Already reeling from the unexpected death of the Cameron’s Paul Sannella, the Queen West old guard have been hit hard by the passing of the Peter Pan’s Larry Guest. The well-regarded restauratueur died after a lengthy battle with cancer last weekend.
The low-key Guest helped launch the iconic diner with partners Mary Jackman and Sandy Stagg back in 1976 when the now-hip strip was a stretch of abandoned storefronts and used book stores.
“That’s a very long story from very long ago,” says Stagg who would leave the Queen West resto in 1979 to start the Fiesta at Yonge and Yorkville. “Mary and I were struggling and put the word out – third person needed – and Larry was the first to put his head above the parapet, so he was roped in immediately.
“We knew nothing about running a restaurant, nothing! We thought ‘I can make cheesecake and somebody else can do a soup,’ a community pot luck. But once we opened, it just took off. And you know what? The place is still fucking gorgeous to this day.”
“The Peter Pan was the Mayflower of Queen Street,” says the Rivoli’s Andre Rosenbaum. “Larry, Mary and Sandy were pioneers. They were the first to open up a hip restaurant that brought together artists and musicians. They made it possible for places like the Rivoli and the Bamboo and the Cameron.”
“Larry and the Peter Pan crew were the creators of our downtown community. They led the way,” agrees Patti Habib who, with the late Richard O’Brien, ran the legendary Bamboo across the street. “Richard always used to say ‘Wow, they serve real bread with their soup instead of crackers.’ I used to use the Peter Pan as my office just to get away from my staff. Larry was always funny and a gentleman.”
The Peter Pan hasn’t just been a laboratory for the local art and music scene, it’s proven a culinary launching pad as well. Witness the career of a certain Susur Lee.
“I came upon the Peter Pan by complete unfortunate accident,” recalls the internationally recognized Lee. “My wife had passed away and I had moved into the neighbourhood. The creative environment was electric! Having only worked at very stuffy European restaurants where rule breaking was unheard of, Larry Guest trusted me completely. I had the freedom to create! May all be so fortunate.”