Big Mario's opened at the end of last week. On Sunday, a sign on the door said "We sold too many pizzas," and Big Mario was taking the night off. The ravenous patrons of Neumos, the Comet, the Wildrose, etc. would buy any kind of inexpensive, over-the-counter food; the roasted-corn stand has been doing a brisk business, and roasted corn isn't a drunk person's fondest wish. Pizza by the slice was bound to fly out the door; the good news is that Big Mario's pizza is actually good.
Big Mario's crust is thin but not floppy, except at the very tip; the bottom is toasty-colored, and a slice may have a blackened blister or two. The sauce is proper: almost salty, almost sweet, and sparingly applied. Toppings are not oversown; the pie with thin, tender slices of potato and dots of pesto is especially good. The prices—$2.75 to $3.75 a slice—are steep for Seattle, but the slices are huge.
Big Mario is a real person, as well as a real old-school pizza-man; he moved from Naples to New York in 1964, then worked in and ran a bunch of pizzerias there. The capitalist cabal that owns Big Mario's—the owners of Caffe Vita/Via Tribunali, Moe Bar/Neumos, and the 5 Point—has Big Mario working on-site, where his accent lends authenticity to the operation. Big Mario is also on the walls at Big Mario's, almost as big as life: In the front is a photo of him looking extremely fashionable in a white three-piece suit, red shirt, and gold chain circa 1971, while in the back is a latter-day Mario losing his mind with joy on the occasion of Italy's 2006 World Cup victory.
Big Mario's, the place—shoebox-shaped, a little bigger than shoebox-sized, where an auto garage used to be—best suits '71 Big Mario. It's a brand-new dive bar, if such a thing is possible, with brown pleather booths, a brown-and-gold mottled overhang above the bar, and vintage UFO-style light fixtures salvaged from the basement of the Rendezvous in Belltown. Further decor is provided by old backlit beer signs: In the front, it's Miller Time; from behind the bar (overseen by a ceramic monkey), you are advised that Burgermeister is "SO MUCH MORE REFRESHING"; one of the bathrooms would like to remind you of the existence of Molson. There is a cross-eyed, mouthbreathing topless lady suffering from elephantism of the bosom painted on black velvet. Nearby is the stack of records for the (in-use) turntable and a shelf full of board games. The only modern-day giveaway: the flat-screen TV. If you asked a set designer to build you a dive, you'd be pleased with this result; same thing if you just wanted someplace for a slice and a beer.
Big Mario's, 1009 E Pike St, 922-3875