Remember the old soda fountain? If you’re my age (thirtysomething), and you’ve visited one of these wonderful old (and rare) havens, consider yourself lucky. When I was a kid, every spring break between the ages of 5 and 10 was marked with a trip, along with my grandmother, to Zaharakos Ice Cream Parlor in Columbus, IN. Back then, my beverage of choice was a cinnamon soda (cinnamon syrup, soda water, ice cream and whipped cream). Today, my tastes are more diverse. But I still love a good ice cream soda.
I’ve just wrapped up some delicious research for Virginia Living magazine on the history of the American soda fountain and its influences on Virginians’ modern beverage interests. In this state, the nostalgia prevails in places like Timberlake’s Drug Store and Soda Fountain in Charlottesville, Pop’s Ice Cream & Soda Bar in Roanoke and Goolrick’s Modern Pharmacy in Fredericksburg.
Here’s what I tried:
And, a pina colada soda made with toasted coconut ice cream from Artfully Chocolate Food & Fizz Bar in the Del Ray area of Alexandria. I pretty much devoured that one before I managed to take the picture.
The Black & White was my absolute favorite. Super decadent.
But there’s more to the story. Turns out, soda-fountain beverages were once potions designed to mask the taste of acrid medicine (and sometimes the “medicine” they included involved the real hard stuff – cocaine, for instance). That’s why they were located in pharmacies. Though food and drug regulation has all but done away with the most sinister of those potions, the artisan cocktails influenced by that period are alive and well … and catering to a new generation of “drinkies.”
Here are a few of my favorites from Fellini’s #9’s 9 1/2 speakeasy in Charlottesville:
And check out this awesome antique soda gun Fellini’s head bartender Jo Dunkle uses to top off her creations:
The soda-fountain era was a fascinating one in American history. If you’re interested in reading more, check out the book “Fix the Pumps,” by Darcy O’Neil, which gives a great overview of the evolution of the fountain and includes some awesome old-timey drinks recipes. One of my absolute favorite parts of the book is when O’Neil introduces the reader to soda-fountain slang (coffee was referred to as a “cup of mud” and “Break it and Shake It” meant adding an egg to a drink). O’Neil also recently posted some great info on the connection between soda and cocktails on his blog, Art of Drink.
Look for my article in Virginia Living this May.
Power to the sippers! Man, I love my job.