The words “soda foundation” conjure up a nostalgic image of marble counters and swivel stools, egg creams and ice cream sundaes, soda jerks in paper hats, and 1950s first dates. Although the classic drugstore soda fountain reached its peak from the 1920s through the 1950s, some diners, ice cream parlors, and pharmacies in New York City have held onto their vintage decor and a traditional menus. The Covid-19 pandemic forced many beloved mom-and-pop shops to close their doors, including the century-old East Village soda fountain Gem Spa, known for its legendary egg creams. However, traditional soda fountains continue to survive and provide sweet treats and sweet memories to New Yorkers. Visit these nine legendary soda fountains for an unforgettable taste of old New York.
1. The Lexington Candy Shop
The Lexington Candy Shop at 1226 Lexington Avenue, located just three blocks from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, celebrates its 98th birthday in 2023. Opened in 1925, the oldest family-owned luncheonette in New York City was last renovated in 1948 and maintains its original appearance, with coffee urns and a Hamilton Beach milkshake mixer dating to the 1940s. John Philis, the grandson of the original owner, still greets customers to this day, lending the restaurant a homey feel.
Since 1948, the luncheonette has continued to serve up traditional treats and classic meals such as butter burgers and milkshakes. The restaurant uses only locally sourced and traditional ingredients such as bread from a 1916 bakery located a few blocks away and ice cream from Bassetts Super Premium, a company founded in 1861. Lemonade and orange juice are freshly squeezed, real malt powder is used for egg creams and malteds, and syrup for Coca-Cola is poured from a 1940s pump. Customers can choose from a wide selection of breakfast foods, sandwiches, and burgers, as well as frozen treats from a traditional soda fountain. With its vintage signs and iconic interiors, the luncheonette has not only been featured in several movies but continues to attract a loyal customer base, many of whom have patronized the Upper East Side restaurant for decades.
2. Eddie’s Sweet Shop
The oldest ice cream parlor in New York City, Eddie’s Sweet Shop opened in Forest Hills, Queens in 1925 and has been serving its iconic ice cream for nearly a century from its location at 105-29 Metropolitan Ave and 72nd Road. The current owner Vito Citrano inherited the shop from his father Giuseppe, who purchased it in 1968. The restaurant maintains its vintage appearance, with an original wooden and marble interior and an 80-year-old store refrigerator.
Since taking over the store, the Citrano family has added eight new flavors to the menu, including butter pecan, maple walnut, cherry vanilla, vanilla fudge, banana, and mint chip. The 18 flavors are made using original recipes and the ice creams are hand-whipped with vintage equipment The syrups and whipped cream toppings are also made by hand. Other classic treats include egg creams, banana splits, milkshakes, and ice cream soda. The shop’s classic Coca-Cola signs and vintage interior, including a pressed tin ceiling, tiled floors, wood-topped swivel stools, and marble counter, create a time capsule of a bygone age.
3. Brooklyn Farmacy and Soda Fountain
The Brooklyn Farmacy and Soda Fountain at 513 Henry Street was founded in 2010, but its interior dates back another century. In the 1920s, the building served as an apothecary. The current owners, siblings Peter and Gia, designed the restaurant as a recreation of an old-fashioned soda fountain. They preserved the pressed tin ceiling and tiled flooring inscribed with the name Lonco’s Pharmacy and installed century-old cabinetry to showcase vintage glass drug and capsule bottles. Many of these items, such as Bianca breath drops, vintage Advil and Old Spice products, and old-fashioned electronics, were discovered still perfectly preserved in the basement when the siblings opened the shop.
The soda fountain features a counter with old-fashioned swivel stools and shelves filled with artisanal candy and chocolates, caramel wafers, and chewing gum. Soda jerks dressed in 50s-style uniforms serve up a variety of desserts, including homemade blueberry pie, egg creams, sundaes, ice cream sodas, and ice cream from Adirondack Creamery. Frozen treats are prepared in a Bastian Blessing soda fountain purchased from Ebay, and shelves behind the counter display vintage glassware still used to serve ice cream products today.
4. Floral Park Diner
Located at 142 Tulip Avenue in Floral Park, Queens, this diner (formerly Dee Dee’s Luncheonette) is a local favorite serving traditional diner food for reasonable prices. A classic 1950s interior features a counter with swiveling leather stools and a vintage neon green sign advertising a soda fountain, shakes and desserts, and draft beer.
Floral Park Diner’s specialties include chocolate chip pancakes, baked skillet mac and cheese, and their Country Scramble. Their breakfast offerings are extensive, and their lunch menu features classic burgers, sandwiches, and wraps. The traditional soda fountain offers up egg creams, sundaes, ice cream sodas, and milkshakes. Bringing 50s flair to the outer boroughs, the diner offers classic New York diner food in a perfectly preserved vintage interior.
