By Hollyn Scott
Downtown Athens, Georgia is the holy grail of late night eateries. The restaurants available until 3:00 a.m. range from Barberitos to Insomnia Cookies. One green and white building, however, stands out amongst the sea of food selections scattered throughout the streets.
Little Italy Pizzeria is located on 125 Lumpkin St., one cross walk away from the University of Georgia’s campus. Brooklyn native Frank Cortese founded the restaurant in 1997, hence the New York-style pizza. In 2005, when the local media ran stories that Cortese was being accused of doubling Little Italy as a meth lab, no one seemed to care. As long as they could still get a slice of pizza for $1.55, people ignored the headlines.
To truly grasp the role it plays in Athens, one must visit Little Italy at opposite times of the day.
At 2:30 p.m. on a Saturday, the wooden booths inside Little Italy are empty, showcasing the impressive amount of profanity-laced graffiti that students have been decorating them with for 18 years.
Dressed in a Herschel Walker jersey, 24-year-old Sam Benet appears relaxed as he sits on the counter by the register, waiting for any sort of contact with human life.
I order a slice of pizza and point out that the song “Aqua Boogie” by Parliament is playing.
Benet explains, “besides free pizza, that’s the biggest perk of working here. Whoever is working the register gets complete freedom over the music. I always know who’s working before I walk in by the music that’s playing on the speakers outside.”
He places a plate with one slice of cheese pizza onto the counter. It was just as satisfying as it was greasy.
Three boys enter and are observing the menu when one announces in his endearing twang of a Southern accent, “Dude, I fucking love this place.”
Jason Taylor, age 21, continues his proclamation saying, “Little Italy is the fucking shit because I can walk in here and get two slices of bomb-ass pizza for four dollars. I literally just paid with my pocket change.”
Behind the backdrop of Italian décor, the country boys shovel New York-style pizza into their mouths, spilling grease droplets onto their collared shirts.
They leave as soon as they finish. Clearly Little Italy isn’t the place to be at this time of the day.
Benet tells me that Todd will be working tonight, and I’ll know as soon as I walk up and hear 90s hip-hop blaring through the speakers.
The only thing about Little Italy that remains the same at 2:30 a.m. is the aroma of pizza.
Every inch of the cream-tiled floor is filled with people anticipating their orders being called.
Benet’s prediction was right and as the chorus of Snoop Dogg’s “Gin & Juice” comes through the speakers, everyone from the sorority girls and fraternity guys to the pierced and tattooed crowd stop what they’re doing to sing, “ROLLIN DOWN THE STREET SMOKIN’ INDO, SIPPIN’ ON GIN AND JUICE. LAID BACKKKK (WITH MY MIND ON MY MONEY AND MY MONEY ON MY MIND.)”
Todd looks delighted at the positive reception to his music.
Four girls seem to be the only ones unfazed by Snoop Dogg’s serenading. It must have been a rough night, as they are sitting with their heads resting on the table.
“We sent Amanda to pick up our pizzas an hour ago,” says 20-year-old Maria Paul, barely lifting her head from the table.
Obviously displeased, Paul gets up from the table and disappears into the abyss of bodies. She returns minutes later with both Amanda and a box of pizza.
“I thought we ordered slices,” says one of the girls.
“Yeah, I got tired of waiting so I stole this box off the counter before anyone else could claim it,” Paul responds nonchalantly.
No follow up questions were asked as the girls begin to devoir the stolen pizza.
Proudly holding up her slice, Paul turns to me and says, “ya gotta love Little Italy.”
It is now 30 minutes past closing time, the staff is cleaning up, Uber drivers are outside, and mobs of people are moving towards the Little Italy exit… all to the tune of Biggie Smalls’ “Hypnotize.”