Pop’s Nightclub Celebrates 35 Years with a Facelift
By Jaime Lees
Mon, Aug 29, 2016
Big news from your favorite east side establishment: Pop’s got a facelift. It now features a massive bass guitar stretched across the entrance.
The Sauget, Illinois, concert venue, which turns 35 this November, has been playing with its branding and design for the past few years. The building is basically just a plain metal shed (some would say that it’s the metal-est of sheds) so the signage is really the only place for Pop’s to express its identity.
There have been a few changes to the Pop’s sign design in recent memory. For a long time the outside of the club featured a neon arch and a homie with an impossibly long arm playing what appeared to be a pointy Ibanez. It was very much “on brand.”
But then by 2014 the sign had changed into a more grown-up design that looked like the label on some high-end manufactured moonshine. I spent 24 consecutive hours at Pop’s in 2014 so I had a lot of time to stare up at that sign while wondering what, specifically, was wrong with me. (No answers were found.)
I’ve always thought of Pop’s as the real-life version of that club in Wayne’s World called The Gasworks. A refresher:
The two clubs look and seem exactly the same, right?
Anyway, this new guitar design is so perfectly Pop’s, it’s as if Crucial Taunt picked it out themselves. We contacted the club’s Director of Operations, Rich Donald, and he says that the guitar isn’t quite finished but that it also gets lit up at night.
Live Blog: 24 Consecutive Hours at Pop’s Nightclub
By Jaime Lees
Sat., Mar. 8 2014 at 12:00 PM
We’ve all done it. You’re at a bar and it’s closing time, but you’re not quite ready for the night to end. Maybe you want to grab just one more drink. Then someone in your crew suggests that you “go to the east side.”
Fifteen minutes later you’re in another state. You’ve crossed the Mississippi river into Sauget, Illinois and you find yourself in a massive gravel parking lot, stumbling into the after-hours beacon that is Pop’s Nightclub & Concert Venue.
Pop’s is a rare bar that is open (and serves booze) 24 hours a day, making it the go-to spot for late-night debauchery. But what happens there during the daylight hours?
I decided to spend one full day at Pop’s to see what it was like without beer goggles. Pop’s offers many amenities that make an adventure like this manageable: lockers to hold your stuff, comfortable couches for lounging, a variety of food and loads of entertainment. (Both accidental and on purpose.) It’s an easy place to have a good time.
So starting now, noon of Saturday, March 8, I’ll be live-blogging my experience at Pop’s here on RFT Music. Entries will include updates, photos, interviews and research on the history of the venue and its “24/7 Since 1981” tagline.
I’m going east. Check back soon (and often) for live updates.
Saturday, March 8, 2014 – 11:20am
I packed my prep backpack. Red Bull, granola bars, sunglasses, my favorite pens and my super-hawt Taylor Swift notebook. Let’s do this. Also, now would probably be a good time to mention that there’s a man at my house and I’ve authorized him to use deadly force to protect my collection of heart-shaped sunglasses, so don’t go trying to bust into my crib while I’m away.
Saturday, March 8, 2014 – 11:45am
There are few stretches of road in St. Louis that I love to drive more that lovely section of highway 55 north from Loughborough to downtown. The beautiful architecture, the view of the river, they way traffic always slows down just south of the merging highways, allowing you a nice long view of our beautiful Arch. But this time, I peeked across the river with apprehension, knowing that soon I’d be in Sauget for, like, forever.
Saturday, March 8, 2014 – 12:01pm
Saturday, March 8, 2014 – 12:02pm
The first song I heard as I walked in. A good sign, I think.
Saturday, March 8, 2014 – 01:05pm
The bartender here is very sweet. She was confused about why I was here at first, but she’s super nice and before I can even ask, she offers me the Pop’s wifi password. I’m the only non-employee here right now. It’s dark in here. I like it. Saturday, March 8, 2014 – 1:28pm
The music has been switched off, the sound in here is now the audio for the basketball game that’s on the the TVs. One of these basketball players is named Dalton Pepper. Dalton Pepper! Say it aloud, if you don’t get me yet.
Saturday, March 8, 2014 – 2:26pm
I forgot hand sanitizer, but remembered to bring an extension cord. We’ll call it a draw. The Blues game is on the television now. GOshie! Also, I’m going to the show advertised in this photo next weekend. Two Saturdays in a row at Pop’s? My life is awesome/sad like that. Saturday, March 8, 2014 – 1:50pm
I’m settling into a groove. I brought a lot of stuff to work on because I knew I’d be here for at least a while by myself. Do you know how many ways you can procrastinate at home? Instead of getting writing done, I’ll frequently decide that it’s a great time to clean the dust off of my ceiling fan or reorganize my shoes. Not here. I have nothing else to do right now but work or play a one-sided game of pool. It’s just you and me, Taylor Swift notebook.
