Critters on Your Drink Cup

Zoo pics, aka Sonic drink toys

Here’s a memory so obscure that I could barely find anything on the web about it! That’s good news for the next curious seeker of obscure knowledge, because they’ll find THIS article.

Today, I write about little plastic critters that once lived on the edge of your styrofoam cup full of ice cold drink that was brought to your hands by a carhop, probably on roller skates.

We had a local chain in the Miami, Oklahoma area called Sonic. You’ve probably heard of them, they have since gone on to a much more nationwide presence. But in 1967, they were an Oklahoma phenomenon, and one of the things that they did to distinguish themselves from the competition was provide those incredibly brightly colored little mermaids, elephants, swordfish, monkeys, and a veritable menagerie of other creatures.

Perhaps you grew up with Sonic drive-ins. If not, I’ll bet a similar 1960’s eatery would decorate your drink with the miniaturized animals and such. They would profligate in kitchen junk drawers, along with matchbooks, 45 inserts, and other gewgaws too cool to throw away. They would also show up hanging from rear view mirrors, frequently in the form of monkeys linked tail-to-tail.

There was a scintillating quality to the drink critters that very few other give-aways could match. I mean, that bright blue, green, and red plastic was so gorgeous, with sunlight filtered through the windshield of a 1966 Plymouth Fury highlighting the delightful colors against that white styrofoam cup rim and those tiny crushed ice chips floating happily in the cherry limeade.

If you can remember them, you know EXACTLY what I’m talking about.

And the ploy worked, too. More often than not, I would convince my parents of the superior quality of Sonic’s food and drink and persuade them to go there for a meal on the go. But they knew that it was those amazing little plastic works of art that really drew me there.

You could buy Zoo Piks for your cocktail glasses in 1961

Who knows, perhaps they drew them, too.

So what happened? How did such a universally loved concept disappear?

The same way so many other similarly loved phenomena that we remember from our childhoods did. Through litigation.

Note this quote from the Wikipedia article on Sonic drive-ins:

In the 1960s, Sonic meals were always accompanied by a peppermint candy and small colored plastic animals called zoo-picks hanging on the side of drink cups. In small Southwestern towns it was common to see these Sonic zoo-pick collections on customers’ dashboards and rear-view mirrors until they were outlawed by consumer product safety laws as a choking hazard. The traditional peppermint candy is still served with Sonic meals today.

Aargh. I might have known.

I want to jump in the Plymouth with mom and dad and drive to the Sonic on the edge of Miami and have a huge cherry limeade, complete with a bright red monkey hanging on to the edge. And I want it to be 1967 again.

Oh well, I guess it’s time to put the Stones’ Let it Bleed on and get back to reality.

28 thoughts on “Critters on Your Drink Cup”

  1. I have told people about this for years and everyone always looked at me like I was insane. I vividly remember going to Sonic in Homer, Louisiana in the late 70s and getting the plastic animals. I loved the monkey and mermaid the most. Thank you for this post, because now I can show people that I’m not crazy and my childhood was better than theirs 😂

      1. Such a wonderfully written article on a childhood memory we are lucky enough to share. Thank you.

    1. My uncle worked at the Sonic in Springhill, LA. We always had plenty of these around my grandparents house in the late 70s and early 80s.

    2. I remember this also, but it had to have been the early 80s. I was born in ’77. I also remember Sonic serving nachos like you get at a Friday night football game. Good memories!

      1. Glad to see a comment about nachos! I was beginning to think I made that memory up. No one I’ve talked to ever remember nachos! Born I’m 79 here.

      2. I was born and raised in the San Antonio area. I was a kid in the up’s and remember the plastic animals that came attached to Sonic cups. The monkeys were a dime a dozen. They were elephants too, the camels to a lesser degree, but the giraffes were very rare. And I suppose the mermaids & bulls were as well because I have no memory of anyone ever getting those.

        What a fun memory. They seemed to make cherry cokes and strawberry limeades taste better.

        Even when you got a common, everyday red plastic monkey on your cup.

      3. I was born in 1959 and raised in the San Antonio area. As a kid in the 60’s I remember the plastic animals that came attached to Sonic cups. The monkeys were a dime a dozen. They were elephants too, the camels to a lesser degree, but the giraffes were very rare. And I suppose the mermaids & bulls were as well because I have no memory of anyone ever getting those. I have a vague memory of a plastic shark, too. Yes? No? Anybody?? Probably a symptom of post “Jaws” PTSD.

