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.

10 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. 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. 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! ❤️🤗

  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…..

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *