Filed Under Businesses

Coney Island Bar

Founded as a tamale factory in 1926 and operated by the same family for nearly a century.

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.

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. Source: University of Nevada Oral History Program
“Everybody comes here.”
Interviewed in 2005, Gerald Galletti, son of Coney Island founder Ralph Galletti, relates some family history and describes the restaurant’s longtime appeal. Source: University of Nevada Oral History Program
“People come in here and they know each other.” In a 2005 interview, sisters Lorri Galletti Van Woert and Dayna Galletti discuss cooking for Wednesday night dinners at the restaurant, and how customers feel about the place. Source: University of Nevada Oral History Program Date: 2005

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." Source: University of Nevada Oral History Program Creator: Matt Fearon Date: 2012

Images

"The Coney"
"The Coney" The Coney Island has shifted its main entrance to the west side, adjacent to the parking lot, which fills for lunch every day. Creator: Alicia Barber Date: 2014
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. Creator: Alicia Barber Date: 2014
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. Source: Reno Evening Gazette Date: October 5, 1923
New brick building
New brick building A newspaper article from May 1936 announces plans to construct a new brick building for the tamale factory. Source: Nevada State Journal Date: May 27, 1936
Newly remodeled
Newly remodeled 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. Source: Reno Evening Gazette Date: April 11, 1947
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. Source: Galletti family
John Galletti
John Galletti Sometimes referred to as “Tamale John,” John Galletti tends bar for a lively crowd around 1950. Source: Galletti family Date: ca. 1950
Popular restaurant
Popular restaurant Customers enjoy the food at the Coney around 1950. Source: Galletti family Date: ca. 1950
At the bar
At the bar Pictured around 1950, the bar at the Coney Island has remained much the same through the decades. Source: Galletti family Date: ca. 1950
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. Source: Galletti family Date: ca. 1950
Sally Loux
Sally Loux A Reno native, server Sally Loux worked at the Coney Island Bar for more than twenty years. Source: 2012 Creator: Patrick Cummings

Location

2644 Prater Way, Sparks, NV

Metadata

Alicia Barber, “Coney Island Bar,” Reno Historical, accessed April 12, 2024, http://renohistorical.org/items/show/110.