Olivia Jewell Love
The 42 foot long, 18 ton hot dog known as the Coney Island Boardwalk now sits up the hill in Bailey, waiting for a new owner to return it to its former glory.
The structure originally was built on West Colfax Avenue in 1966.
The first owner, Marcus Shannon, had dreams of the hot dog-shaped building becoming a cornerstone of American eateries, envisioning a national chain.
News articles from the 1966 Denver Post, provided by Colfax Avenue History Museum, told of the 25-cent hot dogs, special menu and 40-car parking lot the site would boast.
After the production of the first restaurant, however, the company went under. This was after the president of Boardwalk Coney Island Inc. said he expected to take over Denver in 14 months with the business and continue to succeed from coast to coast. The singular location managed to stay open for three years. The cost to build the hot dog was $26,000.
Colfax historian and museum curator Jonny Barber said that roadside attractions like the coney were part of the history of the area.
“So much of that roadside Colfax weirdness is gone,” he said.
Where did it go? Well, the entire 18-ton hot dog was put on a trailer and hauled up to Aspen Park along Highway 285 in 1970. There, it took on the name Coney Island Dairy Land (and subsequently dropped the last part of the name). In its new home, the coney resumed business, changing hands multiple times throughout the years. On its last day open in Aspen Park, the line for the restaurant allegedly went on for miles.
The bun did not stop there. In 2006, it moved again, this time to its current location in Bailey, near Pike National Forest. The Coney Island Boardwalk is currently closed and looking for a new owner after some repairs are made.
Andy Nortnick, Coney Island Boardwalk neighbor and owner of the Fun and Funky Art Galleries and Giftshops nextdoor, has lifelong memories of the coney.
“We used to go to it when I was in high school,” Nortnick said.
Not only that, but Nortnick’s uncle was on the original crew that built the hot dog itself. Nortnick dispelled any rumors, and explained that the coney is in fact built from the ground up with stucco and is not built on an Airstream trailer like some may think.
Nortnick retold the story his uncle told about how the workers on the coney got paid.
“He was hired to help build this first hot dog, which was at some point going to be a chain of hot dogs. The foreman on the crew said, 'You have two choices: We can pay you hourly or you can wait to have stock options for this chain that will probably explode." My uncle chose the hourly rate. ... They went bankrupt shortly after building the first one, and the second one was never built.”
Currently, Nortnick’s gallery is right next to the Coney Island Boardwalk. He recalled times of booming success for the restaurant, which led to great engagement at his business.
“We want somebody to come on board who loves it as much as we do. We want somebody to return it to its heyday,” he said.
Greg Aigner is currently working with Nortnick to repair the coney and get it ready to sell. He, too, has memories of going to the restaurant back when it was in Aspen Park.
“I passed by it all the time. .... I drove by it many many times. I stopped one time, it wasn’t very crowded. I remember looking out the back, and it was basically a hot dog stand on a dirt path,” he said.
Aigner’s brother is the current owner of the property, but as his conservator, Greg is taking on the responsibilities for the maintenance and sale.
“The plan is to sell the coney to an appropriate owner,” he said.
Barber, too, has visited the coney and notes that perhaps the most important part of the place is the experience of going.
“It's just the experience of being in the place, the kitschy nature of it, and it's something when my kids were younger at the time and they got a huge kick out of it. It's more the architecture that stands out in my mind than the cuisine,” Barber said.
The Coney Island Boardwalk has garnered media attention for years, being featured in national news publications like the New York Post, a documentary called "A Hot Dog Program" and perhaps most notably, in multiple episodes of the "South Park" TV show, most recently in an episode aired in February 2022.
For now, Aigner and Nortnick are working to repair the roof, stucco, boardwalk and other issues with the building. Once they get the Coney Island Boardwalk back in shape, they hope to find a suitable buyer, even entertaining the idea of getting the South Park creators involved like they did with Casa Bonita in Lakewood.