Arlington has never had a shortage of unique local eateries and for many, one of the most memorable was the Tops Drive Inn on Lee Highway.
Home of the “Sir Loiner,” a double-decker hamburger thought by many to be a forerunner of today’s Big Mac, Tops was founded by businessman James J. Matthews in 1953. The original Tops Drive Inn was a 15-seat facility which included a team of carhops and a machine called the Teletray, enabling drivers to order their food without getting out of the car. The interior featured turquoise-colored phones at the tables for placing your order, and mini-juke boxes for hearing the hits of the day. There were 18 Tops in the DC Metro area before Matthews merged the chain into Gino’s Inc. in 1968.
Some Tops trivia:
- Three of the sandwiches served at Tops were the Sir Loiner, the Jim Dandy, and the Maverick.
- Tops was the original server of Col. Sanders’ Kentucky Fried Chicken in the area, and owner James J. Matthews served on the board of Kentucky Fried Chicken Corporation after Colonel Sanders retired.
- There was once a 15 minute television afternoon weather show sponsored by Tops called “Top Of De Vedder.” The program was hosted by “Professor Felix Von Topsnak,” who used a hand-drawn map of the U.S. on which he’d chart the weather while dressed in an overcoat, top hat and monocle.
What About You?
Were you a Tops regular? What was your favorite thing on the menu? Let us know what you remember!