Arts & Entertainment
5 min

FOODSLUTS FINALE: Empty chairs at empty tables

Credit: Ken Boesem illustration

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.

Irate, Papa Ed sued Francis for losing Doll & Penny’s — and lost. Papa Ed would never forgive his son for the humiliation of losing both the café and the lawsuit, not even on his deathbed.

Papa Ed nonetheless continued coming to Doll & Penny’s for breakfast for as long as he was able. He parked his Cadillac in front of the café and took his usual table — Table 31. I’m sure his ghost still lingers there.

The Ontarians managed Doll & Penny’s as best they could until December of 1994, when they sold it to the current proprietors, Vince and Steve. On my last visit to the café in 1999, the traffic light was still signalling orders up, the torch above the waiters’ station was still there, as was the Great Canadian Highway plaque. The black-and-white silk-screen of Baby Jane hung where the TV aquarium once was.

The staff was 10 years younger than me, but I saw myself in them and soon began to guess who was the Elsa, who was the Elvis, who was the Chakra and so on… The customers were a mix of unemployed club kids killing time until they got their hands stamped at Celebrities and the older gay men who cruised them.

The café returned to some of its former glory with the Justine Tyme and the Symone shows in the late 1990s. One of the more memorable stories to come out of that era was when a woman jumped off one of the upper balconies of the Ming Court hotel. Her decapitated head rolled down Davie St to the horror of everyone sitting in the coveted window booths.

Doll & Penny’s shut its doors permanently not long after. Although the café had a good reputation internationally, locally, the stigma of the Month of Wednesdays fundraiser clung to it like a leech. There are people to this day who refuse to darken its doors.

Bad blood wasn’t the café’s only problem. Donna was not kidding when she said, “This place is held together with mascara and electrical tape.”

The circuitry that operated the lights on the awning ceased to exist; instead of wiring, the café ran on a complex web of extension cords. And the risers that gave the café its boobs were supported with “emergency floorboards” so people wouldn’t go crashing through them like a Carol Burnett skit. Instead of saving the café, Vince and Steve decided it was time to wipe the slate clean and start over.

In December 2000, Doll & Penny’s became the PumpJack Pub, the first restaurant in Vancouver to convert from a restaurant to a pub licence, making it a bar full-time.

Francis took the chandelier and the piano with him when he left Doll & Penny’s. The awning the staff fought city hall to save was dismantled, and the big-boned waitress on roller skates scraped off the front window. The Bonneville was left out behind the café on its way to storage and promptly stolen. The whereabouts of the gold gods that kept the bar together are yet to be determined. The traffic light is in a public storage space near the Granville Bridge.

There’s now a pool table where the stage used to be and cushioned benches where the mantle and Table 31 stood. The White House where Dan and I consummated our relationship is now a “dark room” (interpret that as you will), and the kitchen is a lounge area with pinball machines.

The bathrooms are exactly where they used to be, but, instead of urinals, the men’s room has a metal trough and the hand-towel dispensers have motion detectors.

The bar and the mug washer are nearly identical to the way they were, as is the glass rack that Spike pretended he could not reach the day of its unveiling. The walls are military green, and all that remains of the café’s decorations are the torches on the wall.

As of 2009, the PumpJack Pub was still getting calls from people wanting to make a reservation at Doll & Penny’s, and when you searched “1167 Davie Street” on Google, the name Doll & Penny’s still took precedence above the PumpJack.

The Doll & Penny’s crew I worked with still live and work in and around Vancouver, except for Andrew, who passed away in the mid-1990s. Dan died in 1994. He returned to Toronto from Guatemala with full-blown AIDS and a hole in his leg. His last words to me were, “I love you, Mary.”

“Chakra finally got her vagina,” Donna told me, over drinks. “She went to England for the operation.”

Donna had run into Francis in a restaurant a couple of months earlier. It was the first time she had talked to him since he banned her from Doll & Penny’s for allegedly “stealing all his waiters.”

According to Donna, Francis was a changed man. He was devastated after his father’s refusal to speak to him on his deathbed. Papa Ed’s passing forced Francis to reassess his life. He apparently saw the light.

“He’s trying to spend more time with his kids,” Donna said, crunching an olive. “Not living by the almighty dollar.”

“For real?”

“He seemed sincere.” She looked around the bar. “Hard to believe this was once a Mark’s Work Wearhouse.”

“What do you remember most about the café?”

“I guess it would be that there was always some event that we were planning for: How were we going to decorate the café for Halloween? Who were we going to sponsor for Empress? What was our float going to be for the Pride parade? And who was going to clean it up? There was always so much glass on the floor.”

Christmas 2004 found me on the guest list for the PumpJack’s Christmas party. Many of the men I had served breakfast were there with their partners. I locked eyes with someone who looked like he was seeing a ghost.

“Didn’t you used to work here?” he asked.

“Don’t you hate it when you see someone from a past life and they pretend not to know you?” I replied.

“I used to have the biggest crush on you,” he said.

They always tell you 20 years too late.

He bombarded me with questions like a nerd at a Comic-Con. Remember the bomb threats? Whatever happened to the go-go boy from Graceland? And Stella Mae! Have you seen Del Rita DeLuxe? He asked who was living and who was dead.

“I don’t like to think of them as dead,” I said.

People still come up to me at the PumpJack and ask if I have flashes of déjà vu. “No,” I tell them. When I remember those days, when we were still here laughing and loving, arguing and making up, I am always standing with my face pressed against the glass, looking through the front window of Doll & Penny’s café.

This marks the end of our Foodsluts serial. To catch up on any chapters you might have missed, click on xtra.ca/public/Vancouver/Foodsluts_at_Doll_Pennys_Cafe-9893.aspx.

This is a work of creative non-fiction inspired by real people and events but altered and embellished by artistic licence.