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Everybody takes the high road. But the low road can be a lot more fun.

A block down from Heidelberg’s Haupstrasse is the Untere Strasse, a narrow street packed with cafes, boutiques and absinthe bars. Revelers can be quite raucous and colorful late at night, and even at 7 p.m. on a recent Saturday, we encountered a man dressed in robes and carrying a crucifix.

We were heading to Pop Restaurant. We found our way inside the shiny silver door, sat at a booth and took it all in. There were crankshafts, drive shafts and struts. There was a Marilyn Monroe mural and framed poster of a chrome-laden ’57 Chevy. There was a glowing red bar, candles on the table, and tire treads on the stairs.

Pop Restaurant, with its nod to American pop culture of the past century, has been tucked away on the Untere Strasse since 1965, and still is regarded as one of the hippest places to go in the Heidelberg old town. And it’s open really late.

The kitsch is carefully done and balanced somehow with elegance and practicality. The bar, for instance, is lit from below, and there are hooks at every place for purses or jackets.

Were the Bee Gees singing “Staying Alive?” Yes they were, but at a low volume, and they were followed by Sonny and Cher and Dionne Warwick. I waited in vain for the Beach Boys.

Yet there are no burgers on the menu. It’s not at all a Planet Hollywood sort of place. Pop Restaurant serves Italian dishes. Pizza, pasta, risotto, meat and fish entrées all get their due, sometimes with a twist. In season, there’s a truffle pizza. Spaghetti Frank Sinatra is comprised of beef and shrimp in a tomato sauce, and there’s pasta with lamb ragout. The most expensive item on the menu — a beef filet in peppersauce served with shrimp, polenta and grilled vegetables for 35.50 euros — sounds worth it.

After we were seated in our cozy booth and started our dining experience, we saw that management paid serious attention to the quality of the food and drink on offer.

As befitting a bar, the liquor menu is extensive. Wine, from a variety of Italian regions, is sold by the glass or bottle. We ordered pinot grigio, which was delicious and arrived in a glass it took me both hands to hoist, and viewed the blackboard with the day’s specials. So hard to choose!

But first, our appetizers, off the menu: monkfish carpaccio for me; octopus and squid salad for my companion. Both were perfect: fresh, sweet, cold and lemony.

Our server recommended — and I ordered — spaghetti with clams for my entrée. My companion got baked Dorade. Both were yummy. The Dorade came with Spargel, the seasonal white asparagus popular in Germany, topped with ham and cheese.

I had to beg for extra bites.

POP RESTAURANTAddress: Untere Strasse; 69117 Heidelberg

Hours: 6 p.m. to midnight Monday-Thursday; 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. Friday and Saturday with hot meals until 11 p.m.

Price: Moderate

Attire: Casual

Reservations: Couldn’t hurt.

Information: Phone: 06221 25559; website:

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Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.
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