It's a gallery, a restaurant and a live music venue -- because good things come in threes.
But I'll tell you this, when you first enter Pop Soda's you kind of need a moment to take it all in.
There is the semi open kitchen, featuring a counter to place an order alongside a glassed-in dessert case where Italian staples like cannolis (and a host of cakes, all baked that morning) share space with bottles of Fort Gary beer. There is the long, long, main café room with a row of benches (the kind you would find in an 80's/90s ski hill cafeteria) on one side while several mix n' match tables and chairs, which could accommodate several large tables of dinners, balance out the long space. As well all around, from the end of the main café area to the sprawling, adjacent gallery room, is a who's who of retro couches guaranteed to provoke lines like, "hey, my grandma used to have that chesterfield."
And because it is so big, and so long, it is quite dark. My visit on a sunny morning found me having to employ a flash on my camera, although admittedly I was smitten with the certain romanticism that is given off from the mish-mash of old (and possibly faux) glass chandeliers.
In short, the place would appear cavernous if it weren't so damn cozy. And that is the point.
"The reason we wanted to do this venture was because we really wanted to have a space where our daughter could come and hangout with us so we wouldn't have to put her in daycare" said co-owner Christine Boss with refreshing honesty. "So she was pretty much the driving force for us in getting the sheer size, so that she could learn to walk and run and we could have it be a child friendly place."
Boss opened the space in late September along with husband/chef Pelligrino Santorelli, and business partner Mardsen Flemming. Chef Santorelli's back ground is in Italian cooking (if the name wasn't indicative enough); with his last ventures being Tomato Pie and the Rogue's Gallery, both spots know for their solid southern Italian fare and eclectic art.
Pop Soda's continues that theme, although on a much grander scale where the food (which is quite lovely, try the rotolo of pasta) is buttressed in a space whose other primary concern is highlighting local artists and musicians. Indeed, almost every night of the week a band (or singer songwriter) will play a set on the sizable gallery stage while during the day artists can actually work on their works while sipping away on a latte.
But this is not a simple hipster haunt, as one can surmise after looking at the clientele, who have come as a bit of a surprise for Christine Boss.
"We were definitely expecting it would mostly be students because we are so close to the university, But we get all groups of people" said Boss. "Some are elderly folk from the Lions Manor who play bridge and have pies while men in suits have come to have business meetings. So we're really happy that all groups of people can kind of find comfort here."
But the eclecticism does not stop with the patrons. The walls themselves are a juxtaposition of established Manitoban artists alongside other works from amateurs who are simply looking for a space and an audience. Boss herself has added to the mix, having accented several tabletops with some intriguing decoupages.
"We never wanted it to be an elitist space. We never wanted it to be a curated gallery," said Boss. And while she does have final say as to what goes on the wall (no one has been turned away yet) patrons have freely debated displays featuring established artists beside unknowns.
The performers too range from established musicians to those just getting their start.
"At first, we wanted it to be a sort of busking stage, so that people that didn't necessarily get the chance to play in really good clubs or bars could kind of get their start here, jam out, and put themselves out there," said Boss. The Pop Soda's website lists upcoming performers, although it does not cover all, as musicians regularly drop in to play for whoever is listening.
While I was there for lunch Andrew Courtnage, aka Smoky Tiger, walked in with organ in tow and proceeded to play a surreal, elongated version of Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne" as patrons trickled in from the cold.
With the space being so egalitarian, with the feel of one large living room (replete with shelves of books to browse through and board games to play) where you can dither the day away, I had to ask Boss about making ends meet. As essentially, here is a business where you can spend hours without really spending anything.
"We are not here to chase the dollar," answered Boss. "Obviously we have to sustain ourselves, because we want to be able to offer this to the community for years to come - but I guess measuring success is through the compliments and the excitement that we feel from people that come here and the shows that we have. And I'd say in that aspect we are very successful."