3 min

Right royal luck

As camp as Christmas

Credit: Xtra files

Pimblett’s Restaurant (Queen’s Head Pub) is one of Toronto’s oldest and most peculiar gay establishments. It has managed to beat the odds and stay in business for 25 years due to the persistence and determination of its eccentric owner, Geoffrey Pimblett.

“I opened on Friday the 13th of May, 1977,” remembers Pimblett, “and I’ve only recently come up for air.”

Catering to a wild mix of clients from every walk of life, Pimblett’s defies even the definition of queer. Where else can a family of four expect to dine over fish and chips with the local tranny dominatrix and her leather slave at the next table?

“It is decorated in Victorian tack,” says Geoffrey, with his thick north England accent. “It looks like some old queer’s parlour.”

Like a low-rent, mix-n-match Martha Stewart, Pimblett is the purveyor of his unique sensibility. The paintings and knick-knacks which adorn every surface of this restored Victorian house pay tribute to British royalty.

“A lot of gay people love the Queen and anything to do with the royal family,” says Pimblett. “I’ve created a fantasy stage setting.”

Today, Pimblett’s “empire” includes a thriving bed and breakfast business in the same way-out style – and the story of how it all happened is remarkable.

Having trained and worked in the hotel business in England in the ’60s, Pimblett came to Canada in 1972 on a whim as an assistant manager with CN Hotels. After a few unsatisfying work situations, Pimblett found himself unemployed over Christmas of ’76.

“I didn’t know what to do,” Pimblett remembers, “until a friend suggested I open my own restaurant.”

With a loan of only $2,500, and living off unemployment in a room at the back, Pimblett opened the original 25-seat restaurant in a storefront west of the current location.

Within a couple of months Pimblett’s had been discovered, and Geoffrey prepared his daily roasts, sherry trifles and other English-style treats right in front of his guests in an open concept kitchen.

“All the dishes were from the Goodwill, and I decorated with leftover funeral flowers,” says Pimblett. “I had to be very careful to always remember to take the tags off!”

By 1979, the restaurant had tripled in size, with an expansion into the adjoining storefront.

“Before the back room was licensed I served wine in tea pots to thirsty customers who were waiting for tables,” Pimblett laughs. “And I’d hand out fancy lady’s hats and call it a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.”

A chance meeting with a bag lady named Valentina proved to be a stroke of luck.

“She came in selling me day-old bread very cheap,” recalls Pimblett, “but I soon put a stop to that when I found out she was getting it for free from the Salvation Army.”

Pimblett hired Valentina, and together they worked seven days a week for seven years to keep the restaurant going.

“Little did I know that one day Valentina would loan me the money to buy the house where Pimblett’s is today,” Geoffrey recalls. “Valentina was a very smart bag lady.”

They remain loyal friends to this day.

With his appearances as the Queen, Pimblett is somewhat of a gay Toronto celebrity. Her Highness has done numerous media interviews, an episode of Loving Spoonfuls, Pride parades, a runway appearance on the catwalk at this year’s Toronto Fashion Week, and has adorned the front page of the Toronto Sun for the opening of the nude beach at Hanlan’s Point.

“All you need is that pinky-beige queen dress with a sash and a tiara… and you’re the Queen,” Pimblett explains. “And fortunately, now that I’m older and the queen is older… she’s starting to look like me!”

His most ambitious extra-curricular project is a comedy show called Cooking With The Queen.

“I am in desperate need of an editor for my pilot episode, which is already shot,” says Pimblett. “It’s Two Fat Ladies, Dame Edna and Absolutely Fabulous all rolled into one.”

To celebrate the anniversary, Geoffrey is resurrecting the Mad Hatter’s Tea Parties on Friday and Saturday nights till the end of May.

“Fancy hats will be provided, and wine will be served in tea pots,” he chuckles. “It’s camp as Christmas!”

* Pimblett’s Restaurant (Queen’s Head Pub).

263 Gerrard St E.

(416) 929-9525.