REALLY COOL PLACES — Soda fountains bring back warm memories of good times & frosty concoctions. Fountains had their heyday from about the 1920s until the 1950s.
Soda jerks clerked at these hotspots. They earned their name from jerking fountain handles forward to draw soda water into a mug. Shining with marble, metal, & glass, the numerous spigots & taps spewed forth carbonated water, ice cream, and syrup. Soda jerks mixed such frothy brews as strawberry floats, cherry Cokes, banana splits, double chocolate malts, and black-and-white sodas.
During the Twenties, refrigeration allowed operators to serve entire meals, not just ice cream & other snacks. Therefore, fountains popped up in many department stores, five-&-dimes, luncheonettes, and groceries. They seemed to be all over the River City, according to Jax resident Jack Fry, who moved to the city as a toddler in 1925. Riverside soda fountains could be frequented in stores in Five Points and in the pharmacy at Park & King streets. They also operated in Murray Hill in an Edgewood Avenue drugstore and in the downtown area in the department stores near Hemming Park.
One fountain drew customers in an Avondale pharmacy on St. Johns Avenue, that is, in the business district occupied by trendy shops & antique stores. During the Thirties, it served what it called a “light lunch,” a paper cup of vanilla ice cream & chocolate syrup. Another well-known treat could be bought at Berrier’s, which operated a soda fountain on Main Street and another on West 8th. It mixed Spinning Wheels — mammoth, multi-flavored shakes that your date expected to share with you.
A Northside soda venture is fondly recalled by a local lady who was an Andrew Jackson grad in 1936. A Quencho beverage shop provided curbside service at 22nd & Pearl. Although her family struggled financially during the Depression, it occasionally visited Quencho’s during the late Thirties. They enjoyed large, frosty mugs of root beer & ice cream for five cents apiece. The establishment provided mini-root beers for the wee ones in the car, and it later added ham sandwiches to its menu. As the lady remembers, male carhops — never females — served the food & drink during this time.
When she was in high school, the lady & her girlfriends sometimes saved their lunch money for after school excursions. Basically, they rode around downtown in whatever car they could wrangle space in. The young women visited with other teens who were doing the same thing. The young people wanted to see and be seen, and the downtown soda fountains sometimes provided another venue for this.
A BAY STREET FOUNTAIN — More memories of soda fountains have come from First Coast native Jack McGiffin. (He was in his eighties during the 1980s, according the book It Ain’t Like It Was in the Good Old Days… No, and It Never Was.) As Mr. McGiffin recollected, one of the most popular soda fountains was in Jones Drug Store at the corner of Bay & Main. During the early 1900s, Mr. McGiffin was sure that its soda fountain earned as much money as the rest of the business. Jones Drug Store eventually relocated to Laura Street and became even more popular with the addition of lunches.
Mr. McGiffin’s earliest recollection of a drug store was when his father took him into the Bay Street location for the Jones establishment. His pop bought him a fifteen cent soda, quite a big deal to the tot. But then, disaster struck! Standing too short, young Jack couldn’t see a gap between the marble bar top and the counter behind it. When he grabbed the drink, it tipped down into the space between and spilled all over the disappointed child.
According to Mr. McGiffin, nevertheless, soda fountains were indeed cool places. Drug stores always seemed cool inside, even prior to air conditioning. Large fans, with blades 48 to 52 inches wide and fire or six inches wide, slowly turned below the ceilings, circulating a lot of air without creating a draft. Not surprising, these became known as “drug store fans.”
~written by Glenn Emery