Friday, April 23

Basil Pantages, entertainment scion, cabaret owner and West End fixture, dies at 87

Basil Pantages, a stalwart of Vancouver’s Greek community and an entertainment scion — who was known as the “nicest person you’d ever meet” to those who loved him — has died at the age of 87.

Pantages was part of one of the most prominent families in Vancouver’s entertainment industry. His great-uncle Alexander opened up the Pantages Theatre on the Granville strip in 1908, with another opening on Hastings Street a few years later.

Basil’s father Peter Pantages, who emigrated from Greece, started the Peter Pan Cafe on the Granville Street. The cafe was a popular spot for celebrations and Vancouver’s Greek community. 

Vancouver’s Polar Bear Swim founder, Peter Pantages, pictured standing in the snow in 1927. (Vancouver Park Board)

George Mattis, a childhood friend of Basil’s, had recently arrived from Greece with his family when he met the older Basil and his brother Tony.

“Here’s these two Greek guys, that were already stars in Vancouver, and they take my brother and I and treat us like their younger brothers,” Mattis said. 

Mattis remembers going to the cafe where Peter would split a cantaloupe and fill it up with the vanilla ice cream for the boys. 

“The Peter Pan was a place where anybody that was new to Vancouver that was Greek would go there to meet other Greeks and stuff like that to familiarize themselves with Vancouver,” he said.

Basil Pantages eventually took over the Peter Pan Cafe on Granville Street, started by his father Peter. This portrait was taken in 1934. ( Stuart Thompson, City of Vancouver Archives CVA 99-4420)

Basil took over the restaurant after his father’s death. He also took over his father’s position as head of the Vancouver Polar Bear Swim Club which started the annual polar bear dip in the city.

Basil, Mattis said, was beloved.

“One of the kindest men I’ve ever known. I loved the guy. And so did everybody else. Nobody would say a bad word about him,” he said. 

“Basil was just the nicest person you would ever meet.”

Pantages made his own foray into Vancouver’s entertainment scene, starting or taking over the Pink Pussycat Club, Maxine’s, Sugar Daddy’s, Bumbles with other founders. 

In his later years, he was a fixture in the West End community, having a reserved table at the Dover Arms Pub and Rossini’s on the weekend. 

Basil Pantages at his table at the Dover Arms in Vancouver’s West End. (Daniel Joseph Casavant/Facebook)

“Everybody would always surround Basil, and their day or their afternoon didn’t start until he came over and say to hi to Basil,” Mattis said. 

His last years were spent at a care home, but Mattis said he would frequently go to visit him and still organize lunches with the old crowd.

Last weekend, Pantages suffered a stroke and died Tuesday.

“I mean, I loved the guy. You know he was 14 years older than me but we were just good pals,” said Mattis. 

“He was like royalty.”

Listen to the interview with George Mattis on CBC’s On The Coast:

On The Coast7:25Basil Pantages Obit

George Mattis is a childhood freind of the Pantages family. Basil Pantages, whose father started Vancouver’s Polar Bear Swim, recently passed away at 87 years old. 7:25

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