The first impression someone might get upon walking into Palio d’Asti is a sense that the place has character, but not too much, more like an Italian Anderson Cooper than an Italian Lady Gaga. A hotel bar without a hotel. A King Arthur themed banquet without the buffet. The place lends itself easily to comparisons, which is fun because it gives you something to talk about while you’re waiting for your drinks. Palio d’Asti is like an icebreaker at a summer camp where they serve liquor.

Luu forgot her ID, which she of course blamed on Bay to Breakers, but I told her to keep it down, because if she keeps chirping about it they probably won’t even let us have identities at next year’s race, which would really only be a problem for the people who have to claim the bodies. Since Luu still looks like someone who should be in summer camp, the bartender asked for our IDs and we did the whole ‘shuffle things around in your bag while pretending to look for it’ thing, and by the time we were done the bartender had completely forgotten that there even was such a thing as underage drinking and was setting our cocktails in front of us: The Priscilla Lilly ($7) for Luu and the Elderflower Gimlet ($7) for me.

The drinks weren’t cheap, but they came with a free gift, and we didn’t even have to mail in the box tops. With an order of two drinks you and your companion receive a free pizza. We didn’t believe it either, but it was true, and it wasn’t even a frozen Tombstone like my mom used to make, but one of those thin crust, topping heavy, Italianesque types loved by city dwellers from San Francisco to New York, with the obvious exception of Chicago. The pizza was at least 12″ in diameter and covered in olives, artichoke hearts, and delicate wings of prosciutto, with crust as thin as the homemade paper you used to make in 4th grade, if that paper had been made out of butter.

At this point, Luu pointed out two things in quick succession, the entrance to the restaurant was oddly narrow, and we were the only people at the bar. In a way it made sense, a recession may create a genetic bottleneck in which a significant proportion of the population becomes unable or unwilling to fit through the entrance to a bar. Only time will tell if free pizza will act as a founder effect.

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