If there’s anything that the latest economic recession has taught us, it’s that sometimes (and perhaps oftentimes) life just doesn’t measure up to our expectations. Accordingly, the West Bank Social Center (WBSC) approached last Monday night’s one-time-only revival of Hulk Hogan’s Pastamania restaurant with a sense of profound earnestness in the face of human limitation. It’s an attitude that seems distinctly Minnesotan in nature, as much a part of the state’s culture of melancholic ease as A Prairie Home Companion and Charles Schultz’s Peanuts.
Pastamania was a restaurant / promotion venture headed by former World Championship Wrestling pro wrestler Hulk Hogan, serving — you guessed it! — really cheap pasta-inspired food products from “around the world.” The restaurant didn’t last for too long past its 1995 launch year. Pastamania was just one of the Hulkster’s myriad commercial schemes, ranging from a blender (the Hulk Hogan Thunder Mixer), the Hulk Hogan Ultimate Grill, Hulkster Burgers, a cartoon, and a full-length album of children’s music. The Hulkster’s mythos has left us with a plethora of artifacts, making his persona ripe for the picking by cultural scavengers on a nostalgia trip.
Enter the WBSC, a lively Minneapolis event space dedicated to bringing hipsters, geeks, and misfits together under one roof. Unlike many of the events on the Heavy Table’s calendar, Pastamania was neither a showcase for culinary virtuosity nor a didactic local foods love affair. It was, in many ways, an anti-event that never demanded that its attendees be impressed. How else could one celebrate a failed restaurant?
On the night of the Pastamania revival, the setup was a long table, a projector screen, and a pasta serving station, which featured a no-frills rendition of spaghetti and meatballs with grated Parmesan from a green can. The ragged remains of Pastamania’s original awning had been rescued from an anonymous storage space and was proudly hung above the counter like a battlefield trophy or a captured flag.
WBSC encouraged the crowd, a handful of people who were mostly in their 20s and 30s, to share their childhood memories of the Hulkster while episodes of Rock ‘n’ Wrestling were projected onto a wall. Though they had advertised a more faithful recreation of the restaurant, WBSC’s threats to serve Pastamania standards “Hulkaroos” and “Hulk-Us” were unfortunately empty. One heroic attendee even brought an original copy of the restaurant’s menu to the event, but the jury is still out as to what a “Hulkaroo” actually was.
At the end of the night, WBSC summed it all up in a concise tweet: “Consensus: #pastamania = an OK time.” It was a gloriously appropriate victory for irony.