Saturday, March 8, 2014 – 2:45pm
A few dudes just showed up and ordered drinks. Should I talk to him? I feel too shy to approach them, but I have the feeling that they’ll come and talk to me soon, anyway. They always do.
Saturday, March 8, 2014 – 3:06pm
These Blues announcers sound like they have a major crush on David Backes. But who doesn’t?
Saturday, March 8, 2014 – 3:08pm
“And they got a pool table, too!”
Saturday, March 8, 2014 – 3:27pm
This Blues game is thrilling, yo. And while we’re on the subject of local celebrities, I’d like to take this opportunity to invite Murphy Lee of the St. Lunatics to come hang out with me today/tonight/tomorrow. We’re in love, he just doesn’t know it yet.
Saturday, March 8, 2014 – 4:57pm
It’s just me and one other guy here now. A pretty girl just came in and picked up a paper (job application? pay check?) but then she left. She had nice boots. If you ever need a place to host a party, try Pop’s on a Saturday afternoon. You’ll have the place to yourself with no rental fee!
Saturday, March 8, 2014 – 5:55pm
I was just sitting here wondering if I’ve ever written about Pop’s before today. I don’t think I have, but I remembered talking about this place in an interview quite a few years back. I’ve interviewed Kelley Deal of the Breeders a few times, but on this occasion in 2008 the Breeders were due to play at Pop’s.
Me: So you’re gonna come here to St. Louis. Do you know about the place you’re playing? It’s kind of like that place you’d go to see a Journey cover band. Kelley: Ha! The place that we’re playing there? Really? Oh God, I hate when you tell me shit like that, it’s so weird! Me: No, it’s a fun place, but it’s in East St. Louis, and it’s sort of like, you have to stay on that street or you die. Kelley: [Laughs] Me: So don’t go roamin’ around there. Kelley: OK. I mean, will people not come because of the location? Me: No, you can totally go there, you just have to go straight there and then leave. Its like, in the middle of a couple of strip clubs. Kelley: I can take my clothes off, that’s what you’re saying? Me: Well, uh, next door at least. Or, uh, probably there, too. It’s your show. Kelley: I’ll just take ’em off there, too.
[I was at the show. She didn’t take off her clothes. Tease.]
Saturday, March 8, 2014 – 7:20pm
Took a nice little break for a bit. Talked with the awesome employees here and heard lots of great stories– like how Pop’s accidentally booked Nickelback back in 2000 on a metal show assuming they were a different metal band.
Saturday, March 8, 2014 – 8:08pm
Bartender Brian Werner tells me that he has a YouTube channel where he uploads clips from virtually every band that plays at Pop’s. This will be good for my research. Check it out here.
Saturday, March 8, 2014 – 9:25pm
Dinner time! I got hungry so I went next door to the Penthouse Club and picked up some steamed broccoli. Yes, I saw some breasts there. No, I don’t have pictures of that. I did see a dancer helping an old man use his iPhone, though. Saturday, March 8, 2014 – 10:16pm
Sports sounds off, music on. The night at Pop’s has begun.
Saturday, March 8, 2014 – 10:31
Saturday, March 8, 2014 – 11:22
First friend visit! My friend Lindsay showed up! Here she is, doing her Samantha Ronson on stage. Sunday, March 9, 2014 – 12:09am
I have solved the greatest mystery of Pop’s. If you’ve ever been here, you’ve probably seen these signs on the wall with seemingly random letters on them. The signs light up in parts, illuminating certain letters. Before tonight, I’d figured out that the sign is a security alert system. But with the help of my new Pop’s employee friends, tonight I learned that the letters correspond to different areas of the club and are lit up when an employee sees some kind of potential problem happening (a fight or something) to alert security and other workers.
Wanna learn how to decode the system? I have the key.
WSRRWBUB SB PB DJ L E M G N WS – WEST STAGE RR – REAR RESTROOM WB – WEST BALCONY UB – UPSTAIRS BAR SB – SOUTH BAR PB – PRODUCTION BOARD DJ – DJ BOOTH L – LOBBY E – EXIT M – MAIN BAR G – GAME ROOM N – NORTH DOOR (PATIO)
Sunday, March 9, 2014 – 12:23am
I’VE BEEN HERE FOR TWELVE HOURS. The place is filling out. I am fueled on broccoli and ready ready ready.
