Stellar Pizza

I discovered Stellar Pizza late in the summer of 2001. Back then, I had a hopeless crush on a girl who was moving to California. Of course, I attended her farewell party at Stellar Pizza in hope that it would finally be the night that I’d be able to set aside my awkwardness. I was intrigued by the location–not Ballard, or Fremont, or Capitol Hill–but Georgetown, just north of the airport. Who goes to Georgetown?

I loved the place immediately. It looked like the sort of place that was haphazardly put together by someone who was fed up with the lack of decent nightlife and decided to D.I.Y. It was populated with grease-covered aircraft mechanics and actual punks with no visual evidence of trust funds (i.e. no elaborate tattoos). There was no judgement whatsoever. For many years, I went at least weekly.

I learned last weekend that Stellar Pizza has closed because they owe over $60,000 in back taxes. That’s a tough break for any business, especially a restaurant, so I have to believe that the end has come. I need to reflect on how much that place has meant to me over the years. All good things must come to an end, but this one is gonna leave a mark.

The aforementioned crush was headed to a culinary arts academy in San Francisco, and her farewell party included a performance from a friend’s band–one of those shitty neighborhood bands that has trouble finding places to perform. Stellar Pizza (and their neighbor, Industrial Coffee) had no limitations. If a band could bring in a drinking, paying audience of virtually any size, the show could go on. I don’t remember any of the bands I saw at Stellar Pizza before they stopped hosting live music. I do remember being the only person in the audience for both Peter Crow and Lance Hofstad at Industrial Coffee on separate occasions, and then heading over to Stellar after the shows for dinner.

In my early memories of Stellar, two things stand out: the horrific service and the heat. There was originally no air conditioning in the building, and it would get terribly hot in summer. The heat, combined with the friendly but slow service (CitySearch described it as “absent-minded”), kept the restaurant free of Capitol Hill and Belltown scensters for a long time. Only the local mechanics and punks and lost nerds like me were willing to brave the hot box waiting on their pizza for hours.

I never knew his name, but one of the original regulars was an old guy who would sit at the bar and nurse a beer. He drove a Mercedes convertible that was obviously his pride and joy–something he had worked very hard to obtain. He told the staff stories about the building and how he had boxed there as a kid. I wondered if he knew my grandfather, who was born in that area. But the old man passed away before I could gather up the cajones to talk with him. The staff at Stellar posted his photo behind the bar after he died, and as far as I know, the photo was still hanging there when they closed for good.

I threw myself a 30th birthday party at Stellar. It was one of the rare occasions that I allowed my various social bubbles to collide. Kent friends mingled with Seattle friends and family. My father had injured his back earlier that day but still made an appearance, doped up out of his mind on painkillers. My 87-year old grandmother was there, and she brought with her a collection of the letters and drawings I had made for her as a little boy, which made it impossible for me to keep up any facade of coolness around my Amazon co-workers. It was a magical moment in my life, and one I’ll never forget.

I often went to Stellar with my friends, Brian and Dana. We’d each order half a pie, and power through a couple of pitchers while talking through all manner of issues. Brian would always play the same three songs on the jukebox: Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades”, The Pixies “Here Comes Your Man”, and The Posies “Golden Blunders”.

Whenever I would travel by plane, I would always eat at Stellar before leaving. I can’t remember exactly when I developed that odd superstition, but as recently as my trip to Scotland last month, I had to visit Stellar before getting on the plane.

I’ve been to Stellar so many times that I can tell you in detail about the bathroom. A Vespa poster hung next to the commode (which, for a long time, was the only “facility” because the mens room lacked a urinal). At some point, the wall above the urinal was wallpapered with “Drunk Of The Week” cutouts from The Stranger, and I was able to proudly report that my wife’s co-worker was prominently featured (and later graffitied over).

Over the years, I got to know several of the staff. I remember being in Leavenworth with my wife and son, and realizing that our familiar-looking waitress at Andreas Kellar had worked at Stellar previously. One of the bartenders for several years was a woman named Lucretia, who was unfailingly kind to everyone, even the occasional sloppy drunk who had to be forcibly ejected by the kitchen staff. In keeping with the “no judgement” theme, Lucretia never said a word to me about my lonely Saturday nights sitting at the bar waiting for my takeout order. When I brought Emily to Stellar for the first time (on our second date), I went to the bar to order another round for us, and while nodding toward Emily, asked Lucretia, “About time, eh?” And that was the only time I ever saw her unfailingly kind facade break down. “NO SHIT, DUDE!” she growled. Then the smile and sweetness returned.

Emily loved Stellar immediately, too. She held her own 30th birthday party at Stellar shortly after we met. It was the first time I met her giant family, and I’m glad I was able to have that experience in familiar territory! When we got married, we held our rehearsal dinner at Stellar.

My son James loved the toy airplane and the collection of books and toys by the bathrooms. He also loved the proximity to the Georgetown playground and the trains that would rumble slowly behind the restaurant. We really appreciated that Stellar was family friendly (although we did miss sitting in the bar).

Given more time, I’m sure I could find more memories. I’m going to miss Stellar Pizza terribly. I hope Stella sees this, because I want her to know how much her restaurant meant to me and my family. There will never be another place quite like it.

I’m not really sure how to end this, because I don’t want to say goodbye, nor do I want to spend the next month endlessly editing. So, with a big deep breath and no shortage of tears: farewell, Stellar Pizza, and thanks for the memories. I’ll always love you.