Favorite Small-Town Soda Fountains
In small-town Tennessee, the meeting place is often a lunch counter and soda fountain. They are authentic, seeped in history down to the handcrafted booths and swiveling lunch counter stools.
I visited three such places because of my love for ice cream. I prefer sundaes, while others go for the milkshakes, chocolate malts and banana splits. Tinsley-Bible Drug Store and Soda Fountain in Dandridge has plenty of ice cream, but it is best known for its Bible burgers, hand-pattied hamburgers slipped in a steamed bun. Pinto bean soup comes with fresh onion, chow-chow and hot peppers. The ladies do their cooking right behind the counter for breakfast and lunch. The drug store opened its doors in 1911; the luncheonette was added in the 1940s. Small booths, all handcrafted to fit the space, show this was workmanship done before the era of pre-fab. A row of red seats punctuate the long counter ending with a hand-cranked gum ball machine by the cash register.
Three generations have taken care of business at Hoskins Drug Store in Clinton. Rolland Carvel “Dudley” Hoskins opened the drug store in 1930 and oversaw its growth into a chain of eight pharmacies in the area. A movie and a banana split? That became the thing to do in Clinton because the drug store is located on Main Street right by the Ritz Theater. Town folk come in for breakfast, hot plate lunches, grilled sandwiches and sweet treats — milkshakes, malts and sundaes. It operates as a full-service pharmacy and medical supply business. Gifts and cards for all occasions decorate the aisles between the wheelchairs and bandages. The custom-built soda fountain and booths fill the smaller half of the store, but that is where people spend the most time. The drug store is on the National and Tennessee Registry of Historic Places and recently received a $2,500 heritage grant to restore its outside neon sign.
In the 1950s, drive-in restaurants with curb service came on the scene. The Frostee Freeze Drive-In in Tazewell opened for business in 1956. Still splendidly lit with neon, the establishment has a menu dominated by burger, fries and shakes, but you can also order hot dogs, fish & chips, grilled chicken sandwiches and custard. A waitress takes your order at the counter and then calls out your name when it’s ready. Black and white checkerboard tiles cover the floor; walls are decorated with 50s nostalgia. Customers in shiny cars and trucks get the attention of waitresses.
Have I overlooked your favorite ice cream palace? Perhaps you can send me the info and I’ll write another blog about favorite drive-ins and old-timey ice cream fountains. I haven’t told you about Scott’s Place in East Knoxville, or Long’s Drug Store in West Knoxville. I’ve heard about the Frosty Mug Drive In near Harrogate, and hope to get there real soon. Let me hear from you, and I’ll add your favorites to the list of “not to be missed” places to go.