The hardest part about writing this month’s cover story (“Free Spirits,” page 32) was keeping it under 2,000 words. Phil Hartman and his son Leon, the colorful and charismatic owners of Two Boots, could be the subjects of a full-length biography. As a screenwriter and director, Phil’s first feature film, No Picnic, won an award at the Sundance Film Festival, and his second, Eerie, starred Felicity Huffman, Will Arnett and Luis Guzman. As Two Boots’ website explains, he transitioned from film into the pizza business after his screenplay for Bleeding Heat, “a punk-rock detective story set in gritty Long Island City, was reconceived as a romp for the Doobie Brothers.”
Leon once ran away to join the circus—more accurately, he and some friends started a circus from scratch and “roamed the country in the vein and footsteps of the Merry Pranksters.” One of his compatriots in that venture was his cousin, artist Asa Jones, whom Leon describes as “a kind of mythical character, like a cross between The Dude and Rasputin” who “illuminated me on some of the mysteries of life and brought me into new areas of consciousness.”
And don’t forget the wonderful pizzas with witty names: the Buckminster, which honors architect and visionary Buckminster Fuller; the V for Vegan, inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement and a certain Wachowski Brothers film; and the Boss Hague, named for a Jersey City mayor “whose legendary lap drawer was a discreet receptacle for bribes large and small.”
As a southerner who eats his way around New Orleans twice a year, my own mojo gets to rising at the notion of a pizzeria that combines Italian cuisine with Cajun cooking. And the more I learned about Two Boots, Phil and Leon, the more I wanted to write about them. So once you’ve perused the print article, head over to PMQ.com and learn about how Leon reimagined the Two Boots website (one of the best pizzeria sites I’ve ever seen) and brought their online ordering system into the modern age and how Two Boots helps keep the arts alive all around New York. There’s a lot more to tell, and Two Boots is just getting warmed up.