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Torn-Down Tuesday: The Bocce Club, home of Buffalo-style pizza

Everyone has a favorite pizza place, but if you love the doughy, cheesy, sweet-sauced, charred-pepperoni pie that’s typical in the 716, one way or another, you can trace the pizza you love back to the Bocce Club on Hickory Street near Eagle in the 1940s.

While pizza was already a popular dish in the Italian sections of Buffalo, especially on the West Side, only a small handful of pizza makers saw their product transcend the neighborhood bakery or restaurant to form Western New York’s taste for what has become one of the quintessential American dishes.

In the 1940s and 1950s, many non-Italian Buffalonians remember having their first pizza from Santora’s. After catering Italian events since the 1920s, Maria Santora opened Santora’s Pizzeria at 264 Seneca St., opposite Chef’s, in 1944. Twenty years later, Mrs. Santora’s seven sons ran five Santora’s locations around the area from Blasdell to Tonawanda.

Three years after Mama Santora’s success, a few blocks away, Adolfo Pacciotti, his son Dino, and his son-in-law Mike Sacco took over the Bocce Club at 70-74 Hickory St.

The bocce courts were popular, but the tavern – and the pizza served there – became the driving force of the business.

A 1960 ad announces that Bocce is moving from Hickory Street to Clinton Street.

If many people’s first taste of pizza came from Santora’s, the first take-out pizza they ever ate at home came from Bocce. Dino Pacciotti claims the title of Buffalo’s first boxed-up whole pies to take home.

Bocce opened a second location on Bailey in 1959 and moved from Hickory Street to Clinton Street in 1960.

Aside from the continued popularity of Bocce’s own pizza more than 70 years later, Bocce’s influence is clear in many of the city’s most popular pies, including South Buffalo’s Imperial Pizza.

Bocce is planning to open its first new city location in nearly 60 years at Delaware and Chippewa, after plans to reopen the Clinton Street shop fell through.

The dense city neighborhood where the original Bocce Club once stood is no longer recognizable, and is now a series of open fields, parking lots, and newly built buildings – including the 2006-built Sts. Columba-Brigid Church. The Bocce Club was just around the corner from St. Columba, built in 1891 but destroyed by fire in 2004.

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