June 20, 2014 1:23 pm

The soda fountain’s countertop classics make a comeback

The owners of a busy Brooklyn outfit explain why the fixture of 1950s Main Street America has re-emerged

We didn’t invent the soda fountain; we just welcomed it into the 21st century with love and reverence. When Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain opened in 2010 with our renovated Bastian-Blessing soda fountain, our lines were out the door. Almost a century after the fountain’s glory days, it appeared that folks were still thirsty for those countertop classics – the sundae, the soda and the ice-cream float. And the busier we got, the clearer it became that we had not opened a new place. We had opened an old place.

The soda fountain reigned supreme for more than 100 years, touching the lives of many Americans. We know this because we meet people every day who stop in for more than a treat. They visit because their grandfather owned a pharmacy, their uncle was a soda jerk or their parents’ first kiss was over a shared malt. They recognise the counter as the place where the Depression was easier to endure and Main Street was more fun. They see a place where socialising is done in real time and where kids are more engrossed in our counter than in their phones. They know a good tradition when they see one.

The Pink Poodle and Flatbush Ave.

Scroll down for method and ingredients

Recipes for refreshing sodas

Our 130-year-old building is not as fancy as some of the brownstones nearby; its brick melange exterior is more 1940s than 19th century. It shares a block with establishments long in the tooth: Italian social clubs, a barber shop and a pizza parlour. We’re one of the newest kids on the block – but tell that to our fans, who say walking into our place is like walking back in time.

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Gia Giasullo and Peter Freeman are the owners of the Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain; 513 Henry Street, Brooklyn, New York.

Reprinted with permission from The Soda Fountain by Brooklyn Farmacy and Soda Fountain, Inc. copyright (c) 2014. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Random House LLC. Photography (c) 2014 by Michael Harlan Turkell

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Who are you calling a jerk?

First known use of “soda jerk”, 1922, from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary soda jerk (noun): a person who dispenses carbonated drinks and ice cream at a soda fountain. Also called a soda jerker.

The Pink Poodle©Jason Andrew

The Pink Poodle (Photograph: Jason Andrew)

It’s one of our favourite aspects of the fountain – that we get to call ourselves jerks with pride and impunity. Originally, the guy who ran the soda fountain was known as a dispenser. As the term jerk entered the popular lexicon in the 1920s, some fountain owners frowned on a name they believed lacked dignity.

Miss Wahle, manager of several Kroger Grocery Fountains in Cincinnati, told her employees: “I will fire [you] quicker for using the term ‘soda jerker’ or ‘soda squirt’ than for anything else.”

At Brooklyn Farmacy, we think a jerk is an honorary title – to be bestowed on employees (and customers) of the highest order. In fact, if you come into our store wearing one of our Jerk T-shirts, you get a free egg cream. How is that for a jerk move?

The Pink Poodle

1 cup is equivalent to ⅓ pint or 240ml; 1oz is 30g

Ingredients
Makes one float  
¼ cup (2oz) hibiscus syrup
1¼ cups (10oz) plain cold seltzer or soda
1 scoop (4oz) vanilla ice cream
Hibiscus syrup. Makes 4 cups  
2⅔ cups (21.4oz) water
2⅓ cups (18.6oz) cane sugar
⅔cup (10z) dried hibiscus flowers
2 tbs plus 2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

The name for this float was inspired by the frothy pink tuft that appears when the hibiscus soda and vanilla ice cream meet.

  1. Pour the syrup into a fountain glass and add seltzer until the glass is two-thirds full. Stir gently with a soda spoon to combine.
  2. Then, scoop a very firm 4oz ball of ice cream and “hang” it on the inside rim of the glass. Add the remaining seltzer to fill the glass. Serve immediately.

Hibiscus syrup

Tart, sweet and a brilliant ruby colour, hibiscus soda will quench your thirst even on the hottest days. No wonder then that dried hibiscus flowers can be found most easily in markets catering to customers from warmer climes, such as Mexico and Jamaica. Some larger health-food stores may also carry dried hibiscus flowers.

  1. Put the water in a saucepan and pour the sugar into the water. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring gently from time to time to release any sugar stuck to the bottom of the pan. Cook until the sugar has dissolved, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the hibiscus flowers. Cover and let steep for 30 minutes. Pour through a strainer set over a bowl, pressing on the solids with the back of a wooden spoon to extract all the liquid. Let the syrup cool to room temperature, add the lemon juice and stir. Chill before using.
  2. Store the syrup in covered glass jars or plastic containers in the refrigerator for up to three weeks. The syrup may also be frozen for up to three months; thaw in the refrigerator overnight before using.

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Flatbush Ave.©Jason Andrew

Flatbush Ave. (Photograph: Jason Andrew)

Want a belly choker with that?

Soda fountain lingo and its sister tongue, diner jargon, are pretty much extinct languages these days. Even at Brooklyn Farmacy, where old-time is our idea of a good time, we don’t relay orders for Chicago with a side of balloon water or a leg off a pair of drawers.

But we’re perfectly aware that no history of the soda fountain is complete without a sampling of some of the terminology that was the native language of generations of jerks.

A few favourites:

Sweet Alice (Milk), Armoured cow (Canned milk), Adam’s ale (Water), City juice (Water), Belch water (Seltzer water), Balloon juice (Seltzer water), and ...

Boulevard (Ice-cream soda), Belly chokers (Doughnuts), Throw it in the mud (Add chocolate syrup), Family reunion (Chicken and egg sandwich), Twist it, choke it and make it cackle (A chocolate malt with egg), and ...

Burn one (Choclated malted milk), Huddle soda (One soda with two straws), Let it walk (Order to go), Leg off a pair of drawers (Pour a cup of coffee)

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Flatbush Ave.

This float combines two of our favourite things: egg creams and ice cream.

Makes one float

Ingredients
¼ cup plus 2 tbs (3oz) cold whole milk
¾ cup (6oz) plain cold seltzer
3 tbs (1½ oz) Fox’s U-Bet chocolate or vanilla syrup
1 (4oz) scoop chocolate or vanilla ice cream
  1. Pour the milk into a fountain glass and add seltzer until the glass is two-thirds full. Pour the syrup into the centre of the glass and then gently push the back of a soda spoon into the centre of the drink. Rock the spoon back and forth, keeping most of the action at the bottom of the glass, to incorporate the syrup without wrecking the froth.
  2. Then, scoop a very firm 4oz ball of ice cream and “hang” it on the inside rim of the glass. Add the remaining seltzer to fill the glass. Serve immediately.

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