Don’t be surprised if an unexpected guest joins you for a slice today. A constant presence at Old Town Pizza is Nina (pronounced Nigh-na), our resident ghost. If you feel a presence behind you, or smell a faint waft of perfume, you may have just received a visit. Nina is often seen in a black dress observing diners and wandering the basement below.
Nina’s been here for more than 100 years. It was in 1880 that two successful lumber barons built the Merchant Hotel on this block, catering to Portland’s finest patrons. Old Town Pizza sits in the original hotel lobby. In fact the window where you place your pizza order is the original hotel’s reception desk and is flanked by the lobby’s original decorative cast iron beam posts. Underneath the floor boards are the Shanghai Tunnels connecting Portland via underground pathways, then used to nab unsuspecting sailors and transport them to ships docked on the river, and can be viewed during private tours.
Old Town Pizza sits in what used to be called the Old North End, a section of the city with a rather questionable reputation. Despite the upstanding clientele of the Merchant Hotel, even it was known for offering one of the oldest professions in the world: prostitution. As legend goes, one of the young “working women” was Nina, sold into this life by a thriving white slavery market. In an effort to clean up the neighborhood, traveling missionaries convinced Nina to share information in exchange for freeing her from a fate she did not choose. Nina cooperated but soon afterward was found dead in the hotel, now Old Town Pizza. Thrown downÂ the elevator shaft, Nina is reported to have never left the building. Could it be Nina who carved her name in the brick of the old elevator shaft, now the backdrop of a cozy booth in the rear of the restaurant?
Rich in history, Old Town Pizza was founded in 1974 when the Accuardi family opened the doors of the now legendary Portland landmark. The lobby of the Merchant Hotel was transformed into the hippest pizza joint in town. Generations of Old Town Pizza loyalists remember the restaurant as a bustling hang-out for leaders in Portland’s counterculture scene of the 70s. Actor Willem Dafoe was a regular at the time and could usually be found lounging on a couch on the mezzanine. And Portland Trail Blazer superstar Bill Walton was known to ride his bike to Old Town Pizza where he would order his usual: a large vegetarian pizza and pitcher of Henry’s. He would often bring his teammates with him and is said to have closed the place down more than once. Back in the day there were Old Town Pizza restaurants in Salem, Eugene and San Francisco, but the original location in Portland was the survivor. Today the Milne family keeps the Old Town Pizza legacy alive, nurturing a little piece of Portland’s past for the next generation.