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Then and Now: Tops Drive Inn on Glebe Road

by Katie Pyzyk May 9, 2012 at 1:15 pm 12,049 38 Comments


The photo on the left is of Tops Drive Inn at 40 N. Glebe Road, circa 1955. In 1953, James J. Mathews opened this restaurant, the first of what would become an 18 restaurant chain in the D.C. metro area. Tops touted itself as “Home of the Sir Loiner,” which was a double decker hamburger similar to today’s Big Mac.

The original Tops was a 15 seat facility, but really became popular for its “Teletrays” — the drive-in restaurant feature that allowed visitors to order food without leaving the car.

Mathews was friends with Col. Harlan Sanders, who founded Kentucky Fried Chicken. Mathews secured the exclusive franchise rights for serving the Colonel’s recipe chicken in the metro area, and served on KFC’s board after Col. Sanders retired.

In 1967, Mathews merged Tops with Gino’s Hamburgers, a Maryland chain. The Marriott Corporation bought Gino’s in 1972.

The photo on the right is how that location at Glebe Road and Route 50 looks today. It’s still home to a burger joint, but now it’s a McDonald’s.

After the jump: A vintage Tops commercial that ran on WTTG-TV in 1957.

Historic photo courtesy Arlington Public Library’s Virginia Room

  • South Awwlington

    Soooooooo cool. Thank you ARLnow!

  • Bluemontsince1961

    Thanks, ARLNow! Great to see the new “Then and Now” category!

  • CW

    Well, the intent was preserved. Did the zoning board rule that the spot must remain a drive-through burger place in perpetuity? That would be cool.

    • nom de guerre

      CW-Your are very observant. In addition to remaining a drive-through burger place in perpetuity, every time the place changes names/owners it must bring at least 75 “new jobs” to Arlington, be LEED Certified and provide affordable housing for its workers that is located within one mile and/or walking distance from a Metro stop.

      • Bluemontsince1961

        LOL! With traffic lights for pedestrian crossings every half block so people don’t have to walk an extra 100 feet out of their way.

      • CW

        I believe that there is also a perpetual noncompete clause stating that there cannot be any crossover with Sam’s Corner’s regular menu.

        • nom de guerre

          CW-Again you are correct. After carefully reviewing the zoning rules there is a perpetual noncompete clause that restricts Sam’s Corner from offering anything less than 100% hand fed Waygu beef in its burgers and the affordable housing must feature stainless steel appliances, granite countertops and sustainable hardwood flooring. The pedestrian crossings are to be placed at least every 150 feet but cannot exceed every 200 feet. Additionally, the slip lane from southbound Glebe to Route 50 westbound is to be eliminated once a Republican is elected to the County Board.

          • drax

            That post deserves a FREDTERP.

      • South Awwlington

        And don’t forget, it must remain a burger joint for 60 years, regardless of success or fraud…60 years.

      • drax

        If the 75 “new” jobs are just filled by the same people who worked at the old drive-through, that still counts as “new” jobs too!

  • CrystalMikey

    Again I’m loving these history posts!

  • Bluemontsince1961

    I was a kid when Tops was around and their food was far better than Mickey-D’s any day of the week! IMO, only the old Hot Shoppes (such as Lee & Kirkwood back when) were better than Tops.

    • arlgirl

      Loved the New England style hot dog buns at the Hot Shoppes. Remember that place fondly. Also remember the Howard Johnson’s (HoJo’s) at the intersection of Old Dominion and Lee Highway. Great fried clams, and lots of ice cream flavors (can’t recall how many — was it 40?).

      • Bluemontsince1961

        Yes arlgirl, I also remember the old HoJo at Lee & Old Dominion! Those fried clams were great! I think HoJo had 28 flavors for years, not sure if they ever went up to 40 but their ice cream rocked!

  • MC 703

    If anyone else loves this stuff like me, it’s also worth joining this FB group.


    • Bluemontsince1961

      Thanks for the tip!

  • fuqyuppies

    Its good to see Arlington back before we relocated all the minorities and subbed them for know-nuthin yuppies

    • John Fontain

      1. There are way more minorities in Arlington now than there were in the 50’s.

      2. Nobody relocated the minorities.

  • arlgirl

    The Tops I remember was at the corner of Lee Highway and George Mason Drive. It was our hangout when we were teens. I especially recall their “secret sauce” — it was yummy with fries as well as on their burgers.

    • nom de guerre

      And Tops Cleaners is still located next door. Tops Restaurant changed to Gino’s, Roy Rogers, Friendly’s and is now a bank.

      • Karzai Gekko

        I took over the bank in a massively leveraged buyout, raided the pension fund, and sold what was left to Sam, who plans to open an exclusive deli that will shun the surrounding community.

        • karzai

          I am flattered by your appropriation of part of my name. But you will not be eligible to run in the next Afghan presidential election in 2014 (or possibly as early as 2013).

          • drax

            I remember how Tops rudely didn’t post the hours it was open.

          • karzai

            I remember how Arlnow.com used to be without cyber-hooligans on it.

  • Suburban Not Urban

    Does anyone else think the old street scape is more interesting and pleasant than the build to the street bland brick building we get over and over again from the current planners? I certainly do.

    • Bluemontsince1961

      Amen, Suburban Not Urban! Well said!

    • no


    • Clarendon

      @Suburban Not Urban

      Really, you are lucky if you like this streetscape:


      This is the dominant form all over this country including many place nearby, that are much much much less expensive than Arlington with our built-to-the-sidewallk urbanism.

      This is not a love it or leave it thing, you just really are lucky if you like living in places like the picture because you have so many to choose from.

  • no

    i don’t really like streetscapes of gas stations, fast food joints and asphalt, even with the comic relief of kitsch like Mr. Top Hat or Mr. Sir Loiner or whatever his name was. Take me back to good old Route 1? I don’t think so.

  • SA

    Ah, the good old days when employees of service establishments who interacted with customers were at least minimally proficient in the English language.

  • Arlingtron

    I grew up near Annandale. There was a Topps there on Columbia Pike. It became Ginos, Hardees, and possibly many other brands. It is now a Burger King. Across the street was a Burger Chef.

  • Nancy Bailey

    Speaking of double-decker burgers, Tops couldn’t top the Mighty Mo and its secret sauce at the old Hot Shoppes chain.

    McDonald’s and its “pink slime” aren’t worthy of being mentioned in the same sentence…so I didn’t.

    But if Marriott wound up owning Tops, could the Sir Loiner’s secret sauce have been the same as the Mighty Mo’s? It seemed close to Thousand Island or Russian dressings to me. And wasn’t there a Tops at the intersection of Quaker Lane, King Street and Braddock in Alexandria? I think there is an upscale car dealership there now.

  • Andrew

    Love these stories! Keep ’em, coming. That TV ad with its sexist language (by today’s standards) is a riot.

  • great story and photos. Interesting link to KFC – because right across the street from McD is a KFC. Kind of a cute coincidence.

    The commercial is funny because it is so unsophisticated. Nice to see something that’s not perfect and slick 🙂

  • ArlForester

    I remember this spot as Gino’s, Roy Rogers, McDonalds and Mcdonalds. For some reason, the original McDonalds was razed and a new one was built. I must have spent thousands here over my life of going to and then working at STM.

  • YTK

    Yeah! I LOOVED their onion rings!! I used to eat them after coming from St TM next door. Someone should bring back Topps.



  • DCguy

    Tops sponsored the Milt Grant show – DC’s answer to American Bandstand. I loved the Jim Dandy at the Bethesda Tops.


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