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Split-T faced final down in 2000

Popular Oklahoma City restaurant and hangout the Split-T featured burgers, teens from rival schools and political intrigue in its long history.

BY DAVE CATHEY Modified: September 13, 2010 at 1:28 pm •  Published: September 13, 2010

The success of Molly Murphy's House of Fine Repute between 1976 and 1996 was predicated on theft. Owners Bob and Jeffiee Tayar pilfered the idea for their wildly successful novelty restaurant from The Magic Time Machine in Austin, Texas.

But before they started marching out costumed waitstaff and serving up as much shtick as steak, the Tayars longed to open a drive-in. At the time, the Split-T and Charcoal Oven were the two most successful concepts on Oklahoma City's north side. To gain the knowledge and personnel they needed for the new concept, Jeffiee Tayar resorted to espionage.

"I took a job with the Split-T to find out how they did things and lure away any kitchen staff I could," Jeffiee Tayar said in a recent phone interview. "It was 1965, and the owner was gone to California quite a bit at the time. Johnnie Haynes was the manager at the time, and we wanted to steal him away. We wanted to compete with the best, so we targeted the Split-T."

Jeffiee Tayar couldn't lure Haynes, but did come away with one of the cooks for what would become Bonaparte's.

The Split-T and T-Bar survived the Tayars' poaching and Haynes' eventual defection to start Johnnie's Charcoal Broiler, but time and scandal would eventually take the shine off the spot at 5701 N Western that once drew teenagers the way light draws June bugs.

The Split-T and T-Bar closed and was demolished in 2000. The birthplace of the Theta Burger is no more, but a Sonic on a common corner where the property stood for so many years still bears its name.

1st down and the '50s

Vince Stephens couldn't have known he was creating an institution back in 1953, but he did recognize the success of Bud Wilkinson's football team in Norman and its mastery of an offensive formation that deployed three running backs lined up in a row behind the quarterback and a single receiver split away from the end of the line of scrimmage.

According to a 1993 story in The Oklahoman, a friend suggested splitting the front doors with a "T." When those doors swung open, teenagers streamed in to sample a menu that included Stephens' mother's recipes for Caesar, hickory and thousand island sauces between the buns of his flame-broiled patties, the story stated.

What began as the anchor on the south end of a strip of shops eventually gobbled up the entire space when the T-Bar opened. It became a second home to teens from Bishop McGuinness, John Marshall, Harding, Casady and other local high schools. It was to Oklahoma City what Arnold's Drive-In was to the "Happy Days" version of Milwaukee.

When the building was eventually razed, The Oklahoman was overwhelmed with letters, e-mails and calls.

Ann Foerster Ryan went to Casady School in the late '50s, and even after she went away for college, the "T" was her No. 1 destination when she came home.

"In high school, we went to the 'T' before and after football games, when kids from Casady, Harding, John Marshall, Northwest Classen and McGuinness would show up to cruise and hangout," Ryan wrote to The Oklahoman when it closed for good in 2000. "There were so many people packed in there, fire marshals today would faint!

"No weekend evening was complete without driving through the parking lot several times to see whose car was there before we decided to go in," she wrote. "During college, when I came home for vacations, I had to go straight to the 'T' from the airport. And even later in life, when I had lived away from Oklahoma City for several years, I'd always head in for a burger, and Johnnie would always remember my name. I've said for 40 years that if I ever have to choose a 'last meal,' it will be a No. 1, onion rings and a Dr Pepper."

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