Be a (Soda) Jerk

Watson Drug & Fountain

Growing up (and when I go back for visits), trips to the Dairy Queen (I’ve been made fun of for saying THE Dairy Queen, but coming from a place that got it’s first stoplight when I was in high school, and to this day only has two, you use such prophetic sentence structure) were a common occurrence. My Dad has never had to ask what I want. It is an unasked and understood knowledge: a chocolate malt. I am a malt monster. I have a thirst for malty goodness that is never fully quenched. That subtle chocolate flavoring, the creamy yet flaky texture, the cold abundance dancing across the tongue . . .*wipes drool off chin* Pardon me. As I was saying, I love malts. I have a bit of a ritual with them, I like eating part of it and then preserving the rest in the freezer for a day or two. It transforms into a crunchy-melt-into-creamy excellence that is unmatched.

While most of my malts had come from the Dairy Queen, they were a staple of diners and soda fountains back in the day. There was a soda fountain in my hometown, Kingsolver’s

How many people do you think we can squeeze into that booth?

Pharmacy on the town square (also the place I would buy my candy cigarettes. Inappropriate candy? Perhaps, but they were oh so yummy). A place frequented when I was allowed to stay after school to walk to the public library. (I lived in the country, and was a bus hostage.) I long for these types of places now.

There are very few surviving today. It’s really quite sad, and makes me wish I could buy a drugstore and make sure I preserved (or restored) a soda fountain in it, and kept it as true to original as possible. I would even make my employees wear the little hats. And vests. No, wait. Aprons. No, vests. Yeah, vests. The red and white striped ones.

There are only four operational soda fountains in all of California. I made a trip to the closest one to me, Watson Soda Fountain & Lunch Counter. It’s red, black, and white decor is pleasing and oozes of nostalgia. However, as a whole, it felt a little commercial-ly and touristy. I can’t really blame them though, they are, after all, the only soda fountain within hours. My view is probably a bit skewed, as I want full authenticity. I’ll be honest, I didn’t actually order anything here, so I can’t speak to the quality of the food. I went for the view and atmosphere (and photos). For actual consumption, I prefer my local malt making establishment (my kitchen).

Preparation soundtrack:

What you’ll need:

  • 3 -6 scoops of ice cream
  • 5 ounces milk
  • 1 tablespoon malted milk powder (I usually use more)
  • 1 1/2 ounces chocolate syrup

*I don’t follow this recipe exactly. But I figured an official recipe is probably more desired than my crazy way of doing it. Basically, everything is the same, except I don’t use chocolate syrup, but a dash of vanilla extract (I know, it sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s how I always make them. And they’re fabulous.). And I don’t measure anything.

> Put the milk, malt powder, and chocolate syrup, in the blender, and then. . . you know, blend. Add ice cream, and blend some more.

> Also, you can use different flavors of ice cream. Strawberry is yummy and pretty (I use the original malt powder for it though), and my personal favorite is mint chocolate chip. Minty heaven!

> Pour into chilled glass, add straw, and slurp. (And don’t forget the french fries to dip in it!)

And you’re done! It’s so simple, yet so delicious!

Now that we have this, let’s do it right, and set the picture in the 1950s with red covered swivel stools, soda jerks with paper hats, and girls in poodle skirts, saddle shoes, and pony tails. . .

24 thoughts on “Be a (Soda) Jerk

  1. Thanks for the recipe for making a malt. It is so simple, that not even I could mess it up.

    Sad to see so few soda fountains remaining. I still remember the distinctive taste of a cherry coke from a soda fountain. Still haven’t duplicated that taste after years of trying different brands of cherry coke.


  2. I followed your link and cannot believe there are even a few soda fountains remaining. I thought the last one closed when Ellie Walker left Mayberry. Incidentally, I understand hats make you swoon but still, you can’t force people to wear them. Especially paper hats.


    • OH YES YOU CAN!!!!!

      A uniform is a uniform code; you hire accordingly; “This is our contract, our UNIFORM. If you do not agree, do not seek work here…btw, the tips are killer big, 58 people are in line for this job…today. 58 More will apply tommorrow. A requirement is a paper hat and a striped vest.”

      “Want the job or not? Yes? NO?”

      “If yes, here’s the rules. Wear said uniform. Be clean. Cut your hair. Stay clean-shaven. Show up sober and straight.”

