The walls of your college town pizzeria are saturated with memories. Beer–stained stories and kisses on cheeks exist under the creaky floorboards, in the squeaking of wooden chairs on linoleum panels, and in the oil that discolors white cardboard boxes.
There’s something electrifying about swinging open the heavy glass doors and stumbling into Allegro Pizza and Grill. By the time in the night when I’ve reached Allegro’s, my straightened hair has usually scrunched back up into its loose waves, my makeup slightly worn. I send my friends to scout out a table, sloppily pulling out my debit card to order slices and making a mental note to settle the tab with my now indebted posse in the morning.
I ended up at Allegro’s after my first night of college. I floundered in, my roommate and a collection of new acquaintances in tow. I didn’t eat that night, but rather watched as upperclassmen reunited and sticky August bodies jammed together in the vinyl booths. I hadn’t drank too much that evening—mostly as a result of my inability as a freshman to get my hands on any alcohol—and consequently was painfully aware of my own presentation. I was too nervous to eat, too sober to strike up a conversation with strangers. I sat and watched, and Allegro’s watched back, the dingy wooden panels in the walls absorbing my unease and the fluorescent drink cooler casting a pale light on my embarrassingly red face.
Two months later, I got my heart broken for the first time. We called things off around 6:00 p.m. on a windy October evening. 7 or so hours later, crammed in a booth in the back of Allegro’s, I watched his all–too–familiar figure glide through the swinging glass doors. Sadness turns easily to spite after enough cheap booze, as was evident in my desire to confront him in the middle of the restaurant. Snippets of the moment blur like a sticky flip book as I replay them now. Some unsavory words were exchanged, way too loudly in a place where the slightest bit of excitement permeates the air. I stepped confidently onto the corner of 40th and Spruce Streets, proud of my seemingly sound decision to make a scene in front of the entire establishment. I woke up the next day to the biggest case of “hangxiety” a girl could have.
I imagine the soul of Allegro’s watching and chuckling to itself in this retrospectively embarrassing moment. Since the pizza shop’s opening in 1983, WHAM and Cyndi Lauper turned to Kanye West and Cardi B, and stolen glances turned to sneaky Snapchats from across the table. One thing I know, however, is that I was not the first broken–hearted freshman girl to walk into Allegro’s on a Thursday night. Nor was I the first to make a little too much of a scene.
The walls of Allegro’s hold shared moments of joy and oily mozzarella stick fingers. They also hold heartbreak and healing, watching over this sprawling campus as Penn students ride out the turbulent beginnings of their adulthood. Allegro’s watches us break down. It also watches us find the strength to put the pieces back together. The versions of ourselves that once existed reside in Allegro's vast archives of memory. In that, I often find comfort.
There have been a lot of nights at Allegro’s since then, and hopefully there are more to come. Last November, my friend Maddy and I were camped out at a table by 11:25 p.m., pizza–in–hand, having left a party that started at 11:15. School felt crushing at the time, in a way Penn too often does, and the three shots of raspberry flavored vodka I took at the pregame had worn off too quickly. Allegro’s didn’t judge our abrupt exit from the party. It never does. Maybe this is a kindness we can all learn to extend to ourselves.
Every slice I have at Allegro’s I have as a different version of me. I like to think that with each debit card swipe, greasy plate of fries, or 2 a.m. evening recap, I am older and slightly wiser, sure of myself in ways I could not have imagined weeks, or even days, before.
I often walk past the red and white awning and yellow stucco walls these days, staring into the big, exterior windows. If I look for long enough, I can sometimes catch a glimpse of the archived renderings of myself that now only exist within those walls: the scared 17–year–old girl on her first night of college, the heartbroken and only slightly more tenured October freshman, the deflated sophomore, looking for an excuse to take a break.
Allegro’s does not grow with us. Rather, it watches, intently and kindly, allowing us to become the people we are and the people we hope to be. Its cold metal countertops and salty garlic knots will outlive us in this place, waiting to comfort the next teary–eyed first year or worn–out senior who swings open its big glass doors. The girl that I was exists, in part, in the walls of Allegro’s Pizza. I visit her sometimes, in fleeting glances from across the street, and she makes me smile. If only we could sit down over a slice of pizza today. She’d be happy to know how far we’ve come.