By Christina Liva
Despite being commonly associated with the simple life of the 1950s, the soda fountain saw its heyday at the turn of the 20th century. A bow-tied soda jerk was as skilled and serious as a modern day mixologist, custom-chipping ice cubes and swirling house-made syrups and bitters with seltzer pulled from the tap. By the time the bottle cap was invented and Prohibition came to an end, these ubiquitous national fixtures began to decline in number and popularity. Even many of the veterans quickly modernized, trading taps for machines, skill for convenience and local suppliers for big brands. Luckily, the institutions that have resisted change are joined by a growing list of new-school folks who are serious about reviving old-school ways, like New York’s beloved Bubby’s, which just opened a traditional fountain at the base of Manhattan’s High Line. Here’s a roundup of the best soda fountains across the country dedicated to keeping this all-American tradition alive.
1. Brooklyn Pharmacy and Soda Fountain, Brooklyn
Photo © Michael Harlan Turkell
Opened a few years back in a restored 1920s pharmacy, this modern fountain is a favorite neighborhood hangout, with old-timey knickknacks lining the walls, cola syrup made from scratch and kids sipping shakes at the counter overlooking the mirror-backed fountain. Don’t miss an original Brooklyn egg cream, made with the borough’s own Fox’s U-Bet syrup, Hudson Valley milk and seltzer jerked from the tap.
2. Leopold’s Ice Cream, Savannah, GA
Photo courtesy of Leopold’s Ice Cream
It’s no accident if you feel like you’ve stumbled upon a movie set inside this bustling soda fountain in downtown Savannah. Owner and Hollywood producer Stratton Leopold hired an acclaimed set designer to re-create his father’s soda fountain from 1919, complete with the original black marble fountain, retro neon window sign and wooden phone booth. There’s almost always a line for the old-fashioned fountain drinks and hand-dipped ice cream, including Leopold’s signature flavor, tutti-frutti.
3. Bubby’s Soda Fountain, NYC
Photo © Bubby’s Soda Fountain
It’s no surprise that Bubby’s, which has been hand-making colas for years, has launched a full-fledged soda fountain revival. Inspired by the innovation of the ’20s, Bubby’s extracts root beer flavor from sweet birch and sassafras for its classic float, macerates sour cherries for the Shirley Temple and crafts ice cream from a local dairy for its original sundaes.
4. The Ice Cream Bar, San Francisco
Photo © Nick Vasilopoulos
The signature alcoholic soda drinks make this1930s-style fountain as thrilling for adults as it is for kids. Thoughtful period touches like the porthole mirrors, black tiles and vintage lamps match the intense attention to detail on the menu. Everything from the ice cream, to the syrups, hot dog buns and waffle cones are made from scratch, while the phosphates and lactarts (sodas with a tart foam) follow pre-Prohibition recipes.
5. Shady Glen, Manchester, CT
Photo © Christina Liva
Originally a dairy farm, Shady Glen hasn’t changed much since 1948, when it started producing its own ice cream and operating as a soda fountain and luncheonette. The staffers don retro uniforms (down to the branded white paper hats), water is served in tiny waxed cups and the fountain remains the focal point of the room. Oh, and in 2012, the James Beard Foundation deemed the Shady Glen cheeseburger an American Classic.
6. La King’s Confectionary, Galveston, TX
Photo courtesy of La King’s Confectionary
It feels like a carnival inside this massive old building, where you can play a penny arcade game, ride a hobby horse, watch taffy being pulled on a 100-year-old machine, sample dime-store candy from the confectionary or order a root beer float from the antique soda fountain. This is currently the only place you can find Purity ice cream, Texas’s oldest and beloved brand. It’s made on the third floor.
7. Hillside Farmacy, Austin
Photo © Apple Box Images
The historic former drugstore has been beautifully restored in vintage chic, with white mosaic tile floors, copper-topped tables and framed old prescription sheets on the walls. But in a truly contemporary concept, the soda fountain in this farm-to-table restaurant is all about the cocktails. Artisan syrups are made from seasonal ingredients with spirit pairings to match, like the Country Doctor: ginger, fresh apple, cinnamon and either whiskey or applejack. Hillside Farmacy also serves ice cream from Coolhaus and coffee from Stumptown.
8. Blueplate, Portland, OR
Photo © Emily Pogozelski of Pogophoto
There are a few decade-old fountains still operating in Portland, but Blueplate is bringing back the old-school ways the others couldn’t hold onto. Syrups are made from fresh fruit and cane sugar, carbonated water comes from the gooseneck tap, ice cream is sourced from a family-owned dairy, and Americana classics, like a “better than the lunch lady’s” Sloppy Joe, are served at the counter. Don’t miss the locally grown–huckleberry shake.
9. The Franklin Fountain, Philadelphia
Photo courtesy of the Franklin Fountain
The two brothers who own and operate this Old City fountain are so devoted to history that everything from the antique marble fountain to the hot fudge cooked in copper pots to the homemade vintage ice cream flavors (ever heard of teaberry?) to even their period-appropriate mustaches heighten the neo-retro experience. They are equally fanatic about the authenticity of their phosphate sodas (soda with acid phosphate added for an extra bite) and the provenance of their ingredients.
10. The Pickwick, Greenville, SC
Photo courtesy of the Pickwick Pharmacy & Soda Fountain
Patrons perch on blue-upholstered swivel stools to watch as freshly squeezed orangeade and griddled sandwiches are made at the ’40s-style fountain inside one of the few independently operated pharmacies left in South Carolina. Opened in 1947, Pickwick closed the fountain in the ’80s to focus on prescriptions. In 2007, the third-generation owners, two brothers, found and restored a marble-and-steel fountain from a closed-down shop and brought it back to Pickwick, reviving a Greenville tradition.
See the rest of our picks for best soda fountains in the slideshow.