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Danya Henninger

Your Little Pete’s stories: From bathroom sex to heart attack cabbage

Ten tales of love and heartache as the Center City Philly diner readies for a June close.

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When we asked readers to send us their stories from Little Pete’s, there was a certain type of anecdote we expected: A probably drunken one that either begins or ends with something stupid.

We got a lot of those. But we got so much more.

Little Pete’s loyalists sent us stories of falling in love at the two-person booths that line the side of the diner. They wrote out memories of personal loss and of leaning on Little Pete’s to get them through some of their worst days. And they told us of how acceptance at a tiny diner made them finally feel at home in Philadelphia.

Those stories that took place exclusively at the Rittenhouse institution at 17th and Chancellor will come to an end on May 29 when Little Pete’s closes its doors after being forced out to make way for a luxury hotel. The owner is looking to other neighborhoods to host the next iteration of Little Pete’s.

But it will never be like it is now. Below, you’ll find 10 of our favorite stories that were shared with us about Little Pete’s. (Some of them were lightly edited for clarity and brevity.)

Falling in love over slices of pie

When it took place: Spring and Summer 2009

The story: When my husband and I were first dating, he lived in Ambler and I lived in Collingswood so we’d meet up in Center City a lot. Never wanting our dates to end, we’d always be looking for one last thing to do before we’d say good night. “What do you want to do?” “I don’t know… maybe a slice of pie?” And thus began a tradition rooted in tiny booths and sweet pastry: Little Pete’s became our end-of-the-date-but-not-wanting-it-to-ever-end-spot. We’re married now, and the thought of Little Pete’s not being there anymore is heartbreaking. I am sure we’re not the only couple to have fallen in love over slices of pie at Little Pete’s.

A place to go when you’re ‘kind of numb’

When it took place: October 1986

The story: In 1986, my wife and I, newly married a year ago, moved my mom down to Philly from NY so we could take care of her. She was dying of lung cancer, which she had been bravely fighting for the past 18 months. The day she got to Philly, after an uncomfortable trip by ambulance, she declined quickly and we took to her the ER at Pennsylvania Hospital. She died there in the middle of the night. After making a few calls and dealing with the administration at the hospital, we didn’t want to go back to our apartment and stare at the walls. Where could we go? Little Pete’s seemed for some reason like the perfect place. We sat there, at 3 in the morning, sharing a plate of fries, kind of numb.

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Danya Henninger/Billy Penn

The waitress who gave the ‘oomph’ she needed

When it took place: Summer 2013

The story: My boyfriend and I like to have a Little Pete’s date night where we go around early-bird special time (like 5:30 on a Saturday) and get their three course dinner special. It’s an egregious amount of food for like $11. One time, when we arrived, the diner was unusually empty and there was only one other person at the U-shaped counter. We sat in one of the two-person booths along the wall and the older waitress — the short, effusively friendly one with graying hair, but her name is escaping me now — seemed particularly bored and kept striking up conversation with us, which we happily engaged in.

It was the summer just after I had graduated from college, and she asked what I wanted to do now, to which I answered I was trying to become a journalist. She then spent the next five minutes telling me how much I looked like Katie Couric (I don’t, like at all) and how she would love to watch me on tv doing what Katie Couric does and how she just knew I would be famous one day. I had no desire then nor have I developed one now to become a network news personality, but I dunno, her enthusiasm was really the little oomph I needed in the dregs of post-grad job search depression.

The TMI story

When it took place: 2010

The story: I lost my virginity in the Little Pete’s bathroom back when I was 18 and haven’t regretted it since.

‘You’re a regular now’

When it took place: Every Friday and Saturday night

The story: So every Friday and Saturday night, my friends and I go dancing somewhere in the city. It’s part of my “making Philly my home” campaign I started two years ago when I moved here from Austin, TX — a place known to keep the party going well into the night. In Philly, however, that has proven to be a tough job. Being that this is a place you could not even buy a beer and a bottle of wine in the same building until about a month ago, the available early morning activities are slim.

We always have the same conversation when the club lights come on: Where to next? Basically you can go home or go eat. And for us, food is always the winner. We never tried to make Little Pete’s the “spot”; it was just the place that keeps winning consensus. One night, I suggest Little Pete’s because someone else suggested IHOP and, um no. But the line is out the door!

Feeling bummed because now I have to go to IHOP, we turn to walk away but the doorman waves me in and gives us a table while everyone, including me, is baffled. The waitress comes over and when she gets to me she just goes: “the usual?” I nod meekly, and she returns with a slice of chocolate cake and a side order of fries. Which is exactly what I would have ordered.

