Route 66 News

Top of the POPS

On Tuesday, Emily and I drove to the newly opened POPS convenience store and restaurant on Route 66 in Arcadia, Okla.

In case you hadn’t heard, POPS is the brainchild of Aubrey McClendon, CEO of Chesapeake Energy Corp. in Oklahoma City. POPS was a way to tie together his love of Route 66 and the small town of Arcadia. Renowned architect Rand Elliott designed POPS, and Route 66 author Michael Wallis was consulted about Route 66 aesthetics.

Having spent a couple of hours at POPS, the best description I can come up with is “refined kitsch.” The “refined” comes from its amazing architecture and food that’s a few steps above usual diner fare. The “kitsch” comes from its 66-foot-tall soda bottle (with a drinking straw) and its amazing collection of soda pop bottles — many for sale.

We had passed the POPS construction site several times since groundbreaking began in spring 2006. We had gotten used to the gray giant bottle and superstructure of the canopy over the fuel-pumping islands. But on Tuesday, both sported a glossy white finish.

A walkway has been laid around the giant POPS bottle as a photo-op for visitors. This next photo provides some scale on how big the bottle is.

Walking inside, the first thing that struck us was how much natural light there was. Both the north and south sides of POPS are glass.

Next to the glass are shelves holding thousands of bottles of soda pop. The sunlight filtering in almost creates a stained-glass effect.

According to POPS’ Web site, more than 400 brands of pop are available (list is here). That included old favorites of mine, IBC and Dog ‘n’ Suds. POPS also carries brands such as Moxie, No-Cal, Monterey Bay, Olde Brooklyn and Cheerwine.

These striking specimens are R&F Dry Cola.

Don’t try to grab your favorite soft drink off the shelves. They are glued down. Instead, they’ll likely be in the refrigerated coolers shown here — if they aren’t sold out.

Notice the photographs above the coolers of such Route 66 icons as the Wigwam Motel, the Jackrabbit Trading Post and the Blue Swallow Motel.

POPS also stationed a number of flat-screen televisions on the walls, advertising its food and products.

Those products included a slew of POPS souvenirs.

This T-shirt, with tongue firmly planted in cheek, compares the POPS giant bottle to the Eiffel Tower and the Tower of Pisa.

Of course, you can’t be on Route 66 without Mother Road merchandise.

The back of POPS is a serene place that allows outdoor dining. The natural stone walls on the sides help block out the noise from the road.

But because the temperature was in the upper 90s, we decided to have dinner indoors.

It was here that the most problems popped up at POPS. There was a 75-minute wait for a table, and mistakes were made with food orders. I attribute this to first-week jitters and that POPS was slammed by 300 diners on Monday and even more on Tuesday. The sizable parking lot was nearly 100 percent full when went there, and remained crowded when we left.

The food was delicious. I had the chicken quesadilla; Emily had the beef filet with vegetables and garlic-mashed potatoes. She was pleased with her meal, and I liked the smoky flavor of the chicken and the beans in the quesadilla. And a nearby chicken-fried steak looked fantastic.

The menu can be perused here (Acrobat file). Typical diner food won’t have Oklahoma-produced organic beef, omelets with sun-dried tomatoes, applewood-smoked bacon, and specialty cupcakes. Kudos for using Blue Bell ice cream with shakes and several desserts.

Prices are above average, but the most expensive thing is just $15.

Not many diners have salt and pepper grinders next to the mustard and ketchup, either.

I strongly suspect the problems — including an air-conditioning system that was barely keeping up — will be rectified within a week or so.

Night was starting to fall on Arcadia after our meal. Here’s what POPS looks like in the gloaming.

And dusk gave us a chance to see what we’d anticipated for months — the lighting of the giant POPS bottle. Inside the bottle are thousands of LED lights. What’s cool is that the LEDs change color every few seconds from the bottom up. It makes the bottle appear to “fill up” with pop.

Here’s a video I shot of the bottle in action:

We’ll be back. That chicken-fried steak is calling.