I was at a bar in Adams Morgan a couple weeks ago after attending a beer tasting festival, where after “tasting” our body weight in beer, my friend and I tried to prostitute ourselves to the semi-attractive man running the Saranac booth in return for his inflatable bear (not a euphemism. We wanted a souvenir). I drop that anecdote here to demonstrate just how addled my facilities were an hour or two later when the following scene played out.
I was starving. There are several metaphors that I could use to describe drunk hunger, but most of them involve third-world countries, and there are lines we don’t cross on the Internet. Suffice it to say that when I’m drunk and hungry—drungry? Hunk? Drungry.—I go out of my way to find the foods that I’m least likely to eat when I’m sober. Pizza, chicken fingers, French fries; everything that ignites an aneurysm in my disordered brain is free game after a certain number of drinks. (Four, to be precise.)
I was drunk and I was hungry, and I was at a bar in Adams Morgan with a group of acquaintances and strangers and I told them I needed a panacea for my drunger, and they pointed at the neon lights of Jumbo Slice, just across the street from our patio table at Millie & Al’s. No one wanted to join me, but my social anxiety disappears with my calorie anxiety when I’m drunk, so alone I trotted across the street.
Little did I know that Jumbo Slice was an institution. Little did I expect that I’d be charged six dollars for a slice of pizza at a joint greasier than anywhere in the bowels of Brooklyn. Little did I anticipate that the slice of pizza would be the size of my torso (granted, I’m 5’2” and short-torsoed to boot. But still). A tiny sober part of my brain panicked when the man behind the counter handed me the slab of pizza: how could I possibly eat this? How could I possibly carry this? Do I just pick it up, aim for my face, and hope for the best? Should it have come with a pamphlet of instructions for the Jumbo Slice virgin? Do I just lie back and think of England?
But the line behind me was piling up, and so I picked up my Jumbo Slice with both hands and started bravely for the door, where a line of fratty dudes stared at me. “Are you gonna eat that all by yourself?” one asked.
“Yeah,” I said. He may have been flirting with me. He may have been disgusted by me. He may also have been concerned for what would happen to my stomach when I forced down what was surely more matter than my little esophagus could contend with. I had a mission, though, and that mission was to make it across the street without getting run over or dropping my Jumbo Slice so I could devour it in peace back at the bar.
I darted in between the cabs like Frogger and strutted back into the bar, Jumbo Slice in hand(s). The bouncer raised his eyebrow. “You can’t bring that in here,” he said. I gave him my nastiest look and said, “Are you serious?” He gave me his nastiest look, which was scarier than mine, given that it was backed by the ability to throw me back out onto the street with only my Jumbo Slice to keep me company.
I weighed my options. I could choke down my Jumbo Slice like a breastier version of that little Japanese dude who wins the hot dog-eating contests every year. I could throw my Jumbo Slice—nope, not an option. And then I remembered that my group of acquaintances was seated on the patio, and I strutted back out of the bar, parked myself on the sidewalk side of the fence that separated me from the table of near-strangers, most of whom I’d met that night, and led the table in a communal consumption of the Jumbo Slice that involved a lot of illicit over-the-fence pizza passing. It was a bonding experience, and I hope that these people forever remember me as the weird midget with the giant piece of pizza and know that they shared in a formative DC experience: my very first Jumbo Slice.
I grew up in Las Vegas, where the discerning drunk sobers up at Del Taco or Roberto’s, if you’re really daring the food poisoning gods. I graduated from Vassar in 2011, which puts me narrowly in the old guard who still remember Nap’s, which I still maintain was a clever cardboard recycling operation with access to cheap toppings. (And I’d still hike to the Acrop any day before I’d deign to order Bacio’s. In my day, we had to work for our drunk snacks.)
It says a lot about my commitment to sentiment that I can wax nostalgic about the Acrop. But the memory of cramming into a booth to order chicken fingers, French fries, and Ranch dressing in a basket with Michaela is more visceral and more comforting to me than the fleeting memories of the parties that ignited our appetites. I can’t remember what bar we were at before Julie pulled out her wallet to pay for her taquitos at Roberto’s, but I certainly remember how much we laughed when she realized that her tab was still open downtown and with it, her debit card.
Drunk hunger is what makes my favorite part of any night out possible: the part where you settle in with a group of people, be they strangers or your best friends, to feed your souls with the food that scares you in the daytime and to share stories and secrets until you’ve talked yourself near back to sobriety. Drunk hunger is what lets you wake up in the morning, weary and a little nauseous and probably craving kale or at least coffee, but still alive and glowing with the memories of what it is to be young and to eat a slice of pizza the size of your torso in a city that, at long last, seems to be accepting you into its greasy, pepperoni-covered arms.