Archie and Veronica would never have moved a romantic muscle without first consulting each other over an ice cream soda at Pop's Sweete Shoppe.
The soda fountain was where the boppers were seen, where the after-school crowd gathered and discussed the merits of going steady over cherry cokes and french fries. Earlier in the century, the dress and conversation were different, but the soda fountain's function, as the American version of the European coffeehouse, was even more important. In those innocent times, it was a gathering place for adults and families.
There are certain prerequisites for a proper soda fountain: Ice Cream parlors don't count, especially new ones, nor do drugstore chains.
The best real soda fountains are in drugstores. The sodas and milkshakes are served in paper-cone cups with metal bases or in tall glasses with an extra-long metal spoon and a straw. (You always needed an extra straw if you ordered a thick shake. The first one would clog.) The jerks (pardon the expression) wear white paper hats and pimples.
These days, fast-food joints and ice cream parlor chains have made neighborhood soda fountains obsolete. Almost. A search through the District for living soda fountain nostalgia ended in disappointment.Nothing is as it should be. But if you still crave a banana split or a chocolate milkshake (a real one, not the kind that comes out of a machine in a mushy coil) there are a few places here where soda jerks still know the scoop.
According to the "Ice Cream Cook Book" by Earl Goldman, to make a proper ice cream soda you "take a small amount of vanilla ice cream and blend it thoroughly with the syrup in the bottom of a glass before adding the carbonated water. This way, you are first creating a flavored soda water." Using a chocolate or vanilla ice cream soda as a standard unit of measurement, several soda fountains in Washington have been checked out. None of them used Goldman's recipe; instead the glass was filled with syrup and soda water and a couple scoops of ice cream were plopped in. The Search
Schwartz's drugstore, at the corner of Connecticut Avenue and R Street NW, is definitely the creme de la creme , not only of soda fountains but also of drugstores. It's grubby, disheveled, dusty and the paint is peeling. The gray marble soda fountain has squeaky swivel seats covered in red cracked vinyl.
David Shapiro and his wife, who bought the drugstore in May, are not impressed with the Schwartz legend. They would like to fix the place up and get rid of the fountain. But some things are sacred - Dupont Circle area residents wouldn't stand for it.
"People don't want the store to change," Shapiro says."They like the dirt and peeling paint. It makes them feel secure. For some people this place is the only stable thing in their lives. A foreign correspondent came in here the other day and said that when all the correspondents get together they all know Schwartz's. I don't know why this place is such a big deal."
The reason it's such a big deal is the soda fountain.
The Shapiros commission the luncheon counter to Moe Fine, another new-comer. In a dignified manner, Fine whipped up a chocolate ice cream soda. The white Styrofoam cup bruised the taste of the float and the fake whipped cream was bland, but the mixture was perfect. The ice cream had little black specks of vanilla in it and a round blob of it orbited around the cup quite nicely (65 cents).
Stronenburgh's, 15th and K streets NW, on the other hand, was a disaster. The three horseshoe-shaped counters are marble and separated by mirrored pillars. The soda came in one of those tall old-fashioned soda glasses, but without a spoon. The spoon wasn't necessary. This concoction was made with frozen custard (no fair), except the custard wasn't frozen. The soda had the consistency of wet Kleenex and didn't taste much better (76 cents).
I'm not sure if Southern Drugs, 15th and H streets NW, qualifies because it is really a luncheon counter, but they have a big neon sign saying "SODA," so I went in. No soda jerks, just nice ladies in blue uniforms with white plastic aprons. They have cone cups in plastic holders, cola-Bottle-glass straw-holders that would make nice flower vases and real soda syphons. The ice cream soda that came in a paper cup was tasty, but they need to cool it on the syrup. It was topped with tasteless whipped cream. I also noticed that they make real iced tea in big pickie jars (81 cents).
The Park Lane Pharmacy's (21st Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW) soda fountain is made of gray-laminated plastic patterned with little boomerangs. Their chocolate ice cream soda had no whipped cream and the soda water had a strange kick to it. The scoop of ice cream was round and floated evenly, but there were little bubbles on the top that looked like New Jersey sea foam (60 cents).
After you squeeze past the mung beans and bran you will discover a soda fountain in the back of Vita Foods, 21th and F streets NW, a health-food emporium. They have the audacity to have an ice cream soda on the menu. It's a good thing, too. The soda was made sans chlorine - filtered fizzy water - so it tasted very good. Each ingredient (I had a chocolate ice cream soda "all the way") was crisp and distinctive, not too sweet. This was by fare the best, also the most expensive at $1.10.
