I am always intrigued when a business swoops in and sets up shop in an old building. I find it fascinating to see what is done to shoot new life into the structure and, if lucky, what is done to pay tribute to the building’s past. You commonly see businesses transform desolate apartment buildings, deserted movie theaters, and rundown grocery stores all the time. The only thing better than watching the transformation take place is walking inside the remodeled building once the ribbon is cut.
News of an upcoming major transformation project hit close to home yesterday. I learned that the site of some of my best childhood memories would finally get a facelift.
Growing up, I spent a lot of time at the family restaurant. Named the Pastime Café, the place served the best Italian food in Walla Walla, Washington. Don’t think it was a short run. For over 80 years, my mom’s family operated the Pastime. That’s right. For over eight decades, the prominent but blue collar Italian joint on Main Street in the “town so nice they named it twice” thrived. The succession was nothing short of perfect. My great grandpa (Louie Fazzari) opened the place, passed it on to my grandpa (Frank Fazzari) who devoted his whole life to it, who in turn left it to my uncle (Robert Fazzari) who ran the restaurant until the last day of business in 2006.
The Pastime Café, the restaurant I grew up in.
My memories inside those Pastime Café walls couldn’t be much sweeter. Whenever we visited our family, we always dined there. My grandpa’s employees treated us like royalty and the regulars would always stare at us as we entered the restaurant and proceeded to a table in the dining room. After dinner we would go up to the front counter staffed by my late Aunt Becky and she would let us pick out a candy bar from underneath the giant glass case that boxed in the antique cash register.
This is my great grandpa at the cash register. As you can barely see, the glass counter case is visible at the very bottom of the picture. This entire setup remained the same up until the restaurant closed in 2006.
Sometimes after dinner and before our candy raid, my grandpa would quickly take us back into the bar. Let me tell you, that was a different world! Shady looking characters and clouds of cigarette smoke filled the dark, long area. It was a 360 degree change when we would return on Sundays. The Pastime was closed on the Lord’s Day but my grandpa would always stop by to check on the place. He would take my siblings and I with him and give us full reign of the restaurant. In the bar we would have a ball picking up loose change on the floor, playing the video games in the back, and scratching off lotto tickets while sitting on the stools. We would run around the lounge and dining room areas, “play restaurant” at the cash register, and follow my grandpa into the kitchen where he would let us step into the gigantic freezer. Beautiful times.
The Pastime staff probably around the mid to late 1940s. My grandpa is in the back row on the far right. His brother (Art), who I also grew up around and who was extremely generous just like my grandpa, is standing right next to him.
This past January marked ten full years since the building at 215 Main Street was last operational. After the business closed, my uncle sold the place. In that decade span, ownership of the property shifted hands more than once but nothing ever materialized within those walls. The building that was already a throwback in the first place sat abandoned on a street corner in Walla Walla for far too long.
Yesterday my brother sent me a link to an article in Walla Walla’s local newspaper that said the wait would seen be over. Some visionaries have been hard at work creating Pastime 2.0. Well, to be fair, it won’t be a Pastime replica (there could never be another one anyway). But what is going in at the location is something that will carry on the proud tradition of the space while at the same time capitalzing on what Walla Walla is now known for: Wine.
This summer the Passatempo Taverna will open. The Pastime building will once again be a functioning restaurant and the parking lot in what we used to call “the alley” will be developed into a wine tasting room. Talented people have come together to represent each facet of Passtempto Taverna from the menu to the design to the wine. The project is in good hands. I could rest easy when I read the article and realized that the construction was done with absolute integrity and care. The discoveries made during the renovation fascinated me and the plans to keep around a touch of Pastime nostalgia encouraged me.
A look at the construction of Passatempo Taverna (photo courtesy of the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin).
I am very excited to see more progress photos of the construction and then ultimately coverage from the grand opening. Of course one day I hope to visit Passatempo Taverna; it would be a very special moment. The Pastime building deserves to once again be a community gathering center and I am 100% ready for this new chapter to begin. Don’t Blink.