I call it pies and fries (because cake and fries doesn’t rhyme). The waitress just laughed and said “fries and pies, right? Oh honey, you’re a regular now!” And it might have been because I was a little drunk, but I started tearing up because it was the first palpable moment of feeling like Philly really is “home” now. After that, there was no discussion about what’s happening once the dancing is done. We are going to Little Pete’s. And it’s going to leave a hole in my little heart when it’s no longer a late night option. So thanks Little Pete’s for taking me in off the streets, feeding my stomach and my soul, and showing that a little southern hospitality and a real sense of home can be found at 4 a.m. in a Center City Philly diner.

The wedding night breakfast

When it took place: July 25-26, 2015

The story: Fell asleep in the hotel lobby right after my wedding — did not even make it into the actual bar. Half asleep and wanting to do something weddingy, I insisted that we open all our gifts when we got back to our hotel room. As we were finally about to go to sleep for real, we realized we were starving. First married breakfast was 2 a.m. at Little Pete’s.

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Danya Henninger/Billy Penn

Getting you through ’til morning

When it took place: 2015

The story: Arrived with go-go boots and my hair full of feathers and confetti after a night of dancing at Woody’s. I remember devouring eggs with a side of french fries with lots of CHEESE surrounded by friends new and old piled into two booths. There were all smiles, all night and Little Pete’s (plus a huge cup of coffee) got me through ’til morning. I will miss this place!

Stuffed cabbage and an ambulance

When it took place: Two years ago

The story: I sat down to a lunch plate of stuffed cabbage. Before I took a bite I did a face-plant right into the “golabki” thanks to a sudden onslaught of tachycardia. Next thing I knew, [Little Pete’s co-owner John Koutroubas] was gently holding me as I awoke and asking how I felt and letting me know he had called 911. The EMTs arrived, took me to the ambulance as everyone in the joint wished me well. I went back the next day to pay my bill and John just scoffed. “You didn’t even take a bite!” From that day forward, no matter when I go in, no matter who’s working the counter, everyone asks about my health. Often I respond by ordering the stuffed cabbage.

Seeing a psychoanalyst in the ’70s

When it took place: 1978

The story: In the mid-1970s, my analyst kept an office on the 23rd floor of the Medical Tower down the street but parked his car in the lot above the restaurant. I was a credit analyst at Philadelphia National Bank at Broad and Chestnut just out of college and in pretty desperate straits: The highlight of my week was my Tuesday evening session.

One night as I am working on my usual bowl of soup and crackers, my analyst walks into Little Pete’s, which I think was still Dewey’s (is it sacrilege to mention that?), waves hello, and orders “a black and white milkshake,” anchoring him firmly in my mind in my high school days at Harriton, whose milkshake machine caused me to gain twenty pounds the season I broke my foot playing basketball. He pays me little attention as he slowly downs the frothy mix and, leaving the place, tells me he “doesn’t want to be late” to see George, the patient who always precedes me.

A week later, the good doctor again intrudes on my solitude as I again sit in my usual seat at the counter, but this time he sits next to me and to my left. I recall Norman Rockwell’s “The Runaway” as I write this, though I was dressed in a gray-flannel suit and carried not a makeshift red pack but a briefcase, headed as I was, I thought, to Penn Law in the fall, and he was not a Frank Rizzo lookalike but one akin to Frederic March and Clifton Webb. As we sit there, mostly silent, I think about what I’m feeling: The impulse to punch him in the face merges with another to hug him as I would my father or uncle. I tremble a little in my ambivalence but hold my ground.

After downing another “black and white,” Dr. S. leaves and I’m again left with my thoughts until an hour later, when we meet again, 23 flights up from the ground in the red building with the green blinds, just as George, still finishing his cigar, bids our mutual friend adieu and disappears out the waiting room door and into a waiting elevator…

As lined as the doctor’s face was at that time, as old-fashioned as his personal style then seemed to me, I realize he was then eight years younger than I am today, and that the nine years since I first learned he had passed on have fled as fast as any of our 50-minute sessions. The bank for which I worked disappeared eons ago, the teller floor making way for a restaurant and drugstore. The Latham, the Stock Exchange, even the Commissary and Nan Duskin have gone the way of all flesh. Psychoanalysis isn’t even practiced any more, although psychotherapy still is. With the passing of Little Pete’s, only the Medical Tower, the Fox Bookshop, and the Warwick Hotel, where my parents met and married in the spring of 1953, remain on South 17th from the 1970s. Jimmy Carter’s still around, of course. He writes books and travels the globe now, but I don’t think he ever visited South 17th, even though he could have if he’d wanted to.

The story just about everyone has

When it took place: “A long time ago…”

The story: Gonna sound like the typical story you’d probably hear from almost everybody, buuut… going there after a night of heavy drinking and eating the shit out of greasy eggs and bacon. Getting refills of coffee just to keep going cause it’s about 4 a.m. and I don’t want to go home. Gonna miss this place. Damn good memories.

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