In a Season 5 episode (2018) of “BoJack Horseman,” Netflix’s cult animated series about a vice-addicted, washed-up celebrity equine, the title character hosts his 25th annual Halloween party. In one scene, as BoJack chats with his frenemy Mr. Peanutbutter and his new girlfriend Pickles, he casually pops the cap on his flask of whiskey, grabs a slice of pizza that he folds in half, then pours the booze down the slice and into his mouth.
“I certainly had never seen anyone do a pizza luge before the gag, and I don’t remember who came up with it, but I definitely don’t think anyone thought it was a real thing,” says Kelly Galuska, the episode’s writer. She claims the luge wasn’t written into her script, but evolved during the storyboard phase. “And was really probably just a result of [some] genius animator saying, ‘You know what would be funny? If BoJack did a pizza luge.’”
By now, most everyone is familiar with the concept of the bone luge, where one takes a spirit (usually bourbon) and pours it down the half-pipe naturally created after one has scooped all the tasty marrow out of a roasted bone. This earliest form of “micro-washing” — in other words, a sort of speedy fat wash — was invented by Portland bartender Jacob Grier in 2010 (and actually used tequila). So seemingly taboo and reckless, the bone luge quickly dazzled industry insiders and went from secret handshake to being shot by Anthony Bourdain on his show to eventually something offered on menus by the mid-2010s.
Today, however, bone marrow as a bar snack has fallen somewhat out of culinary favor, and a new, more accessible food is stepping up to wear the luge mantle.
Weirdly Made Sense
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that you can pour something down the slope of a folded-up slice of pizza; mostly, it’s something that occurs to any slightly buzzed person (or anthropomorphic horse) who has alcohol on hand and is a little bored by their surroundings.
As early as 2013, a BuzzFeed piece had laid out step-by-step, GIF-heavy instructions for how exactly to pizza luge (Step 1: Get a pizza). The post had been inspired by a short film made by the sketch comedy group Local Empire, during which cast member Michael Molina pours a can of beer down an entire pie, getting some of the liquid into fellow cast member Addison Anderson’s mouth, but mostly all over his face.
Similarly, search #pizzaluge on Instagram, Twitter, and pretty much anywhere, and you’ll find people also doing impromptu luges of cheap beer down greasy slices of late-night pizza. Like these Jersey folks pizza luging Coronas as Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” plays mournfully in the background. Or these Penn State soccer stars pizza luging cheap keg beer at a party. By 2018, the bro-bait website The Chive was claiming that “the pizza luge is EPIC” as they showed a woman inhaling a can of PBR. But not everyone agreed.
“I love pizza and beer but this kinda makes me sick,” noted one follower, and that seemed to be the general consensus. The pizza luge clearly had legs, but it would need a superior liquid. And it would need America’s top mixologists to get involved.
“The pairing of Cynar and pizza is actually quite something,” says Daniel Warrilow, Campari Group’s Italian portfolio ambassador. If BoJack favored whiskey and early internet pranksters preferred macro beer, the cocktail community’s luge liquid of choice quickly became the artichoke-based Italian amaro. “I’m a huge fan of pairing bittersweet along with salty and savory, as it is common in aperitivo culture,” Warrilow says.
Back in 2018, Campari, which owns the carciofo liqueur, started doing what it called “pizza drops” during cocktail industry gatherings like Speed Rack, Camp Runamok, and Tales of the Cocktail. Brand ambassadors like Warrilow would show up to popular events during these weeks with a dozen pizzas to make sure attendees were well fed. Soon, the bottles of Cynar he was also lugging around would come into play as rascally bartenders naturally tried to luge it.
“It was delicious and weirdly made sense,” claims Cat Cannon, chief operating officer of the Mindful Hospitality Group and co-owner of St. Clair Social in Pittsburgh. She first tried a Cynar pizza luge at Camp Runamok, the so-called “summer camp for bartenders,” and quickly became an evangelist for the combo. “Cynar is low-ABV and has all these vegetal notes that work.”
Like many things in the industry, this indeed started with a multi-billion dollar corporation’s influence. But what actually began to go viral certainly wasn’t the brand’s intention. In a way, pizza luges of Cynar are similar to Turkey Dew, the lowbrow Wild Turkey/Mountain Dew mashup that was likewise spawned at Camp Runamok in 2017. And one man, Josh Seaburg, happens to be Zelig-like in being present for both genesis stories.
“It’s gotta be a New York-style cheese pizza for best results,” claims Seaburg, a bartender in Norfolk, Va., and a brand ambassador with Rujero Singani. He likes to use a 50/50 shot of Cynar and Cynar 70, its higher-proof bottling, which he calls “Super Cynar.” He also opts for big slices of pizza to avoid any potential mess, biting off the tip beforehand. “Pour right in front of the crust, and then the cheese is basically waterproof.”
Cannon also thinks the saltiness of a classic cheese slice works best with Cynar. Plus, she claims, you wouldn’t want pepperoni or other toppings to get in the way of the mahogany-colored liqueur shushing down the luge track. As she jokes, “It becomes like a pinball scenario.”
It’s Time to Pizza Luge
Among other serious global losses due to the pandemic, we’ve lost many big things in the drinks world — acclaimed bars like Pegu Club and Existing Conditions for one — that overshadowed the many small, seemingly trivial things we lost, too. Unexpected conversations with the stranger sitting next to you at the bar, the perfect song coming on the jukebox, a celebratory round of shots among friends, the mere hum of bar noise. And, of course, the bone luge.
An extravagant activity saved for restaurants and bars alone, the bone luge isn’t something we expect to see again. And while the pizza luge has yet to gain formal placement on menus across the globe, it is perhaps the little piece of ridiculous dining-out culture we could use at this moment. If the bone luge was upscale and inaccessible, the pizza luge, of course, is inherently more proletariat and available; you can score a slice for a dollar on any urban street corner, and a whole pie can be delivered to your house for less than $20.
That’s how I finally tried my first pizza luge on a recent Friday evening, standing in my kitchen, in front of my wife and kids. The slice was a little too floppy, I held it at too low an angle, and I poured it a tad too fast, which caused some Cynar to be shushed right down my neck. Still, I had to admit it was delicious, and a seriously perfect combination.
And, unlike post-bone luge, where you only have a bone to throw in the trash, post-pizza luge, I still had a delicious slice of pizza drenched in Cynar. I was an instant fan.
“As silly bar sh*t goes,” says Seaburg. “This one is actually quite good.”