THE LONE STAR STATE
...Where Soda Fountains Still Thrive
Diane Jennings is an exceptional writer for the Dallas Morning News. One of her
recent features undoubtedly took every reader on a nostalgic journey back to
younger days. MyBestYears.com asked to reprint her story, and she graciously
allowed us to do so.
Join Diane as she waltzes across Texas through ten very special soda shops!
Enjoy the trip, no matter where you live. Better yet, plan to visit some of these
special places on your next trip to the Lone Star State!
When regulars stroll into the Highland Park
Pharmacy, the waitress at the old-fashioned
soda fountain starts pumping syrup before
they slide onto a stool.
Strong Coke? Five pumps. Weak Coke?
Three. Add carbonated water, ice and stir, stir,
stir. The glory days of marble counters and
swivel seats may be gone. But the soda
fountain has yet to fade away.
These poignant pieces of the past – which
conjure up visits with Granddaddy for a
limeade – aren't just surviving. They're
thriving in small towns and big cities – from
the tony suburb of Highland Park to small
towns like Albany and Cooper.
"People will always have that sense of place
and want to preserve community," said Susie
Flatau, author of Counter Culture Texas,
published in 1999.
For her, "magic happens" because customers
talk to one another. And the experience
invariably takes the customer back.
"One of my fondest memories was on Sundays
going and sitting at the counter. It was a short
counter, just one single one, and had probably about 12 of the twirly stools," Ms. Flatau
The first Texas soda fountain opened in
Houston in 1839, according to the Handbook
of Texas. Today's fountains are rooted in the
confectioneries of the 1800s and the
pharmacies of the 1920s, where soft drinks
became popular during Prohibition. Pharmacies boasted soda fountains because
carbonated water was considered to be therapeutic. In fact, early soft drinks such as Coca-
Cola and Dr Pepper were touted as health drinks.
Some of the originals have survived for more than a century, while others have been
lovingly recreated. Here are ten Texas favorites:
1. HIGHLAND PARK PHARMACY - 3229 Knox, Dallas: Opened in 1912 and is now owned
by Sonny and Gretchen Minyard Williams, of grocery store fame because Mr. Williams has
been a customer since childhood, said manager Mary Mora. "This is where he got his
'scrips just because he could have a cherry Coke or a cherry milkshake," she said.
Fun Fact: The menu includes a goose liver sandwich and a "Palm Beach" or pimento
cheese. For a sandwich without lettuce, "hold the hay." For untoasted bread, "hold the
2. BIG STATE DRUG - 100 East Irving
Boulevard, Irving: Opened in 1948 and still
does a big business with an extensive menu
that including seasonal Frito pie, chili and
appetizers (appetizers!) such as hot wings and
mushrooms. The waitress may call you "hon."
Specialties include vanilla Dr Peppers or
chocolate Cokes. Fun fact: The building
originally housed a "haberdashery" in the early
3. SAN AUGUSTINE DRUG - 104 East Columbia Street, San Augustine: Founded in
1904; burned and rebuilt in 1988. Customers didn't ask if the store was being re-opened,
said co-owner Debbie Jackson. "They all said, 'Are you going to build the soda fountain
back?' " Home of the "Grapefruit Highball," a nonalcoholic drink invented by a soda jerk in
1928, whose secret recipe is passed from owner to owner. "We don't know why he called it
the grapefruit highball, because there's no 'high' in it," Ms. Jackson said. "There is
grapefruit juice in it, orange juice, a lot of sugar ... and the secret ingredient that only my
Dad knows and my husband knows. I don't know what it is – one last thing I have to know."
No food is served– only coffee, ice cream and popcorn. Fun fact: New customers are
greeted with a free highball served in a glass cowboy boot and a special napkin.
4. CALEB'S DINER - 125 North Beaton Street, Corsicana: Founded in 1905 as Hashop
Drugs, though the owner said it never included a pharmacy. Renamed frequently, but
never closed and always a local gathering spot. "We have a lot of regulars that keep us
going," said new owner Caleb Hollingsworth, who remembers visiting the fountain as a kid.
