Good question, and there are as many answers to it as there are bars serving pizza. Which is to say, it’s somewhat fluid. The South Shore of Massachusetts may have the greatest density of this style than any other region, but it’s a genre that appears in other states as well, if in slightly different form.
To my mind, most bar or tavern pies I’m familiar with and love are:
- Very thin crusted
- Decidedly crisp
- Well-done but not to the point of being burned
- Large enough to share but small enough you could house one yourself
But that’s the physicality of the bar pizza. There is also a communal and spiritual aspect to this style of pizza. The best bar pizza joints are beloved gathering spots that bring together generations and social classes.
These are the pizzerias we grew up going to on weekends with our families and friends. They’re the places your dad took you and that you now take your kids. Those of us who moved away from home love them from afar and head there first thing after blowing into town for a visit.
Those elements together define “bar pizza” in my book.
But isn’t any pizza served in a bar by definition “bar pizza”?
I would say no. The places that serve free slices or small pies with a beer often serve something different not only in style but also in intent. There, you are going mostly to drink, with the pizza an afterthought or something to soak up the booze.
At a bar-pizza bar, the pizza is the focus and the booze is the bonus. Spots like Star Tavern (Orange, New Jersey), Colony Grill (Stamford, Connecticut), Lynwood Cafe (Randolph, Massachusetts), Kinchley’s (Ramsey, New Jersey), or Lee’s Tavern (Staten Island, NYC) may have started out as actual bars but the pizza is definitely the draw these days, and you’ll find more kids there than actual drunks.
These pizzerias are and aren’t A THING. The best of them, obviously, have a huge, loyal following and are crowded most nights. But they’re not courting trends. They’re classic, they’re iconic, they’re eternal.
The spirit of these pizzerias, and their delicious crisp pizzas, are my inspiration for the pies I’m trying to create for my bar-pizza pop-up night (details TK). I am trying to meld elements of these places I’ve visited over the years into a tavern-style pizza that is uniquely my own.