Coney Island Bar

From its humble roots as a tamale factory in the 1920s, “the Coney” has grown into a community institution. Operated continuously by three generations of the Galletti family, the popular restaurant and bar is a gathering place for people of all backgrounds, where newcomers are made to feel as welcome as the regulars playing pinochle in the corner.

Ralph Galletti, a native of Genoa, Italy, first brought the family into the restaurant business in 1922 when he bought a downtown Reno confectionary called the Sugar Plum. The café specialized in raviolis, enchiladas, and a popular local dish, tamales. Much of the food preparation occurred on the family property in what later became known as the Coney Island neighborhood near Sparks, on land purchased by Ralph’s father-in-law, John Gallo, around 1905. The quiet, rural neighborhood took its name from the Coney Island Resort (see separate entry), which operated across the county road (4th Street/Prater Way) in the early 20th century.

From the beginning, the Gallettis invited the public to view manufacturing demonstrations at their “factory,” likely just a small kitchen. In 1926 they sold the Sugar Plum and moved the entire operation to the offsite location, naming it the Coney Island Tamale Factory. There, they sold tamales, both wholesale and retail, from a small service counter. In 1936, the family constructed a new brick building with an expanded lunch room and a kitchen equipped to handle four times their usual business. In addition to tamales, the menu featured raviolis, enchiladas, and chili con carne.

After returning from service in World War II, Ralph and Mary Galletti’s son, John, got a liquor license and added the existing bar, which opened on March 16, 1946. A new kitchen was added in the mid-1950s, around the time that the business stopped serving tamales and formally took on the name of the Coney Island Cocktail Bar & Restaurant.

Ralph Galletti died in 1965, and after that, John ran the place while his sister, Nettie, worked the front of the house, a role she continued into her eighties. The construction of Interstate 80 in the mid-1970s brought an off-ramp nearly to the building’s front door, and yet the Coney remains as popular as ever, with John’s children Greg and Lorri continuing the family tradition. The business was listed in the Nevada State Register of Historic Places in 2007.

Images

Historic martini

Historic martini

Now slightly obscured and facing the Interstate 80 exit ramp, the charming sign painted on the east wall was once more visible to westbound traffic heading into Reno. Photo by Alicia Barber View File Details Page

Sugar Plum factory

Sugar Plum factory

An advertisement from 1923 invites patrons of the Sugar Plum restaurant to view the making of tamales, enchiladas, and raviolis at the factory in the Coney Island neighborhood. Image courtesy of Reno Evening Gazette View File Details Page

New brick building

New brick building

A newspaper article from May 1936 announces plans to construct a new brick building for the tamale factory. Image courtesy of Nevada State Journal View File Details Page

Newly remodeled, 1947

Newly remodeled, 1947

After gaining a liquor license in 1946, the Coney Island Bar and Tamale Factory was remodeled and redecorated, as announced in an advertisement from April 1947. Image courtesy of Reno Evening Gazette View File Details Page

Founder Ralph Galletti

Founder Ralph Galletti

Ralph Galletti, a native of Genoa, Italy, married Mary Gallo in 1914, and together they opened the Coney Island Tamale Factory in the mid-1920s. Ralph died in 1964. Photo courtesy of the Galletti family View File Details Page

John Galletti

John Galletti

Sometimes referred to as “Tamale John,” John Galletti tends bar for a lively crowd around 1950. Photo courtesy of the Galletti family View File Details Page

Popular restaurant, ca. 1950

Popular restaurant, ca. 1950

Customers enjoy the food at the Coney around 1950. Photo courtesy of the Galletti family View File Details Page

At the bar, ca. 1950

At the bar, ca. 1950

Pictured around 1950, the bar at the Coney Island has remained much the same through the decades. Photo courtesy of the Galletti family View File Details Page

A warm atmosphere

A warm atmosphere

This photo from the late 1940s or early 1950s looks past the bar toward the front of the building, with a jukebox and a glimpse of the Mexican-themed wallpaper on the wall to the right. Image courtesy of the Galletti family View File Details Page

Sally Loux

Sally Loux

A Reno native, server Sally Loux has worked at the Coney Island Bar for twenty years. Photo by Patrick Cummings View File Details Page

The Coney, 2014

The Coney, 2014

The Coney Island has shifted its main entrance to the west side, adjacent to the parking lot, which fills for lunch every day. Photo by Alicia Barber View File Details Page

Audio

Ben Akert describes "The Mess"

Ben Akert, whose family once owned Akert Market, on the corner of East 4th Street and Wells Avenue, describes John Galletti and the Coney Island specialty affectionately known as "The Mess." Recorded by Matt Fearon in 2012 for the University of Nevada Oral History Program View File Details Page

Video

Gerald Galletti describes the family property

Interviewed in 2005, Gerald Galletti describes the area surrounding the restaurant, which was built on property purchased by his grandfather, John Gallo, around 1904. Recorded by the University of Nevada Oral History Program. View File Details Page

“Everybody comes here.”

Gerald Galletti, son of Coney Island founder Ralph Galletti, relates some family history and describes the restaurant’s longtime appeal. Recorded in 2005 by the University of Nevada Oral History Program. View File Details Page

“People come in here and they know each other.”

Sisters Lorri Galletti Van Woert and Dayna Galletti discuss cooking for Wednesday night dinners at the restaurant, and how customers feel about the place. Recorded in 2005 by the University of Nevada Oral History Program. View File Details Page

Street Address:

2644 Prater Way, Sparks, NV [map]

Cite this Page:

Alicia Barber, “Coney Island Bar,” Reno Historical, accessed April 24, 2017, http://renohistorical.org/items/show/110.

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