When I found out that I had an opportunity to climb aboard a party bus that would take me to several &pizza locations, where I would subsequently get drunk and eat &pizza pizzas, I thought, “it is important to my identity as an advocate of all things fast-casual that I experience this.” And thus, I boarded a party bus decked out with stripper poles (or as our charming frat-boy driver called them, ‘safety poles’), beach balls, lights and IPAs with 20 other local “tastemakers” (Instagrammers).
On the bus we met Sam, &pizza’s Communications Manager, who’s party-boy persona was balanced by a genuine sentimental attachment to this brand shared by all of those affiliated with the company, set out the plan. We would take this bus to three &pizza locations and at each we would sample pizza and booze. “Sample” was the wrong word– some of us (mostly me) ate the equivalent of an entire pizza at each stop. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Sam introduced us to our benevolent leader for the evening, &pizza creator Michael Lastoria. Were there such thing as the rockstar king of fast-casual pizza, Michael would be it. He looks like a long-lost member of Foo Fighters and had that same contagious pride in and love for the &pizza brand, constantly expressing how much our attendance meant to him and how much the communities around each store location influenced each store. Also, he got wicked drunk and it was awesome.
Our first stop was the K Street location, and things on the bus were pretty reserved as we downed some IPAs and explained why we were there. A lot of people on the bus were Yelp Elite and contest winners, as well as Instagrammers and general tastemakers. We walked into the room where 10+ Boss Hogg pizzas waited for us, along with two of Atlas Brewing Company’s signature brews. The Boss Hogg, &pizza’s limited edition fall pizza, was my favorite pizza of the night. It was a tex-mex inspired pie with a kick that I think came from barbecue sauce, topped with their signature quatro formaggi blend, pulled pork, corn, tortilla strips and carmelized onions. It was sweet and spicy and messy. I think I accidentally had a whole pizza.
Back on the bus and people are starting to feel the unlimited wine and beer. Michael and Sam are dancing in the aisles and everyone else is dancing in their seats.
We arrive at the Dupont location, where an even bigger feast awaits us. We’ve got nonstop pies of the Maverick, the Farmer’s Daughter and the Gnarlic, three of &pizza’s original menu superstars. If you’re a vegetarian, the Gnarlic is the way to go. Just trust me on that. Each has a perfectly suggested pairing of DC Brau. Michael toasts, we knock more down. A couple of my friends happened to show up drunk from some event, and they were like “hey, what are you doing here?” and I was like, “I’m riding a stripper pole party bus to a bunch of &pizzas and eating pizza and getting drunk. Gotta go!” I boarded our bus, glowing with the nightclub lighting and vibrating with bass, and we drove away.
By then, we were full of pizza and even fuller of alcohol. The “safety poles” were being made good use of and everyone was singing and dancing to a playlist full of throwbacks and also cutting-edge new hits. We threw branded beachballs to the back of the bus and they threw them right back. We stumbled off for our last location, the first &pizza in DC on H Street.
We went to a secluded upstairs room, where what looked like a replica of this summer’s Beach exhibit at the National Building Museum, but filled with &pizza beach balls. Music blasted through giant speakers as we stood over a delicately arranged display of red and white wines (created by the &pizza crew themselves) and the Lori Lane dessert pizza with berries, powdered sugar and sweet ricotta. Michael proposed a final toast and gave a heartwarming speech about how much this location meant to him, as it was the first of what would become an incredible journey. I almost teared up at the sincerity of how much pizza meant to these people, and then I remembered that I was drunk and got my shit together. Then, he and Sam jumped into the &pizza ball pile and started kicking them around the room and into the hanging lights (which may have retrospectively not been a great idea) and everyone started dancing and throwing balls everywhere until the bus returned to take us back to Union Station, our original pickup location.
Some people stayed back and continued the party on H Street. It was 1 a.m. and I was not one of those people.
This was a self-affirming evening, a safe space to celebrate the wonders of fast-casual dining around like-minded people (maybe), and also to get drunk and eat a whole bunch of pizza.