Old-Fashioned Soda Fountains from Coast to Coast
©Copyright: 2011 VINCE COOK
Photo By: Vicki Liantonio ©Vicki Liantonio
Photo By: Robyn Lee via Flickr ©Flickr
Photo By: ©Nick Vasilopoulos
The Golden Age of Flavor
Soda fountains, malt shops — call them what you will. These diner-like establishments offer flavors and atmospheres reminiscent of an earlier time in America's culinary history. Housed in pharmacies, candy shops and department stores, the humble soda fountain thrived at the epicenter of many a neighborhood social scene during Prohibition. And while you can still find a tasty egg cream in a few family-run drugstores, the tradition has steadily waned since its heyday in the 1930s, '40s and '50s. Recently there's been a revival, with modern soda jerks (a term the apron-clad sweets experts wear proudly) bringing present-day culinary values — local, seasonal ingredients — to sodas, sundaes and more. And while many of the nation's finest fountains no longer double as active pharmacies, the decor and ambiance will have you fooled. From classic milkshakes to mountainous sundaes, here are 11 soda fountains dishing out sweets as if President Truman were still in office.
Photo courtesy of Max Falkowitz for Eddie's Sweet Shop, Queens, N.Y.
Independence, Missouri: Clinton's Soda Fountain
Funny enough, this old-fashioned soda fountain located a 20-minute drive from Kansas City operates out of the same building where a young Harry Truman worked his first job, at the Crown Drug Store. Beyond occupying a historic space, Clinton's is one of a dwindling number of soda shops where you can still order a phosphate — an old-school, effervescent soft drink that gets its signature tang from one key ingredient, phosphoric acid. Take a seat at the marble bar, and commence your visit with some of the classic diner fare — an oozing grilled cheese sandwich with a side of dill pickles, for example — then wash it down with a root beer or black cherry phosphate. Cap off your meal with Clinton's classic banana split, which comes loaded with diced pineapple, hot fudge and strawberries.
Photo courtesy of Clinton's Soda Fountain
St. Louis, Missouri: Crown Candy Kitchen
When was the last time you washed down a gourmet beef frank with a thick butterscotch malt? Whether your answer is "last week" or "never," you'll have an opportunity to experience these flavors and more of America's long-forgotten classics at this prewar diner and soda shop. Opened in 1913, Crown Candy houses St. Louis' oldest soda fountain and is one of the city's most-popular attractions to date. Step inside and you'll see why: There's a vintage jukebox, Coca-Cola collectibles and relics from every phase of this fourth-generation family-owned diner's history. Stop by for a stacked sandwich, a comforting bowl of chili and, of course, a hot fudge sundae. They even make their own chocolate candy, so don't forget a box to go.
Photo courtesy of Missouri Division of Tourism/Flickr
Little Rock, Arkansas: The Green Corner Store & Soda Fountain
When Shelley Green opened The Green Corner Store in 2009, it was high time to reconnect the historic space with its roots. Home to C.H. Dawson drug store and soda fountain for over 60 years, the C.J. Lincoln Building, now on the National Register of Historic Places, closed in 1967 and remained vacant for many years. In an effort to honor the American pharmacy tradition, Green teamed up with Loblolly Creamery to add a soda fountain in 2012 that offers old-fashioned ice cream treats and sodas alongside a full stock of locally made, eco-friendly goods. Pull up a stool at the counter or take a seat at one of the restored, wrought-iron ice cream parlor chairs at one of the round marble-topped bistro tables before digging into a piled-high sundae. High-tile ceilings, blade fans and the original tile floor complete the vintage feel.
Photo by Wil Chandler
Savannah, Georgia: Leopold's Ice Cream
Although Leopold's no longer occupies its original location on the corner of Gwinnett and Habersham, the original ice cream recipes have remained unchanged since they were perfected in 1919 by brothers George, Peter and Basil Leopold. Choose one of their classic scoops — you can't go wrong with the rum bisque or lemon custard — then decide how you want it served. You can get it in a cone, sandwiched between two baked-from-scratch cookies, blended into a milkshake, or submerged in a handcrafted fountain soda or a cup of hot espresso or cocoa. Fun fact: Famed lyricist Johnny Mercer grew up a block away from Leopold's and worked at the shop as a kid. His song "Tutti Frutti" pays homage to the parlor's most-famed ice cream flavor: rum ice cream with candied fruit and fresh roasted Georgia pecans, a Leopold's hallmark and a Savannah favorite.
Photo courtesy of Leopold's Ice Cream
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: The Franklin Fountain
Cross the threshold at The Franklin Fountain and you'll feel as if you've entered a Norman Rockwell painting. From the tin walls and ceilings to the porcelain mosaic tile floor, every inch of the space at 116 Market St. pays homage to an earlier time. It was these very architectural details that inspired Ryan Berley, a former antiques trader, and his brother Eric Berley to open an old-fashioned ice cream parlor and soda shop. Their blueberry ice cream, made from juicy local berries, is in high demand each summer, and the Hydrox Cookie — vanilla ice cream infused with cookie pieces — is a year-round favorite. Hydrox cookies took a back seat to Nabisco's Oreo when the chocolate cream-filled sandwiches were released in 1912, though they're still made for industrial use today. The Berley brothers own up to their bias; they grew up with Hydrox at their grandmother's house.