        And Sonic corporate stopped the practice because they were possible choking hazards? Seriously???? We watched Superman, Mary Poppins, that little Lucky Charms bastard fly. We never thought an umbrella or towel tied around our necks enabled us to soar across the sky. On the “Three Stooges”, I watched Moe Howard run hack saws across Larry’s head. He lead Curly around with the claw portion of a hammer in his nostrils. I knew I couldn’t do that to my sister—though I kinda wanted to.

        But Sonic critters? What a fun memory. They seemed to make cherry cokes and strawberry limeades taste better—even when you got the same commonplace, red plastic monkey as everyone else in the car.

    3. I literally just bought a container of these. I use them in my toy art lol. Didn’t realize they r from the 60s lol

    4. I was born in 1977 and I remember them too I’m 46 now and I’ve made the comment several times to some of the Sonic employees that they need to bring them back and they told me they have no idea what I’m talking about LOL

  2. These lived on until the early 1980s in NC. I recall visiting several Sonics and still getting the plastic cup adornments. Seems the litigious nature of the 1980s killed another good thing.

  3. OMG!! I remember these!! We didn’t have Sonics out here on the west coast in Cali, but there was an old-timey ice cream parlor called Farrell’s. They had a GIANT ice cream item called The Zoo. It was something you got turns birthday party. They would have sirens &!stuff and would run around the restaurant with this thing on a stretcher when someone ordered one. It had TONS of these little plastic animals all over it.

    I also used to get them with drinks I ordered at restaurants sometimes in Shirley Temples & virgin piña coladas. I remember the pink elephants, monkeys, giraffes and mermaids but not the bull or camels. There are places on Etsy that sell them—just google Zoo picks. 😁 Thanks for reminding me of a fun childhood memory! ❤️🤗

    1. Brings back good memories. Peeps thought I was making this up. Good to know it just wasn’t in my town. My favorite was the mermaids. You would only get them when asked for here or to go and you would have to say for here since they did not put lids on if you stayed there to drink it. If you said to go they put a lid and no trinket’s. I remember you would get a bigger giraffe if you got a large drink.

  4. I LOVED LOVED LOVED these little critters!!!!! I use to have a small collection of the monkeys. I was 18, lived in Kansas + Missouri at that time. They were my luck charms.💗

  5. I remember them in the late 70s early 80s at Sonic on my little town near Corpus Christi TX. My wife had no idea what I was talking about. Thanks for the article

  6. I wish I had a penny for every one of those “critters” I PUT on the Sonic cups 1976-1978!
    I, too, have people look at me like I’m insane (although there may be other corroborating evidence to the fact). Isn’t it amazing the simple things we took for granted and with we had had the good sense to put some of them in storage!
    Giraffe was always my fave!

  7. Oh, yes, I also had the whole collection strolling across the dashboard of my 1976 Datsun B210! Now if you remember those…..

  8. Thank you for your article. I was sitting having a Sonic drink, reminiscing about my days as a Sonic car hop and thoughtof these cup critters and of coursehad to investigate. I worked at a location in Yukon OK, still there and operational as far as I know. The best summer of my life as a young teenager, it was 1979, Trans Ams and Camaros. Great memories.

    1. I worked at a sonic in Yukon! Mid to late 80’s! I also remember drink critters. Especially the giraffe !

  9. I have a lot that I have saved fir many many years and to my surprise my friend Darlene Johnson Williams Smith sent me hers and received them today. It was a really good surprise and I gave my oldest granddaughter some of mine and she still has them… I will keep them as long as I can and then I want them to go to my grandkids……I think my friend and I have had at least 49 years. So happy I have kept them all these years 💙💙💙. Love them alot

  10. I workednot too far from the Sonics on Nova dr. In Davie Florida and went there twice a week. I would asked for the monkey until I had enough to put them on a string and hang them on my rear view mirror
    Then I started with the mermaids 🧜‍♀️. And so on.My girl friend thought I was nuts well kinda. GOOD MEMORIES!

  11. Such a beloved memory. I so wish I could find a place to purchase these delightful little critters to display on a shelf. I remember dad putting every one on the visor. Thank you for this walk down memory lane.

  12. When I was 4 back in 73, my big brother worked at sonic here in Lancaster, TX.. My mom would take me there for a slush after hours of playing in the sprinkler with my cousins. My brother would put whatever animal I liked on my cup. I felt so special!! He is gone now as are the animals and it is a lovely memory.

  13. Think I may have you all beat! I’ve had mine for at least 66 years! Mostly from Sa n Antonio and San Marcos TX. So sad that kids today won’t have the same fun experiences as we did back then.

  14. Ahhh, hot summer nights cruising 12th Street in Moore, Oklahoma! Coke with a shot of cherry drinks and a toy monkey, corn dogs and onion rings with lots of salt and ketchup! We actually talked to each other instead of staring at phone screens!

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