5. La Bonbonniere
Despite its slightly faded sign and unassuming appearance, La Bonbonniere is a New York favorite, an old-fashioned luncheonette with a soda fountain, snack bar, and extensive menu. Located on Eighth Avenue near 12th Street, it has attracted a famous clientele and serves up all-day breakfast, milkshakes, omelets, and its famous burgers. A West Village favorite, the restaurant is cash only, a throwback to neighborhood diners of the past.
La Bonbonniere is best known for its breakfast items, including pancakes, French toast, omelets, bacon, and milkshakes. Although it can get crowded on weekends, the service is quick, and it attracts legions of devoted locals. A pay phone still hangs on the wall and an old-fashioned blender sits near the register, symbols of the restaurant’s storied past.
6. Dichter Pharmacy
An Inwood neighborhood favorite, Dichter Pharmacy includes a black and white tiled floor, a counter with swivel stools, and an old-fashioned soda fountain. Vintage signage lists ice cream flavors and menu items. The current owner Manny Ramirez had his first job at the pharmacy in the 1980s, sweeping floors and stocking shelves, before eventually purchasing the store from his mentor.
Now, the restaurant serves as a community gathering space, hosting parent groups, poetry readings, classical music concerts, and local sports teams. Community forms the backbone of Dichter’s operation. In 2012, the entire pharmacy burned to the ground but reopened a block south just two weeks later with support from the local community, who helped to rebuild the store and pay for a new awning. In addition to running the soda shop and hosting social gatherings, Ramirez operates the space as a working pharmacy for the local community.
7. Ray’s Candy Store
Ray’s Candy Store, located at 113 Avenue A in the East Village, has been a local favorite since Ray Alvarez opened the store in 1974. Born in 1933 in Iran, he immigrated to New York City in 1964 and worked as a dishwasher for a decade before purchasing the store for $30,000. Serving candy, egg creams, beignets, and more, Ray continues to operate the store, even sleeping in the back at times.
In November 2022, Ray’s employees launched a GoFundMe to throw him a 90th birthday bash and recoup the store’s losses from the Covid-19 pandemic. His big birthday was on January 1st, 2023. The business has been an East Village staple for nearly fifty years, featured in Humans of New York and praised by Anthony Bourdain. It continues to serve up an eclectic variety of food and desserts, including classic soda fountain favorites like milkshakes, egg creams, sundaes, frozen yogurt, and specialty items such as New Orleans-style beignets and Belgian fries.
8. Serendipity 3
Known for its extravagant desserts, Serendipity 3 serves up a delicious combination of lunch and dinner fare, gourmet sundaes, and soda fountain classics. Offering a playful and modern twist on drugstore sundaes, the restaurant opened in 1954 and is known for its Guinness World Record-breaking menu items such as the Golden Opulence Sundae, the Luxe Milkshakes, and the World’s Most Expensive Fries, which must be ordered in advance. The Frrrozen Haute Chocolate ice cream sundae holds the record for the world’s most expensive dessert at $25,000. It’s the perfect opportunity to indulge your sweet tooth and sample luscious twists on classic diner food.
The lunch and dinner menu features Mexican and Chinese-inspired items such as nachos and chicken and lemongrass dumplings, as well as classic American diner food such as burgers, sandwiches, and hot dogs. Their extensive dessert menu includes their famous Frrrozen Hot Chocolate, gourmet sundaes, and Belgian waffles. Those seeking a classic soda foundation experience can order traditional drinks such as Shirley Temples, Roy Rogers, and Arnold Palmers. A gourmet twist on a classic soda foundation, Serendipity 3 offers something for every taste palette.
9. Jahn’s Ice Cream Parlor
Jahn’s Ice Cream Parlor, established in 1897, may have once been the oldest ice cream parlor in New York City before its original location in the Bronx closed. Although it once had over thirty locations in New York City and Miami Dade County, Florida in the 1950s, the last outpost of Jahn’s stands at 81-04 37th Ave #1 in Jackson Heights, Queens. The chain was known for its massive Kitchen Sink sundae, intended to be shared by four to eight people.
Nick Moukas, who co-owns the surviving Jahn’s with his brother Peter, said that his father contributed to the store’s survival by adapting to modern tastes, expanding the scope of the menu, and adding diner food. Jahn’s features an eclectic mix of Greek, Italian, and Brazilian food, representative of the diverse neighborhood’s mix of ethnic restaurants, including Thai, Filipino, Mexican, and Peruvian food. Jahn’s attracts local customers who often travel from out of state to relive their childhood and teenage years and continues to serve up a popular array of ice cream parlor favorites, such as egg creams, sodas, and ice cream sundaes.