      “Don’t like the rules? A ditch digger down the road is hiring. You can work as dirty as you like. No vest, no hat. Live it up!”

      Do not like your reply that your not allowed to require hats and vest…if an employer changes the rules after the fact, however, that’s different.

      The idea employers cannot make appearance demands as per uniforms, in advance of hiring, (think sluts at Hooters) is just silly. And might explain why customer service is so very awful these days. Kids rolling their eyes at you, angry that you ever showed up to interupt their “study hall” of a job. Nobody is supposed to make demands or requirements of employees? That is just preposterous! I have a hard time comprehending why employers keep these real ‘jerks’ on payroll.

      A nice example of soda ‘jerk’ may be seen in “It’s a Wonderful Life” with the scenes surrounding Jimmy Stuarts youthful character, circa 1920’s maybe(the scene…or earlier)?


        • Oh, I know, it was toward a commentor, not you. I had to wear uniforms in some restaurant jobs in my past, and it made my life easier. And I was engaged to a naval officer -more uniforms daily. And my father was in the Naval reserves for years, and I loved the summer whites.

          I don’t know why I reacted so, well…severely? Let’s just say, such reactions are ‘old fashioned’ and just go with the territory of nolstalgia.

          Loved the post. When I was very little, there was one last old fashioned drug store with a soda fountain counter, right next to an old movie theatre, which used to be a live theatre. I worked there as a teenager, and though the balcony was closed then to audiences, I could take my dates up there and have it to ourselves, with free popcorn, and tiny dixie paper cups full of 25 cent soda.

          Your blog triggers so many memories!


  3. We had a soda fountain/store back in the day which was in the center of town and the starting point for most folks’ days before going to work…a place for kids to go after school let out…and a location for finishing off your day with something way too high in calories and way too good. It had a rhythm to it each day and a clientele that always could be counted on to be there at a certain time, hanging out with certain folks. Not making malt drinks these days but am working on a heavy dose of malted easter eggs…


  4. Suddenly, you speak of…DINERS!

    I lived in California for years, loved it, then returned to my native New Jersey (hold your breath, somebody might get their hair pulled!) Oddly, perhaps due to their unwillingness to change, you still have the mecca of diners here in Jersey. Much fewer than even ten years ago! Yes, they are fading, even here. I mean, I worked at a place with chrome frontispiece, mid-century, boomerang-formica counter, mint green Hamilton Milk Shake machines…but, in just a few short years – (we were HUGE holdouts) – these diners are now owned by Greeks and Turks. And remodeled. To look boring. They serve weird deserts and treat American women like whores. I know, I worked there 12-15 years back.

    An abundance of french fries, sometimes served in red plastic fry baskets, lined with brown paper or parchment. Most meals had a pleated 1 ounce paper cuplet on the side of the platter filled with wilting cole slaw. The pickled beets were especially popular. NEVER trust the tuna salad! “May I take your order please?” written on pale green lined receipt books with cobalt blue carbon copy paper in-between layers. We kept one for the bill, turned the carbon copy into the kitchen…no computers!

    I mean, only 12 years ago!

    Yesterday, my neighbors 16 year old daughter with her mother informed me she just got a job at Sonic burgers….they deliver the trayson roller skates to parked cars, who order into a speaker in their parking bay! 1950’s style! I must go get some photos! Will post on my blog one day and let you know…

    In fact, the diner scenes in the beginning of the Ben Affleck film, “Jersey Girl” (with Jennifer Lopez as the Jersey Girl) was shot 20 minutes up the road from me, in Berlin New Jersey. Kelly Ripka of morning talk show fame is from Berlin!

    Time to make a note to make an upcoming post accordingly!


  5. 1) I spent two summers in New York, and found my way to several pretty authentic diners in northern New Jersey. It’s sad to know that they are slipping away there, as well. 2) We have Sonic in my hometown (it’s been there as long as I can remember), but I don’t remember any of the carhops wearing roller skates. Boo.


  6. there is a soda fountain at steve’s sundries in tulsa. its been around a long time. steve’s is one of my favorite stores … mostly a book and magazine store, with calanders and other stuff. they make great malts there too. its on harvard avenue, near the BA expressway, in a little strip mall.


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