Sunday, March 9, 2014 – 1:26am
I’m kinda big on life anniversaries, and it occurs to me that exactly one year ago today/tonight, I did the most monumentally stupid thing that I’ve ever done in my adult life. It involved an adventure to a different establishment not too far from here. I’m not giving up any details, you’ll have to wait for my memoirs.
Sunday, March 9, 2014 – 1:34am
IT’S ALL HAPPENING. A big change just happened here. DJ Big J just took over, cranked up the music and turned on the lasers. And 40 people walked through the door in the last few minutes. IT’S ON.
Sunday, March 9, 2014 – 3:05am
So, “spring forward” just happened and this place just got balls insane. People are coming through the door at the rate of about one a minute and the whole place just got instantly packed. Big J is killing with the hits and the dance floor is filling up. Here’s the view from the stage. Sunday, March 9, 2014 – 3:53am My friend Ryan doesn’t know how to do the “Cupid Shuffle” dance, but he’s trying. Dude, you need to spend some more time at Time Out on Gravois. Sunday, March 9, 2014 – 4:21am
This crappy picture is a view from the balcony. It’s WAY more crowded than it appears in this photo. This place is packed. The DJ just played Pharrell William’s “Happy” followed by “Great Balls of Fire” then “Footloose” and “Jailhouse Rock.” It’s a party on the dance floor. Sunday, March 9, 2014 – 5:32am
The Philly cheese steak shack outside in the parking lot is bumpin’. Sunday, March 9, 2014 – 5:55am The crowd has thinned just a bit, but the place still feels full. Some are leaving while others are just arriving. In the super-amazing film Tapeheads, they would call this photo “production value.” Sunday, March 9, 2014 – 6:00am Six more hours. I amaze me, but I have friends here to keep me company. They’re eating cheese fries.
Sunday, March 9, 2014 – 6:30am
So, here’s the deal: I had planned on staying here from noon on Saturday until noon on Sunday, but since tonight marked the “spring forward” bit of daylight savings time, my plans got all weird. This means that if I stay until noon on Sunday, technically, I’ve only stayed for 23 hours instead of 24. That would ruin my bragging rights. So I think I’m going to try to stay until 1pm today.
Also, I haven’t mentioned this yet: I am at Pop’s and I’ve been way sober the entire time. I repeat: it is 6:30 in the morning and I’ve been at Pop’s for about 18 hours and “Rack City” is playing and I’m sober. Fact: I am more punk than you.
Sunday, March 9, 2014 – 6:42am
“Cupid Shuffle” is on again and friend Shaun is dancing the Curly Shuffle. #blessed
Sunday, March 9, 2014 – 7:02am
People are waking up for church right about now, so let’s pretend to be civilized for a minute and drop some actual results of the research that I’ve been doing while I’m here.
There is a local urban legend that Pop’s has actually been open 24 hours a day since 1981. The first location of the club was just across the parking lot from here on the same plot of land that now holds the Sauget Diner, but it burned down as a result of an electrical fire in the 1990s. So, the story goes like this: when Pop’s #1 burned down the club still sold beer in the parking lot to maintain its 24/7 reputation. Management at Pop’s says that story isn’t true, but do offer that employees and patrons certainly did drink beer in the parking lot as they watched the building burn. Some brought flowers, too. Their grieving was short lived, however, when the current Pop’s location opened just a couple of days later.
For the record, Pop’s is closed exactly one day a year: on Christmas. They joke that they have a hard time on every December 25th with finding the keys to lock the front door since the front door is never locked otherwise. And because the place is so enthusiastic about its 24-hour-a-day reputation, we locals know that winter weather is actually really, really bad when Pop’s makes an announcement that it is closed because of ice or snow. Personally, I know that the few times that has happened that I have been terrified for my life. In my mind, if Pop’s is closed, that must mean that we’re all going to die.
Sunday, March 9, 2014 – 7:21am
Good morning from the Pop’s parking lot. Sunday, March 9, 2014 – 7:45am
Much clown love in the powder room. Family! Sunday, March 9, 2014 – 8:06am There are still a crapload of people here. I just caught myself rubbing my eyes like a sleepy toddler.
Sunday, March 9, 2014 – 8:51am
DJ Big J really is the best. He took a full break so he could karaoke Toto’s “Africa.”
Sunday, March 9, 2014 – 9:15am
Yeah, anyway. Sunday, March 9, 2014 – 9:29am
Oh, you know, just at Pop’s at 9:30 in the morning talking about JFK assassination theories. The sun is shining bright outside and every time the door opens and I see a flash of it I cower and hiss like a Lost Boys vampire. There are still about 150 people here. They are entertaining me with their terrible fashion choices.