I should have known when I was assaulted by the smell of fried grease that Quigley's, 2036 G St. NW would be the pits.I ordered the regular and got a glob of chocolate ice cream dumped in a glass of cola ($1.05).
The longest soda fountain in Washington must be Reeves Bakery, 1209 F St. Nw. The polished cherry-wood counter is accompanied by 88 wood and iron swivel stools; Tiffany lamps and big brass chandeliers hang from the ceiling. The ice cream was adequate (yummy ice cream), but Reeves doesn't have soda syphons (87 cents). A small loss. The atmosphere is romantic enough to save any shaky relationship.
Speaking of Shaky relationships, Pearsons Pharmacy, 2448 Wisconsin Ave. NW, could use a screwdriver to fix their stools. They don't just swivel; they wobble up and down. The charming gallery of Blue Plate Special signs will keep you occupied while you sip away on a scoop of ice cream swimming in a sea of dusty-tasting soda water (70 cents).
The severe final judgment: The only course is to make ice cream sodas at home. The Stuff
To do this right you should start with a good French vanilla recipe (see below). Real Golden Guernsey cream and free-range eggs from the P Street Store, 2120 P St. NW, sugar and vanilla will set you back $9.49. If you insist upon a hand-cranked ice cream machine, be sneaky. Use the Tom Sawyer method and enlist some help, so you won't be too exhausted to eat once it's made. If the able bodies are wise to this ruse, try an electric Waring Ice Cream Parlor available at Woodward & Lothrop ($31.95). Portion it out with a Zerol antifreeze scoop from Bloomingdale's ($7.50) into a glass 13-piece fountain set from Woodies ($15) and zap it with a squirt from a soda syphon from Bloomingdale's ($28). Add a maraschino cherry (with stem) and some whipped cream ($2.17), and you've got an authentic ice cream soda for only $94.11. That's for the first one. No charge for the rock salt and ice. FRENCH VANILLA ICE CREAM
(Makes 4 quarts) 2 quarts plus 3 cups light cream 6 eggs, beaten 3 cups sugar 1 teaspoon salt 4 tablespoons vanilla extract
Combine ingredients and chill in refrigerator before putting in ice cream freezer.
Note: This recipe may be made in ice-cube trays in your freezer. However, the results will not be as smooth. Make 1/4 of the recipe called for and freeze it in ice-cube trays until mushy. Remove partially frozen mix from the trays and beat it with an electric mixer until smooth. Pour backs into trays and freeze until solid. CHOCOLATE ICE CREAM
(Makes 4 quarts) 1 cup sugar 4 squares cooking chocolate French vanilla recipe
Dissolve chocolate in milk or cream when heating ingredients in vanilla recipe. Add extra cup of sugar to vanilla recipe. Use more or less chocolate to taste. To make bittersweet chocolate ice cream use 5 squares cooking chocolate and omit sugar. (From "Ice Cream Cook Book" by Earl Goldman, Copyright (c) Pacific Productions) HENDERSON'S REAL CHOCOLATE ICE CREAM SODA Draw 1 1/2 ounces of chocolate syrup into a sparkling 12-ounce glass.
Fill glass three-quarters full of carbonated water using the fine stream. The glass should be filled to a point where the contents will just come to the brim when the ice cream is added.
By tipping the glass so the carbonated water strikes the side you will avoid splashing, and by revolving the glass so that the water flows down on all sides of it, you will mix the water and syrup more thoroughly.
When a glass with a wide top is used, some dispensers use the coarse stream to finish off with, but this is unnecessary if the glass has been filled to the right height with the fine stream. If carbonated water is added after the ice cream, great care must be taken to prevent it from striking the ice cream, as that may break up ice cream or coat it with ice.
Add two small dips of ice cream, slipping it in gently so it will float and be visible when the drink is set before you. - From "How to Make a Chocolate Ice Cream Soda," Ice Cream Review 1940. CAPTION: Picture 1, Swensen's ice cream soda, By Harry Naltchayan - The Washington Post; Picture 2, A turn-of-the-century soda fountain, Library of Congress; Illustration, from "Ice Cream Cook Book," Copyright (c) 1970, Pacific Productions