The mysterious heretofore unknown Pop Diner took off the wraps on Wednesday, welcoming early visitors to come in and preview its colorful, kitschy space. The restaurant, which soft opens February 7, is a new 24-hour diner with a bar. It is located next-door to Max's Wine Dive in the West Village in the old Borders bookstore space.
Owner Nik Gjonaj is from Detroit, where his family owns a number of restaurants, including Luca Chophouse; in 2008, he received an award by the Albanian American National Association for Albanian of the Year. He has a connection to Dallas through his cousin Kola Gjonaj, who lives here and is a partner in Pop Diner.
The menu is dubbed "diner food," but it's more like glorified fast food, with nachos, hot dogs and burgers. The signature item is the "Naani," a wrap-style chicken sandwich popular in Detroit.
The restaurant is a large space, with high ceilings that serve as a reminder that this Borders used to be two-story. A row of cream-colored banquettes sits on the right, with a bar on the left. Nik says the theme is pop culture, but it's a specific era: the '80s. One brick wall is covered with a series of prints of '80s figures from music and film such as Molly Ringwald and Debbie Harry. An unusual portrait of Thriller-era Michael Jackson is painted on a bank of recycled cassette tapes.
A Lichtenstein-ian pop-art mural in the center of the room broadcasts the restaurant's motto: "Eat Good." The bar feels more '90s than '80s, with its panels of glass and icy-cool blue light. Cocktails include spiked milkshakes and a "Pop Rocks" martini.
The menu is dubbed "diner food," but it's more like glorified fast food, with nachos, hot dogs and burgers, including a $9.99 option with three patties stacked atop each other. But there are a few salads, including an $11.99 Cobb and an $8.99 Greek, and a page of breakfast options that include banana-chocolate-chip pancakes for $6.99. The signature item is the "Naani," a wrap-style chicken sandwich popular in Detroit. A half dozen dinners priced at $11.99 each include wings, fish and chips, and chicken-fried steak.
Regardless of the nature of the food, Pop Diner's 24-hour status gives it an edge in West Village. The only competition is Buzzbrews, with locations on Lemmon Avenue and at Fitzhugh Avenue and Central Expressway.