What follows is an excerpt from Still Drinkin' & Smokin' - The Oral History of John & Peter's.
John Larsen (founder of John & Peter's): When I tried to open up a coffee shop at 97 S. Main Street, [the zoning board] wouldn’t let me, but they told me that I could put it across the street at 96 S. Main Street, since that used to be a sandwich shop. It was a dress shop at that point, The Queen Bee, but I purchased the property so that I could open a coffee shop. It took me two or three months to convert it from being a retail shop to a coffee shop. I modeled the decor on places in Greenwich Village in the ‘50s and ‘60s. And there I was, making coffee, flipping burgers, and giving sage advice to people, like how to smoke dope and such. I lived upstairs where the band dressing room is now.
Robin Stern (John’s Place/J&P’s bartender): I remember the day that John kicked the door in at the Queen Bee, a tenant still lived upstairs, and we started ripping the curtains down and painting it. Turning it from a dress shop to a café. I’m a researcher and adjunct professor at Lehigh University and have a Ph.D. in Education; my research is on thinking styles and conflict resolution. I tell everyone I do the same thing now as I did when I worked at John & Peter’s: I stand behind a piece of wood, talk to people, and try to make a living. Fewer tips, less alcohol… maybe.
John Larsen: The décor as you see it now is pretty much how it’s always been. Where the bar is now, is where I had my counter for serving food and I would cook right behind it. When it became a bar, we moved the kitchen to the downstairs, which didn’t work, so we moved the kitchen back upstairs. And things have stayed that way ever since because I don’t how to change it.
On that first day we opened I made $211. I was living upstairs in the room above the bar. The first people to play there were Peter Shaw and Jan Ward, local singer-songwriters. And just folk music at first since that was what I knew. But every night I would have a different artist perform. We didn’t have a lot of insulation, and drums tended to really carry [outside the building], so we made sure that the live music wasn’t loud. That first day, I was upstairs, and I hear all kinds of commotion downstairs, and I go running down in my underwear. And there’s Jan Ward and Peter Shaw fist fighting about who's going to get top billing.
John Larsen: I was having a good time, but it wasn’t bringing in any money so things were getting tough. I worked my ass off. But I was still having a hard time making ends meet. So that’s why I started selling pot. There were two guys down in Columbia, they may have been American, and they would gather up the marijuana plants and they had some sort of press where they were able to turn the plants into bricks. One foot square packed under pressure - and the blocks weighed about 70 lbs. each. They had an elaborate system to get the pot into the country.
The beauty of this system was nobody knew who anybody else was. Everyone’s identity was protected. Three dealers would get about 1300 lbs. each - one from Chicago, one from Philadelphia, and one from New York. Very casually, I knew the one from Philadelphia. His main product was cocaine, but he had a few distributors for the pot. One day out of a clear blue sky, this guy walks in with someone I knew. And they asked if I wanted to sell pot. I didn’t know anything about selling it, I just knew how to smoke! They convinced me to give it a try, I said okay, and they gave me 5 lbs. - I sold it in 15 minutes. It was amazing – the price was so incredible.