Roy Liebenthal Likes Cheese with His Pop Burger

The original Pop Burger is lined with prints of paintings by Jean-Michel Basquiat. What sort of artworks will we see at the new uptown location?

Five years ago, with the meatpacking district’s whole street industrial vibe and the type of kids I was looking to attract, I thought Basquiat was a great artist. As we take the concept one step further and really try to emphasize the idea of Pop Burger as a product designed for mass consumption, the only artworks in there are Warhol’s Campbell’s soup cans—well, prints of Warhol’s soup cans. [Editor’s note: Roughly 30 of them, in fact.]

Are you going to serve Campbell’s soup?

We’re not.

Does the Campbell Soup Company know about this?

[He laughs without comment.]

Will the lounge component be different?

Slightly tailored. The pool room is different in that it’s slightly more luxurious. We thought that in that location it needs to be slightly more luxurious. We feel that each Pop Burger should slowly adapt to its environment without changing the look much. Uptown, the clientele will skew slightly older. So, we raised the height of the banquettes by an inch so people aren’t sitting so low. When you’re old like me, you don’t want to be sitting that close to the floor.

Is the new place also going to be open ’til five in the morning?

Four in the morning.

Same menu?

Same menu. We may have a few more expensive drinks in the pool room than we do downtown.

Apart from your own, what’s the best burger in New York City? Shake Shack?

I’ve never had their burgers. I’m more of a local coffee-shop burger guy. All burgers taste pretty good. Ahem! But none of ’em taste like a Pop Burger.

You started your career in real estate. …

I still dabble in real estate.

Is the restaurant business much different than pure real estate? Is it all about location?

My first restaurant was Café Tabac in 1992. Café Tabac was sort of the first bar lounge. It was in the East Village on Ninth Street. I think the location played a significant role in creating its magic. It was during the whole grunge period. It was sort of the beginning of the era of the supermodel. There were a lot of artists. The East Village was a great backdrop. I think the real estate played a significant role in creating the vibe of Café Tabac—whereas 15 years later, the real estate of 58th and Fifth, with Pop Burger’s ultimate goal of commercial consumption, plays a substantial role.

Are you planning to expand beyond your second location?

Wherever it would work, I would like to see it.

Beyond New York? Chicago? Los Angeles? Philly?

I think it could work on every single college campus in the country.

Maybe not Oral Roberts University.

What, they don’t eat burgers at Oral Roberts?