Here’s another post from my anonymous friend…enjoy!
The word phosphate has a number of different meanings. It can refer to a salt or an ester of phosphoric acid in the study of chemistry. But for my purposes, it is a soda fountain treat made from a flavored syrup, seltzer water, and a little citric acid.
The phrase “soda fountain” may be quite foreign to many, especially younger, readers. There are a lot of restaurants that purport to serve various ice cream concoctions including sundaes, shakes and cones. But if you like ice cream, there is nothing to compare to the soda fountain. Decades ago, many pharmacies contained these fountains. They had available ice cream, syrups and toppings, whipped cream, cherries, and spigots with seltzer, Coke, and other drinks. Either the pharmacists themselves or a soda jerk (no, it is not a derogatory term—look it up) would masterfully prepare various combinations of the ingredients to the great pleasure of the customer.
One of my favorite and most special memories is that of a Rexall pharmacy with a soda fountain. My Dad had an office in a small town in southern Illinois many years ago. Mr. Karber owned the pharmacy, which was across the street from my Dad’s office. Sometimes, on Saturdays, my Dad would bring me or my sister along for the day, and we could enjoy the treats the town had to offer. There was still a wooden sidewalk along part of the main drag, at the end of which was an honest-to-God penny candy store. In the other direction was a little cafe with great burgers and fries. But the main attraction was Karber’s.
Malts, shakes, sodas, floats, phosphates, banana splits, sundaes…there was a regular soda fountain menu, but they would make pretty much anything you wanted within reason. Malts were handmade in a large metal cup on a real malt machine. You could request the addition of a raw egg to make it richer (imagine trying to ask for that now), and there would always be an extra portion in the metal cup that you could pour for yourself after drinking a bit of the malt. Phosphates were cold and refreshing; sundaes and splits were large and elaborate. And all items were prepared with pride and care; service was always with a sincere smile.
Nowadays, very few places have the charm and character that was so obvious at Karber’s. Quality has diminished also, in my opinion. But I recently had occasion to step back in time and enjoy the soda fountain experience once again. I just returned from a visit with my sister—she lives in a fairly small town, and near her house is a former drugstore. I believe that there is a bar and restaurant in the back portion of the building. But the front is a very authentic soda fountain. On my first visit (I went three times over the weekend), I asked for a chocolate phosphate. Even though the menu only had citrus flavors listed, one of the owners made it up for me. And smiled. For just a moment, I was 8 years old and back at Karber’s. They say you can’t go home again. But sometimes you can see it in the rear view mirror.