NOTE 23 January 2014: New posts are no longer posted to this blog. New stuff at my new blog, Please go there! All old and new posts are there, and you can also comment, too!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Nostalgia for past bohemias beats nostalgia for past wars*

Yes, this post has nothing not much to do with bikes.

This week through the interwebs I heard that venerable downtown institution Rocco's Pizza had shuttered.  Located at the intersection of W Burnside St, SW 10th Ave, and SW Oak St, Rocco's has been serving out cheap-ish** greasy pizza since 1993. Rocco's was the sort of punky, unpretentious joint where suburban kids decked out in all their street-punking best would hang out in front for hours, alternating between smoking cigarettes and bumming cigarettes from passerby.

And its pizza was god-awful.

When I went there for the first time in 2000,*** I was repulsed by the flavorless crust and government-issue cheese.  I couldn't believe that anyone liked this.  And my East Coast pizza snobby side wondered if this was what pizza was going to be like in this town. Thankfully I found better slices in Escape from New York, and over the past decade (and especially in the past few years), we've seen lots and lots more good pizza places open up.

But I do admit that I ate at Rocco's more than I would care to think about.  Not a hell of a lot, mind you, but enough.  Rocco's was on the same block as the Independent Publishing Resource Center, where I've spent a lot of time over the past decade.  For many years there weren't many food choices in the near vicinity, or it was a late enough hour that other places were closed.  So with a sense of defeat and dread, I'd walk over to Rocco's and get a heart-attack inducing mound of dough, cheese, and sauce.

But things change, and downtown gained more and more food choices.  Food carts exploded.  Places stayed open later.  Portland's tastes for pizza refined. And Rocco's went away.

And I sort of miss it.

But miss a place that had atrocious food?  Well, I'm not missing it for the food, but what it represented.  Rocco's was a relic from 1990's Portland.  It overstayed its welcome by a good decade or so, way longer than a shitty pizzeria should.  But it had that feeling from an era that had passed.  Rather than go for the austere minimalist look that's taken over Portland's eating establishments,**** it had that anarchic '90's clutter.  Gaudy murals abounded. And you never really wanted to use the bathroom!  Since I wasn't around during that decade, I could imagine it the place to hang after perusing Powell's  Books for hours and before catching a Quasi/Heatmiser/Hazel***** bill at the Satyricon.

Satryicon.  Yep, that club just closed as well.  Not to mention some of the other stalwarts of the 90's scene that never even managed to make it to the new millenia, or just barely limped into it.  Like the X-Ray Cafe, Snipehunt Magazine, or Umbra Penumbra.  It's amazing that Rocco's managed to stick around for as long as it did, especially since a lot of people thought that its pizza stunk. But all in all it was the last vestige of "Grunge Era" Portland in this part of town. When it opened, the area was still somewhat gritty.  Now almost 20 years later, the Pearl District, Portland's high-density and high-priced district has basically expanded to the doorstep of Rocco's.  And now that the space is vacant, it will probably turn into something fancier.

Maybe that's why I sort of miss Rocco's passing.  It represents to me a past era, and a past era I was not part of.  I know that it's not possible, and where I am/who I am now is defined by my past.  But part of me really wishes I was in Portland during the 1990's.  I wish I could go back to myself in 1993, right after I graduated high school, and could tell the 18 year old Shawn "Trust me. Get yourself a bus ticket and head for Portland, Oregon.  And remember, it's pronounced Or-uh-gun, NOT Or-ee-gone!"  It sure would have been more interesting than sticking around Connecticut for seven more years.

Ah, who am I kidding?  I would have been too chickenshit back in the day to pull that off!

Anyways, what's the point I'm trying to make?

I guess that part of me is sad for the passing of a landmark of a past era.  But part of me wonders if nostalgia is a good thing.  Rocco's didn't have the cultural significance of a place like Satryicon or the X-Ray.  No documentaries will be made, it doesn't have the stories of other places.  It was a pizza place, a shitty one as it is.  It had its characters, true.  It was a great place to people watch.  It was convenient to Powell's.  The Elvis impersonator set up shop across the street.  So should it have remained?  Should a place be converted into basically a museum long after its cultural significance has passed?  Should ridiculous lengths be pursued, such as the attempt to move CBGB's to Las Vegas in order to save it?

And that's the problem with nostalgia.  We cling to things because they either remind us of an era we experienced, or of an era we would have liked to experience.  Portland has changed a lot in the last 20 years.  There's not a lot of cultural reminders from the 90's or even early 2000's at this point, when Portland was less polished, more "kooky". So we tend to cling onto those we have. Even if they had sucked.  Even if they outlive their usefulness.

Oh yeah, I forgot to throw in the part about bicycles:
Rocco's served as the unofficial "base" for Zoobomb in the early years of its existence.  The Zoobomb "Pyle"  was famously located in front of the pizzeria, until 2009 when it moved to its new official, city-sanctioned location at SW 13 and Burnside.

*This line comes from Robert Christgau's review of Tom Waits' 1974 album, The Heart of Saturday Night.
**When I first went in 2000, a slice of cheese was $1.50.  The last time I went in there, sometime last year, it had doubled to $3.
***I visited Portland once before moving here, during June of 2000.  I moved to town in April of 2001.
****I'm looking at you, the new breed of coffee shop!
*****I think I hit up all the biggies of that era.******  Oh wait, let me throw Pond in for good measure.
******Everclear only counts if you are NOT from Portland.  Same goes for the Dandy Warhols.

No comments:

Post a Comment

I'm no longer allowing new comments on this blog. You can comment on the exact same post on the new blog. Go find it over at

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.