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Old-Fashioned Soda Fountains

Get your fizzy drinks and rich milk shakes at these classic fountains in the West.

little girl with a milkshake at Blueplate Lunch Counter & Soda Fountain, image
Photo caption
Blueplate’s P.R. Nelson shake gets a grin.

In the late 1800s, pharmacies began installing sit-down counters and mixing syrupy drinks that could mask the bitter taste of quinine and other foul prescriptions. Today, fizzy drinks and frosty milk shakes are in vogue again, as old-fashioned soda fountains mount a comeback.

Fresh fruits and spices flavor the syrups for the sodas and milk shakes at Portland’s Blueplate Lunch Counter & Soda Fountain. Specialties include the Chai Bomb (ginger, cardamom, black pepper, cinnamon, star anise) and the purple-tinted P.R. Nelson (aka Prince) with huckleberry ice cream and hibiscus syrup. (503) 295-2583,

Step up to the vintage fountain at Burch Creek Mercantile in South Ogden, Utah, for homemade fudge and a huckleberry ice cream soda spiked with blackberry syrup. Burch Creek, decked out with 1920s parlor chairs and green checkered tile, also features an array of retro candies. (801) 605-3384,

A mom-and-pop venture in West Yellowstone, Mont., the Eagle’s Store dates back more than 100 years. The owners still serve a classic chocolate sauce, made from Great-Grandmother Eagle’s recipe, in their sundaes, chocolate shakes, and malts. (406) 646-9300,

The famed City Drug huckleberry shake—named for the Main Street pharmacy in Ashton, Idaho—lures repeat customers to Five 11 Main, a 1920s soda fountain that is now also a pizzeria. Other classic thirst quenchers include the Cherry Ironport and huckleberry crème phosphate. (208) 652-2020,

Your first view at Huntridge Soda Fountain in Las Vegas is of turquoise walls, red vinyl stools, and checkerboard tiles. The surprise: This place is fully kosher, so no meat with dairy. Not to worry. You can pair your tuna melt with a s’mores sundae. Closed Saturday. (702) 382- 7373.

Natty soda jerks in an art deco setting at San Francisco’s Ice Cream Bar whip up shakes, malts, and floats using homemade syrups, tinctures, and herb extracts. Try such classics as real sassafras root beer or novelties such as Touch of Grey, with cream, acid phosphate, and candy cap mushroom syrup. (415) 742-4932,

MacAlpine’s Soda Fountain in Phoenix debuted in 1929 and over the years has been frequented by the likes of Wayne Newton and Frank Lloyd Wright. Today, soda jerks stir up 99 flavors of syrup. Dare to order a dill pickle soda, or pick the ambrosial red velvet cake shake or butterscotch malt. (602) 262-5545,

Photography by Robbie McClaran

This article was first published in July 2014. Some facts my have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.