Arts & Entertainment
5 min

Foodsluts at Doll & Penny’s Café

Welcome to Xtra‘s popular serial on love, sex and drag queens in the heyday of Vancouver’s gay village.

Join us here every two weeks for a new chapter, as Tony Correia chronicles the rise and fall of one of Vancouver’s most memorable gay institutions and the era in which it thrived.

Chapter 20: Empty chairs at empty tables
By Tony Correia
Illustrations by Ken Boesem

Here is where the story ends.
In 1992 Francis sold Doll & Penny’s to a family from Ontario using the same contract his father used on Benjamin and Russell Harington. When the Ontarians turned around and sold the café two years later, Francis sued them but lost, thus severing Papa Ed’s ties to 1167 Davie St once and for all.

 

 
Chapter 19: A polka–dot door
By Tony Correia
Illustrations by Ken Boesem

The Dot Party was a polka-dot-themed event that had evolved from an annual house party for gay hospitality workers into a bona fide AIDS fundraiser in 1986. Since then, a “Dot” was appointed in a secret ballot at the end of every party and charged with the task of organizing the next year’s event. The tickets stated, “No dots, no entry.”

 

 
Chapter 18: On the Rocks
By Tony Correia
Illustrations by Ken Boesem

Chakra announced her candidacy for Empress of Vancouver in the summer of 1991, according to plan. Every rhinestone was falling into place: allegiances with drag queens had been made in exchange for a title, Chakra performed at shows, lent out dresses, gave dresses away — all in the name of a sash, tiara, sceptre and the privilege of being called Empress. But Chakra’s plans had not accounted for Francis owning Doll & Penny’s when her time came to run.

 

 
Chapter 17: War of attrition
By Tony Correia
Illustrations by Ken Boesem

The final curtain on the Month of Wednesdays
fundraiser marked the end of two eras at Doll & Penny’s: its role as a neighbourhood stage to raise money for AIDS and the café’s attempt at socialism, the Waiter’s Co-op.
 
Chapter 16: Month of Wednesdays
By Tony Correia
Illustrations by Ken Boesem

  Francis made his most indelible mark on Doll & Penny’s Café when he repackaged the Month of Wednesdays fundraiser into something more palatable or, as Elsa would say, more “John-Q-Public.” More to the point: more geared to straight people.

 

 
Chapter 15: The uncooperative
By Tony Correia
Illustrations by Ken Boesem

  Sick and tired of waiting tables, I took over Dan’s old job as manager. Entertaining though Chakra was, she was not the natural-born leader Donna had hoped she would be.

 

 
Chapter 14: The sodomite invasion
By Tony Correia
Illustrations by Ken Boesem

  On Nov 4, 1989, the breakfast regulars got a surprise with their morning coffee. On page 9 of The Vancouver Sun was a full-page ad with the banner “Time Is Running Out” above an hourglass.

 

 
Chapter 13: A long, hard winter
By Tony Correia
Illustrations by Ken Boesem

  You could see the loss of life in the empty chairs and tables in the evenings and at lunch in the tired faces of the lesbian nurses taking refuge from the nearby AIDS ward… 

 

 
Chapter 12: Bimbos from hell
By Tony Correia
Illustrations by Ken Boesem

  It was a casual observation about the relationship between sex and tips that lead to the Bimbos from Hell theme for Halloween night.

 

 
Chapter 11: Coronation Street
By Tony Correia
Illustrations by Ken Boesem

  There was a shelf above the counting desk in the crow’s nest filled with photo albums chronicling the history of the café in Kodachrome. Inside were pictures of Yolanda, Blair, Spike, Scooter and Del Rita Deluxe just out of high school, draped suggestively over tables and chairs, hiking the hems of their skirts, their hairy thighs poking through torn fishnets. 

It was hard to believe the albums were from the same decade. 

 

 
Chapter 10: The Mermaid Café
By Tony Correia
Illustrations by Ken Boesem

  Andrew was by the door, hiding behind a pair of women’s sunglasses, when I arrived at the café. The windows were still covered with issues of The Province concealing the renovation.

