TULSA — Queenies is a striking spot in the verdant tree-lined Utica Square shopping precinct. The pink and orange chairs leap off the sidewalk while cows prance across the signage. Clearly, it’s a café that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
“We can act out in that way,” owner Ruth Young said. “When you have a small space, you have to be creative.”
Small, it most definitely is. A sign above the counter pegs the maximum occupancy at 42. Actually, it reads 420 because someone has artfully added a 0, which is about how crowded Queenies feels when you’re trying to get a table for brunch on the weekend (they don’t accept reservations).
“It gets very full,” Ruth admits. “People fight for seats.”
The hubbub of conversation makes Queenies come alive, as does the challenging art on the walls and the crowd spilling out onto the five tables on the sidewalk. You’re almost guaranteed to talk to a stranger at Queenies, even if it’s just to apologize for bumping into them.
The cafe has been crowded for years, but “small and mighty” is how Ruth plans to keep it.
Queenies originally opened on Brookside in 1981, but moved to Utica Square in 1983. Tulsa’s café culture has been playing catch-up ever since.
Come prepared to stare down the battery of colorful cakes, scones and soft cookies that look longingly at you from the brightly lit counter. They’re baked in a dedicated underground bakery across the road.
Breakfasts are notoriously popular at Queenies and are served until 10:30 a.m. weekdays and until close at 2 p.m. Sundays.
The chicken salad, made with plenty of chopped celery and quality mayonnaise, is the lunch dish with the most militant fans.
Regulars get upset when Ruth tries to change the menu.
“A lot of customers feel invested in the place,” she said. “It means they’re loyal, but they can get bossy.”
As for the name, Queenie was a favorite cow from Ruth’s youth.
“Or that’s what I tell people,” she said, playful to the last.
7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Friday
8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday
9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday