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Tulsa Dining By the Decades

The chrome soda fountain and the hostess stand fabricated from a turquoise 1957 Chevy made Tulsa’s Metro Diner a space out of time when it opened in 1984. The 1950s-style diner sat on historic Route 66, across from the University of Tulsa and within smelling distance of the Bama Pie factory. Its bright neon sign beckoned diners of all ages, bragging improbably that “Elvis Eats Here” despite his death in 1977.

Elvis Presley conspiracy theories notwithstanding, the rock n’ roll icon did not eat at Metro but generations of Tulsans did. They sipped milkshakes and chewed hand-breaded chicken-fried steak there for 22 years, in polo shirts with the collars flipped up in the 1980s, flannel and denim in the 1990s, cargo pants and puffy jackets in the 2000s.

Rhys Martin, author of the new book Lost Restaurants of Tulsa, laments that of the 44 restaurants featured, Metro Diner was the only one he actually ate at. Still, his lovingly researched work, to be released by American Palate on Dec. 3, 2018, brings to life Tulsa restaurants of yore such as Molly Murphy’s House of Fine Repute, Casa Bonita and the Golden Drumstick through photos and anecdotes from those who ate and worked there. Martin, who grew up in Broken Arrow in the 1980s, traces the city’s dining history with as much passion as if he lived through six decades, telling the stories of the mostly family-owned restaurants that found success for a time despite liquor-by-the-drink laws, the oil bust and influx of chain restaurants.

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