For over 25 years, Ruth Gresser, the chef, owner and founder of Pizzeria Paradiso, has been working to refine the typical “pizza and beer” dining experience. She opened the first Pizzeria Paradiso in Dupont Circle in 1991, with the mission of delighting customers with savory and traditional Neapolitan-style pizza pies. Since then, she has continued to explore different combinations and styles of pizza and beer while maintaining her commitment to providing high-quality service and food.
For Gresser, the logical step after honing Paradiso’s pizza craft was improving the quality and selection of its beer. The realization of this goal came in 2006 with the creation of Birreria Paradiso, a craft-focused bar located below the pizzeria that complements the pizzeria services within Paradiso’s Georgetown, Dupont and Old Town Alexandria locations.
In an interview with The Hoya, Gresser explained that Birreria Paradiso was intended to “elevate the beer after having elevated the pizza.” One of four venues opened and owned by Gresser, Birreria Paradiso became the first in what has become a resurgence of craft beer-oriented venues in the Georgetown area.
Under the leadership of Drew McCormick, Birreria Paradiso’s new executive beverage director, the Paradiso group has been at the forefront of a national movement that seeks to expand their offerings of craft beer and differentiate themselves from large, corporate breweries.
According to The Washington Post, starting last fall, Pizzeria Paradiso decided to only collaborate with and sell products from breweries that meet the Brewers Association’s definition of a craft brewer, which is “small, independent and traditional.”
McCormick explained the difficulty of altering the existing beverage selections but maintains that the team is content with the decision, as it plays into its larger mission of working with small, local producers.
The shift in beer selections is not the only recent change for Birreria Paradiso. Beginning in December 2016, Birreria underwent renovations and, last week, the newest development in Gresser’s pizza and beer approach came to life.
The new space, named the Pizzeria Paradiso Game Room, opened Jan. 12, bringing Gresser’s vision of an elevated pizza and beer dining experience to fruition. The room offers a wide collection of arcade games, a comprehensive musical selection, full service of Paradiso’s famed pizzas and a craft-exclusive selection of beers.
After ordering a specialty, slow oven-cooked pizza with homemade, hand-worked dough, I was tasked with picking from a massive selection of drinks. The Game Room offers a selection of eight rotating taps, with four available at a time, and 60 different canned crafts. The move to can-based brews signals an attempt to switch back to the casual origins of pizza and beer.
I selected a can of “Raised by Wolves,” a pale ale that shows off the impressive experimentations in dry-hopping techniques by the Right Proper Brewing Company, and I moved downstairs to check out the impressive new array of arcade games.
After a few rounds of Skee-Ball, some friendly strangers invited me to play a game of shuffleboard. My food made it to the table just as the game was finishing, and I turned my attention to the smells and flavors in front of me. The spices and condiments were light but perceptible, complementing the dough and toppings but not concealing any of the other tastes. The tomato sauce was delightful, and the mozzarella was melted enough to keep the pie together. My only toppings were pepperoni and pork sausage, but they added the perfect touch of meaty flavor to my meal.
After finishing the pizza, I wandered to the video game section. Classics like PacMan and Space Invaders will make any old-time gamers rejoice in nostalgia. Paradiso’s management was successful in honoring the arcade subculture of fight and combat games, headlined by the unparalleled Mortal Kombat.
The new gaming and drinking venue has its faults: seating and eating spaces are confined to small stools that operate as tables, potentially dissuading customers from ordering food. Yet, the ambience, entertainment and quality of food and drink compensate for this minor inconvenience.
If the grand opening was any indicator, the Pizzeria Paradiso Game Room will be constantly filled to the brim with customers juggling a slice of pizza and a fine ale among the collection of vintage games as relaxing music plays.