“I’m convinced the dry cleaners across the street is a cover for the mob,” Andrew said, knocking on the door again. “I never see anyone in there.”

 

 
Chapter 9: Mary & Rhoda
By Tony Correia
Illustrations by Ken Boesem

  The staff was crammed around Table 41, hiding their bedheads with baseball caps, arguing over side duties like they were the Meech Lake Accord. Donna had called the mandatory staff meeting first thing on a Tuesday morning — even for those who had worked the graveyard the night before.

 

 
Chapter 8: The Gandydancer’s go-go boy
By Tony Correia
Illustrations by Ken Boesem

I should have known better than to start my first relationship in Vancouver on a Welfare Wednesday, but like all messy affairs, it seemed like destiny at the time.

 

 
Chapter 7: Bombs Away
By Tony Correia
Illustrations by Ken Boesem

Club courtesy was written with invisible ink into the benefits package of every Doll & Penny’s employee next to extended health and dental.

The rule among the clubs was bar staff didn’t wait in line or pay cover. “I work at Doll & Penny’s,” I would tell the doormen and they’d let me in.

 

 
Chapter Six: Up the Food Chain
By Tony Correia
Illustrations by Ken Boesem

When you accepted a position on the graveyard shift at Doll & Penny’s, you did so knowing you might never be promoted.

None of the graveyard staff would admit it, but we secretly hoped a senior waiter would die of anything but AIDS. It was a credit to the graveyard’s fortitude that a senior waiter didn’t accidently slide down the green wooden stairs from the crow’s nest.

 

 
Chapter Five: Christmas in Sodom
By Tony Correia
Illustrations by Ken Boesem


Spike drummed the remaining two fingers of his left hand on the bar. He had turned off the music 15 minutes earlier, reinforcing the message that we were closed to the stubborn table of two. Kitty waited for him at Table 13, drinking a Bloody Caesar and kicking a crossed leg, his loafer dangling from his toes like a high heel.

Chakra, Andrew, Spike and I had drawn the short straws for Christmas Eve. 


 
Chapter Four: Davie at Dawn
By Tony Correia
Illustrations by Ken Boesem


On the counter next to the cash register was a Plexiglas box with a sticker: “Please donate to PWA.” The box was half full with five, two and one-dollar bills.

Some people asked if PWA stood for Pacific Western Airlines; others just pretended to steal the box. Fortunately for the Persons with AIDS Coalition, it was a bantamweight Fort Knox built right into the counter.
 
Doll & Penny’s was a thief’s Xanadu.

Chapter Three: Tweedledum and Tweedledee
By Tony Correia
Illustrations by Ken Boesem

“The two in the car are us,” Yolanda said, pointing at the mannequins driving the red Pontiac Bonneville on the awning. “The waitress is Del Rita Deluxe.”

All the mannequins wore women’s clothes and mustaches. Beneath this tableau vivant, red, white and blue lights chanted the café’s name: “Doll & Penny’s, Doll & Penny’s…”

Chapter Two: The Graveyard
By Tony Correia
Illustrations by Ken Boesem

The couple in front of me was whisked away by a short man with a mustache, his hair permanently pressed to one side. He returned for me, holding up his index and pinky fingers like I was to go fuck myself. 

“For two?” he asked. That’s when I saw that his middle fingers were missing at the knuckles.

 
Chapter One: “Sorry We’re Open”
By Tony Correia
Illustrations by Ken Boesem


The sign in the window read: “Sorry, we’re open.”

I caught my reflection in the glass as I reached to open the door. Even with contact lenses I was still a myopic kid with Coke-bottle glasses. My muffler and gingham overcoat looked exactly as they were: stolen from the Sally Ann, not British New Wave as my friend had promised.

I felt like an imposter. To some degree, I was.
 


 
A love letter to Doll & Penny’s:
Behind the Foodsluts scenes
By Jackie Wong

Saturdays at 2am and Doll & Penny’s Café, at 1167 Davie St, would be hopping with club kids, drag queens, bar staff, sex workers and everyone in between.

The diner food was atrocious but the neighbourhood hub, known for its red Bonneville above the door, was a gay institution.