"I see the same people for breakfast every morning, I see the same people for coffee at 10.
... I could set my watch by when these people come in." Fun fact: An old pinball machine
operates on request. Menu favorites include potato salad and Dr Pepper shakes.
5. MILLER'S PHARMACY - 100 East Dallas Street,
Cooper: Opened in the 1920s and at its current location
since 1930; still operated by the Miller family. Menu
includes the Jim Ferguson (root beer) and the Ann
Richards (chocolate soda) because that's what those
politicians ordered on campaign stops. Also offered:
a Boo Boo – strawberry, cherry and grape syrup with
carbonated water – and a Dusty Road – an ice cream
sundae with malt powder. Jukebox still plays five songs
for a quarter. Fun fact: Waitress Mabel Wheat gave up
picking cotton 55 years ago to work the counter; still
rings up sales on a wooden cash register.
6. WEAVER-OATES PHARMACY - 104 South Main,
Albany: Opened as Sander's Drugs in 1927; burned
three years later, and legend has it that the fire was set
by a competitor. The original tile floor and stained glass survive; remaining fixtures date
from 1930. Some customers are so regular the waitresses "see them out front and start
mixing the drink," said owner Howard Todd. "They know if they want a weak or a strong
Coke, a cherry Coke or a vanilla Coke." Fun fact: Tables only, no stools – store never had
7. NAU'S ENFIELD DRUGS - 1115 West Lynn Street, Austin: Opened in 1930s and at its
current location since 1951; Shop boasts orange swivel seats and mint green counters. It
received a 2006 preservation award for maintaining Austin's heritage. Regulars can run a
tab. More tables were added recently. "It's their home," said manager Laura Labay,
daughter of the current owner. "A lot of people just want to sit and wait." Fun fact: Former
Dallas Cowboy Hollywood Henderson bought a winning $28 million lottery ticket here in
8. HAMLIN PHARMACY - 3801 South Staples Street, Corpus Christi: Opened in 1960.
A favorite of Ms. Flatau, because of its "peninsular" counters and regular customers. "They
all have their own little favorite stool, and if someone's sick, they leave it empty." Menu
favorites are chili and hamburgers, said store manager Karen Nicholson, daughter of the
founder. "We've had the same cook since 1960 ... and I think it's because we're cooking on
the same grill – the original grill. It's very seasoned." Fun fact: One of two drug store soda
fountains in Corpus; each was founded by a childhood friend and fraternity brother. The
competition remains friendly.
9. CITY DRUG - 104 East Belknap,
Jacksboro: The exact age is unknown, but
the current owners bought the store in 1960.
Orange counter, gray stools, handful of
booths. Traditional glassware is available for
tourists wanting that old time feel, but paper
products are primarliy used. The original
carbonated water setup is not in use because
of repair problems. Fun fact: Known for frozen
malts – vanilla ice cream with malt powder. "It's
kind of like maybe an ice cream custard," said
fountain manager Paula Flaming. "Somebody
started it way back when, and we've just kept
on making it."
10. LA KING'S CONFECTIONERY - 2323 The Strand,
Galveston: Not an original, but more authentic than most.
Opened in 1976 in a former hardware store dating to the
late 1800s, features a fountain from the 1920s. Designed
as a sweet shop and not part of a drug store. Store makes
its own ice cream and old-fashioned candy on site. Owner
Jack King grudgingly makes items to go. "I almost refuse to
put a sundae or ice cream soda in paper because of the
look of it. Ice cream sodas should never be served in
paper," he said. Fun fact: La King's "Purity" ice cream has
been made in Galveston since 1889.
OF THE DALLAS
|A special thanks to
Dallas Morning News
writer Diane Jennings
and video assignment
editor Irwin Thompson
for this soda shop