right-Wing Asshole,” W.K. laid out the foundation for his political views (or lack thereof):
. . . The world is being destroyed by one side believing the other side is destroying the world. The world is being hurt and damaged by one group of people believing they’re truly better people than the others who think differently. The world officially ends when we let our beliefs conquer love.
Substitute “love” for “pizza” and you get the gist of W.K.’s silly but strangely inspiring five-minute speech.
“It’s very rare to meet someone who doesn’t like pizza,” W.K. said. “And even if they don’t eat it, they appreciate the spirit of pizza.”
“If we can just stay closer to the things that we have in common with one another, then maybe when we’re approaching these challenges, and these various areas of life that are difficult, we’ll have a better sense of unity, because we do have things that we enjoy together.”
By the time W.K. pumped his fists and started a “Pizza! Pizza!” chant-along, I was sold on the worthiness of this massive pizza party.
And then I had to go to the bathroom. That was a lot of fucking pizza.