Photo by Vicki Liantonio
Washington, D.C.: Buffalo & Bergen
This sleek brunch spot in Washington, D.C.,'s Union Market specializes in handcrafted sodas, classic egg creams and ice cream floats. Stop by on a weekend morning for a comforting potato knish or a New York-style bagel sandwich, but be prepared for a bit of a line for a seat at the bar. Once you've grabbed one, treat yourself to a handcrafted soda made with one of 16 different flavored syrups, all made in-house. Classic flavors include black cherry, Coca-Cola and peach sassafras. Nursing a hangover? No problem: You can chase it away by adding booze to any of the old-fashioned creations available.
Photo courtesy of Buffalo & Bergen
New York City: Bubby's Soda Fountain
Mac and cheese, pulled pork, and chicken and biscuits are just some of the comforting, down-to-earth dishes you’ll find at this beloved diner in the Meatpacking District. In 2014, Bubby’s expanded its offerings by opening an old-fashioned soda fountain in the restaurant's coffee bar. The menu includes housemade coffee-sodas, cherry-lime rickeys, black cows and malts — a traditional soda fountain concoction containing malted milk powder. (This nonperishable drink mix has been around since the 1880s and is great for adding creaminess and depth to sweet dishes or drinks.) The sundae list is long enough to make your head spin, with options ranging from the standard banana split to one with warm cherry pie, vanilla ice cream and fudge. At the counter you’ll find all the same cookies, breakfast pastries and pies by the slice that have drawn crowds to the original Tribeca location for over 25 years.
Photo courtesy of Bubby's Soda Fountain
Brooklyn, N.Y.: Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain
Housed in a 1920s apothecary in Brooklyn's historic Fort Greene neighborhood, this classic diner and soda fountain has been drawing crowds from near and far with its charming tin ceilings, penny tile floors and nostalgic comfort food since it opened its doors in 2010. Take a seat on one of the twirling red-leather stools and read over the list of jaw-droppingly decadent sundaes while you wait for the soda jerk to come and take your order. If it's your first visit, consider the Affugazi Affogato (vanilla ice cream with a hardened chocolate shell over moist vanilla cake, drenched in piping-hot espresso). The Mr. Potato Head (a salty-sweet confection featuring vanilla ice cream, housemade peanut butter, warm caramel sauce and whipped cream) is also an excellent place to start.
Photo courtesy of Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain
Queens, N.Y.: Eddie's Sweet Shop
Cap off a stroll around Flushing Meadows-Corona Park with a trip to Eddie's Sweet Shop, a veteran soda fountain that's been whipping up massive sundaes since it opened in 1909. Despite switching ownership four different times, Eddie’s still serves the same housemade ice cream that keeps locals and tourists alike coming back for more. Current owner of the shop Vito Citrano attributes Eddie’s success and longevity to consistency and tradition. “Everything is the same as it was in the 1920s and 1930s,” said Citrano, whose father, Giuseppe, bought the store in 1968. The shop offers roughly 20 different flavors at any time and has stuck to more traditional flavors, such as chocolate, vanilla and rum raisin, instead of serving trendier and experimental flavors that many other ice cream stores rely on to draw a crowd.
Photo by Robyn Lee
San Francisco, California: The Ice Cream Bar
When owner Juliet Pries says everything at her 1930s-style soda fountain and lunch counter is made in-house, she really means everything, from the ice cream and waffle cones to the buttery breads used for sandwiches. (It is San Francisco, after all.) Placing a customized order isn’t simply allowed at this retro fantasyland — it’s encouraged. Dream up your own cookie-and-ice cream sandwich combinations to the rhythmic buzz of '50s swing music. The chocolate chip, peanut butter and snickerdoodle cookies pair perfectly with the morello cherry, banana pudding and caramelized honey ice creams, respectively. Pastry Chef Lori Rich draws visitors for miles with her mouthwatering ice cream flavors, and all of them are worth trying. But, as any Cole Valley resident will tell you, the roasted pineapple is a must-order (if it's available). The soda jerks will also serve boozy "remedies," as well as wine and beer, to anyone over 21.
Photo courtesy of The Ice Cream Bar
Greenville, S.C.: The Pickwick
Serving sandwiches, cherry cokes and prescription drugs to the local community since before World War II, this family-owned, family-run pharmacy and soda fountain is truly the last of its kind. Come in for a classic grilled cheese or chili dog paired with a cup of soup from the daily menu. True to South Carolina's ardent football culture, tailgating sandwiches can be preordered and picked up throughout football season. But regardless of whether you're settling in for a leisurely meal at the lunch counter or making a quick stop to pick up a sandwich order or prescription, ice cream should always be part of the plan. The three-scoop sundaes and banana splits are like a time machine for your taste buds, as each one comes decorated with a profusion of old-fashioned fixings: chocolate sauce, caramel sauce; diced pineapple or strawberries; wet walnuts or dry peanuts; whipped cream; and a cherry.
Photo courtesy of The Pickwick