Sunday, March 9, 2014 – 9:40am
The bartender who was on shift when I arrived here yesterday is back for her shift today. The DJ is playing a mix that includes The Commodores’ “Easy.” There is hope. One day I will be home again.
Sunday, March 9, 2014 – 10:20am
Big J just finished DJing and we had a bro-down. He saw that I was drinking Red Bull and suggested that I try Monster Rehab, promising that it tasted like tea. We split a can and had a “mini-social” (others would call this a “cheers”) and hung out for a bit. I asked him about his energetic, enthusiastic DJ style and he said, “Well, the way I look at it, if I’m having fun then everybody else is having fun.” Truth.
When he was leaving, I thanked him for all of the excellent music and told him that he saved my life with his good tunes. He said, “There’s a song about that!”
And then we sang the chorus to this:
Sunday, March 9, 2014 – 10:34am
Taylor Swift’s “22” is playing on the radio here! I feel like getting out my T-Swizz notebook and dancing around. Is that weird? I might be a little delirious. I’ve been awake for 26 hours now, forgive me.
Sunday, March 9, 2014 – 11:05am
A half an hour ago there were about 40 patrons here. Now there are ten. Though this place spent most of the night functioning as a mega dance club, it’s now back to the same (extra large) corner bar vibe that it had when I first arrived. The stumbling drunks have headed out and all of the people left are just sitting at the bar, shootin’ the shit. Sunday, March 9, 2014 – 11:19am I’m hearing the music here at low volume through over-worked ears, and if I didn’t know better I’d swear that on that Daft Punk / Pharrell song it sounds like he’s singing “You go suck a dick.”
Sunday, March 9, 2014 – 12:17pm
Hanging with a dude called Stretch from PT’s Sports Cabaret. He has lots of good blonde jokes. For real, though. Countdown: 45 minutes.
Sunday, March 9, 2014 – 12:30pm
Random facts about my 24 hours at Pop’s:
I am losing my voice. The combination of exhaustion and yelling over music has done me in. Send tea.
Most heard songs:
Icona Pop – “I Love It” – 7 times
Lorde – “Royals” – 6 times
M.I.A. – “Paper Planes” – 5 times
Robin Thicke – “Blurred Lines” – 4 times
I think I powdered my nose six times while I was here.
By the time the sun came up my boots were sticking to the floor. Drunk people spill drinks. A lot.
At about 7:30 last night a 45-ish-year-old white man wearing a plastic horse mask over his face, a weird-ass outfit and full-size scuba flippers entered the bar. The place was practically empty and he asked (in a very high-pitched fake voice) to speak to “the reporter lady.” He was met with hard blinks and blank faces. The excellent staff told him that I wasn’t here and he asked to look around for me. He did one lap through the bar– clopping and flopping all the way in his scuba flippers– before placing a red apple on the bar (without explanation) and then leaving. What. In. The. Fuck. Dude, did you just want me to promote your band or something? You could’ve just showed up and hung out. Instead, you freaked us all out. So, congrats? In any case, I didn’t mention this dude earlier in this live-blog because I didn’t want him to come back. The staff here has been having fun watching the security footage of Mr. Horse Head. I’m going to request of copy of that surreal shit, m’self.
I thought that once I spent 24 consecutive hours here that I’d never want to come here again, but the exact opposite is true. I love it here. All of the employees have been so nice and I’ve actually had a great time for at least 22 hours of my 24 hour adventure. Bartender Teresa greeted me and is now sending me off. Big thanks to my friends who came and hung out with me and much love to the staff at Pop’s for being so sweet and telling me countless (mostly unrepeatable) stories and gossip about superstars and touring bands.
So, does Pop’s really rock 24/7? Oh, yes. Indeed. Check out the Pop’s website, “like” the Facebook page or stop in to see for yourself.
X / Rollins Band
7 p.m. Monday, August 7. Pop’s (1403 Mississippi Avenue, Sauget, Illinois).
By Jaime Lees
Published: August 02, 2006
Fronted by feminist hero Exene Cervenka, X have been playing their own style of shaky punk rock since the late ’70s. While their lyrics describe horrors such as rape, abuse and Los Angeles, their surprisingly thick and melodic song structures are ripe with riffs that honor our rock & roll daddy, Chuck Berry. Henry Rollins will take a break from his main gig as witty cultural commentator to once again lead the Rollins Band in displays of sweating, gritty speed-rock. Don’t let his new status as a man of words and wisdom fool you, though — on stage he’s still the same blasting force we first encountered in Black Flag. Get to the east side early to catch Texas’ the Riverboat Gamblers and The Lou’s own 7 Shot Screamers.