By Roger Moore
Although not always advisable with a limited lunch period, it was sometimes a race from Stillwater High to Washington Street to get two cheese coneys, fries, and a soft drink. It was not quite like the April Land Run of 1889, but there was always a high schooler or two with the same lunchtime thoughts.
In college, with a couple of hours to kill between afternoon classes and a growling stomach, why not take a walk south and get a couple of cheese coneys, fries, and something cold to drink. It is one of the relics of what is known as “The Strip,” a place where streakers have run past, a few games of pool were once played, and a late-night snack calmed a few inebriated souls.
The coneys and fries almost went away. Opened in 1969, Coney Island has been a Stillwater staple at 223 South Washington. Over the years, the pictures on the walls changed from Terry Miller to Mike Gundy, but the grease accumulated every place else. A “greasy spoon?” Sure. But over the years, as one bar became another, a record store became a blood bank, an Italian restaurant became an addition to a sporting goods store, Coney Island remained.
Only a few places on The Strip remain from the “old days.”
Gordon DuPree, a three-time All-American wrestler for Edward Gallagher in the early 1930s, opened DuPree Sports Equipment in 1966. He passed in 1989 and ownership changed, but the name remains the same. Next door, Bud’s Barber Shop opened in 1967 and provides a window into local history. DuPree’s and Bud’s, like Coney Island, remain in its original location.
Willie’s Saloon opened in 1974, and like DuPree’s, expanded its walls. Not a “greasy spoon” but an always-entertaining smoke-filled tavern, Friday and Saturday night provided plenty of stories to tell, some not fit for print, others hilarious and unforgettable.
Head south and any student of the 1970s or 1980s will not recognize much. Colonial Florist sat on the corner of Washington and Fourth for 52 years. It is gone. A block south sits Outlaws, a place to drink, dance, and check out a game. In the old days it was Pistol Patty’s with a sign worthy of Las Vegas. What happened in Pistol Patty’s during the 1970s, also like Vegas, remains in Pistol Patty’s.
Other remaining establishments? Few and far between. The Barn, a drive-through at 424 South Washington, opened in 1994. A bank. A few bars. A pool hall. Armed forces recruiters. There has been a lot of change.
In the early 1980s, two Oklahoma State students, went dancing. Who knows when a first date becomes an anniversary memory 30 years later, but for Claudia Embry, a high school student from Ardmore, and Gary Humphrey, a student at Oklahoma State, that is the case. The two, like most who spend four, five, six … eight years in Stillwater as students, return as alumnus for homecoming, football, or to get together with old friends. When Gary Humphrey heard Coney Island was to be purchased and perhaps torn down he thought saving something from Stillwater and OSU’s past was important.
“You just don’t recognize this place,” said Humphrey, a 1983 OSU graduate. “I wanted to keep Coney Island and make it better. There’s only a few places (on The Strip) that are still around and I thought Coney Island was worth saving. You can keep that link to the past, and at the same time improve it and clean it up. A place that has been a part of OSU and Stillwater for 50 years … that’s worth saving.”
Coney Island already has a new, up-to-date look. But Humphreys is not finished. Only a stone’s throw from the soon-to-be-opened McKnight Center for Performing Arts on University Avenue, Coney Island will soon have outdoor and rooftop amenities.
So, although not necessarily the pre-game meal for the New York Philharmonic, there will be a few visitors who will ask for a glass of wine with those two cheese coneys and fries.
*Editor’s Note: The newly renovated Coney Island features expanded seating and an expanded menu along with many long standing favorites. We highly recommend a visit to check them out. Visit them online at ConeyStillwater.com.
It has come to our attention that the address of Coney Island was previously listed incorrectly. We have updated this post to reflect the correct address.