Before canned soft drinks and fast-food restaurants, back in the days of hand-cranked cars and Prohibition, there was the soda fountain.
Even after the fizz of a Coke was just the pop of a bottle top away, drugstore soda fountains - all chrome and counter stools – remained community fixtures. In small-town Missouri, well into the 1950s and 1960s, where else could you experience the social scene and special-order a chocolate soda with just the right combination of carbonation and syrup?
In most towns, soda fountains went the way of poodle skirts and saddle oxfords not long after drive-up and drive-through eateries moved in.
Yet, in a few Missouri towns, the chromes, counter stools, and carbonation are back.
And so are the customers.
Click on the links for more information about each soda fountain including location, hours, phone and specialties offered.
In the 1950s, David Norman could be found almost every day at Ava Drug Company. His father, Boone Norman, Jr., happened to be the pharmacist and owner of the family business, but that wasn't all that attracted his teenage son. Flagged by a neon sign off the square in this Douglas County town, the drugstore was a gathering spot for many of David's friends, who stopped by after school and Saturdays.
"In those days, you had forty-five minutes or an hour for lunch, and all the kids came down here for lunch," David Recalls
David became a pharmacist himself, returning to Ava to work alongside his father and brother. With the store's 1982 modernization, he took out the soda fountain, installed in 1950 when his grandfather, Boone Norman, Sr., was also a practicing druggist.
It was a decision he always regretted, he says, especially when his father, who opposed the fountain's removal, died three years later. In 2003, David, who had sold the pharmacy in 1991, bought it back and set about restoring the fountain. Luckily, the man who installed the original twenty-eight-foot-long counter and fifteen stools could still recite their measurements. The company that created the original neon sign still had its specifications. The creator of the original chicken, ham, and tuna sandwiches and the burger and coney sauces had handed down her recipes.
Today, red-smocked servers replace the white-capped soda jerks seen in historic photos on the drugstore wall. However, from its original cash register and 1952 Seeburg jukebox to its retro sign and rolled-back prices (soda, milk, and dips of ice cream sell for a nickel or a dime), those who remember tell David it is exactly the same.
Better yet, it's a social hub for a new generation. "About the time school's out, at three-thirty or four, this place will be full of kids," David says.
WIth a black-and-white checkerboard floor, red pendant lights, and 1950s memorabilia from Coca-Cola to Marilyn Monroe, the Bradbury Bishop Deli & Route 66 Diner in downtown Webb City harks back to its heyday – even though the occasional 1970s or 1980s oldie slips into the music.
Event the menu serves up a bit of nostalgia and history with its list of phosphates, lemonades and limeades, and cherry, vanilla, and chocolate sodas.
As they stand, the deli and soda fountain have been in operation since 1988, but the first soda fountain, a wooden one, was built in 1927 when C.S. Bradbury was a pharmacist of the Electric Drug Co.
In 1931, he partnered with son-in-law and fellow pharmacist Harry Bishop to form the Bradbury Bishop Drug Company, and the current establishment is its namesake. A stainless steel fountain replaced the wooden one in 1945. Today, the mid-century fountain is for display only, but servers still pump the carbonation to make the pop.
The diner is a draw for travelers making their way along historic Route 66, especially classic car owners who cruise through on the second Saturday of every month.
It's also a favorite among locals, says Ana Gutheil, proprietor of the restaurant for the last six years. "It's just the same loyal people who have been here before me and will be here after me," she says.
With twelve stools and a century-old restored soda fountain situated on the corners of Clinton's Historic Downtown Square, Breanna's Old-Fashioned Soda Fountain and Grill is one of the largest operating fountains left in its original location in the United States, according to owner Jennifer Shadwick.
Jennifer has $126 to start the business in 1994, when she bought the 1887, three story building that once housed Diamond Drugstore and named it after her now-twenty-one-year-old daughter. In addition to owning a nearby coffee shop, she was pregnant with her son, Spencer, and her husband, Rick Harper, worked in Kansas City.
Since restoring the old fountain "just a little bit at a time," Jennifer says she and her family have become knowledgeable, thanks to observation and word of mouth, about making old-fashioned sodas and phosphates. And she distinguishes between the two: "When you say, 'I want a soda' that doesn't mean pop. That means an ice cream soda. It's a very different process."
Counting homemade root beer, sarsaparilla, and her son's "inventions," Jennifer says, "there's probably two hundred or more treats and eats you can get in here, and we also have a grill."
Besides the soda fountain, penny candy in glass jars and decor dating from the 1930s through the 1950s attract a lot of tourists. Jennifer says babies to centenarians and visitors from every state in the union have visited the business.
Here are more soda fountains to try:
Fresh-squeezed orangeade and cherry phosphates are two favorites from the 1916 soda fountain.
While a model train makes its rounds on a track about the soda fountain, milk shakes, sundaes, smoothies, and more are served at the store, family-owned since 1937.
Coca-Cola is concocted the original way at the fountain of this large antiques and collectibles dealership.
Fountain treats and a famous "nickel cup of coffee" are two attractions here, where a soda fountain has been in operations since the 1950s.
Buy an old-fashioned phosphate to go along with a cheeseburger or steak at this antique soda fountain.