Tag Archives: Walgreens

Americana: Soda Fountains

Technically, a soda fountain is the machine that dispenses drinks at a lunch counter. But it became the common term for the local hangout that served sandwiches and ice cream treats. Uploaded by lizrollphotography.blogspot.com.

Okay, those of you under 30 bear with me for a few moments. Long, long ago, before a Walgreens or CVS occupied every corner, communities embraced local drug stores. Besides dispensing prescriptions, they mostly sold over-the-counter remedies, along with a few extra items like writing supplies and batteries. But during their golden age, they also had a lunch counter that served sandwiches and ice cream treats. That section was called the soda fountain.

Uploaded by philadelphia.about.com.

Technically, a “soda fountain” is just the machine that dispensed drinks. But that became the generic name for the whole lunch counter. One of the main drinks that you don’t find much anymore was an ice cream soda, served with a mixture of chocolate syrup and carbonated water. And the guy behind the counter (seems like it was almost always a guy) was known as a soda jerk. Chances are tunes played on a juke box played in the corner, or maybe from a mini player on the counter.

I remember the counter at my drug store in the Stuart Gardens section of Newport News, Va. They’d make the absolute best chocolate milk shakes in one of those metal decanters; they’d fill your glass and leave the rest for you, too. No one’s quite sure what killed the soda fountain. Maybe it was the mega pharmacy, or maybe the deterioration of neighborhoods. Like drive-in theaters, a few of them still exist…and should be treasured as an irreplaceable part of American culture.

Food: Banana Splits

It wouldn't be easy to eat this all by yourself. Not easy, but worth it. Uploaded by micuisine.com.

It wouldn't be easy to eat this all by yourself. Not easy, but worth it. Uploaded by micuisine.com.

For a small town (2000 population: 7,634), Latrobe, Pennsylvania has a lot to brag about. It’s the original hometown of Rolling Rock beer. It was the hometown of golf legend Arnold Palmer and TV legend Mr. Rogers. And if that doesn’t do it for you, it’s also the town where the banana split was born. Now we’re talking.

It was created by one David Strickler, an apprentice pharmacist who worked in the Tassel Pharmacy’s soda shop. He loved inventing sundaes, and in 1904 he created one with three scoops of ice cream and a halved banana. It sold for the outrageous price of ten cents, and it was a hit with the students at the town’s St. Vincent College.

Uploaded to Flickr by Richard-o

Uploaded to Flickr by Richard-o

As you might expect, there are other jealous towns that said, “We did it first.” Boston, but they had one problem – they didn’t peel the banana! And Wilmington, Ohio – but they weren’t even original enough to be the first town named Wilmington, so they’re obviously copycats. No, Latrobe has been certified as the birthplace of the banana split by no less an authority than the National Ice Cream Retailers Association. And when NICRA speaks, they give the authentic scoop. “Scoop,” oh man, I crack myself up.

Supposedly, Walgreens helped make the banana split a national phenomenon by offering it as a feature dessert at its soda fountains. Let’s all take a moment and mourn the loss of the drug store fountain, a wonderful piece of Americana that today’s mega-pharmacies will never replace.

Split a banana lengthwise in a “boat” dish. Add one scoop of vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry ice cream. Top with pineapple or butterscotch (on the vanilla), chocolate syrup (on the chocolate), and strawberry topping (on the strawberry). Add nuts, whipped cream, and a cherry.

Oh, baby.