Get a taste of old times in Tennessee soda shops
Apothecary bottles, glistening soda fountains with rich wood accents and carvings and red-topped bar stools may come to mind when thinking of soda shops from days gone by when life was a bit simpler, time was a bit slower and an ice cream cone cost as little as a few cents. While the art of ice cream serving has gone mainstream there are a few establishments around Tennessee that have kept the local drug store and its antique soda fountain in prime condition. Below are a few highly encouraged stopping points if you have a craving for a sundae and sandwich with a side of nostalgia.
Travel to Tennessee’s “Secret City” Oak Ridge and discover its best town secret, Jefferson Fountain. The old-time establishment embraces and maintains the down home coziness not only in the restaurant atmosphere but in the delicious food. Everything is home-cooked and the hand-dipped milkshakes are a definite “must-try.” Jefferson Fountain is famous for its “Myrtle Burger” and “Y-12 Breakfast.” You can even get some souvenirs at the little gift shop full of knick-knacks, Oak Ridge history and old-fashioned candy.
Old medicine bottles line the walls and gadgetry from the last century can be found at The Old Drug Store in Cumberland Gap, Tenn. Grab a sandwich with your ice cream and sample a piece of homemade candy. Round off your Cumberland Gap visit with a tour of Gap Cave at the Cumberland Gap National Historic Park that is home to countless cave formations and strange animals that have adapted to cave environments. Waterfalls, trails and rich history can also be found throughout the park’s 24,000 acres.
At Tinsley Bible Drug Company, old meets new at one of the oldest continuously operated businesses in Dandridge, Tenn. Founded in 1911, amongst the apothecary bottles with antique labels the store carries 21st century medicinal products as well as chocolates, greeting cards and designer fragrances. The old-fashioned soda fountain and luncheonette are popular among tourists and locals where they can get a great breakfast or the famous Bible Burger served on a steaming hot bun. The soda fountain is open until 6 p.m. where you can get your favorite ice cream including hand-dipped cones, banana splits and sundaes.
One of Nashville’s oldest businesses, Elliston Place Soda Shop, opened in 1939, is a time capsule of Americana with black-topped stools at the lunch counter, Formica tables and red-and-white tiled walls. You can even jam to your selected tunes as each individual booth has its own jukebox. Malted milkshakes, banana splits, steaks and burgers are popular on the menu. The historic touches of Elliston Place make it a local favorite. The soda shop is open Monday – Saturday 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and you can order most meals for under $10.
Make a stop at the historic Thomas Drugs of Cross Plains, a full service drugstore and soda fountain established in the early 1900s. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Thomas Drugs is home to a 1930’s soda fountain. Enjoy lunch and a variety of ice cream treats, like a juicy hamburger with a classic malt shake, Coca-Cola float or banana split. Thomas Drugs is open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to noon on Saturday.
Learn about Lynnville, Tenn. by stopping at Soda Pop Junction. Filled with local memorabilia, you get a history lesson just by looking around while your food is being prepared. Eclectic with a punch of local flavor, visitors love the fried bologna sandwiches, burgers and fried pickle spears. Soda Pop Junction uses creamy Blue Bell Ice Cream for shakes, malts and hand dipped ice cream. Visit for breakfast, lunch or dinner but make sure you have cash on you as Soda Pop Junction only accepts cash payments. The establishment is open Monday to Thursday 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., Fridays 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The history behind Stewart’s Coffee Corner is extensive as the business has been open since 2004 but the actual building has been in Lexington, Tenn. since 1878. Stewart Drug Store was one of two drug stores in town and was surrounded by three saloons, one buggy and wagon shop, a hotel, livery stables, a school with three teachers, a Methodist church and four dry good stores. It was a local soda shop and hangout for teenagers and young adults. The soda shop is still in business but under a new name, Stewart’s Coffee Corner, and serves sandwiches, shakes, malts but also coffee from around the world. The shop is filled with history and local stories and should be added to your list if you’re headed to the Lexington area.
Tradition and true family recipes passed down from generations can be found at The Silver Caboose in Collierville, Tenn. Everything on the menu is made from scratch and is filled with flavor. Try the toasted ravioli, chicken salad which can come in a tomato or surrounded by mixed fruit or try the classic Reuben with thinly sliced corn beef, Swiss cheese and Thousand Island dressing. Pair it with a milkshake made from one of the remaining original soda fountains in Tennessee, dating back to the 1800s with its original marble top and old soda pumps. Satisfy your sweet tooth with a hot fudge sundae complete with whipped cream, chopped pecans and a cherry.
Penny Hill Shoppe in Union City, Tenn. started as a small ice cream shop in Florida but was then moved to the “Volunteer State” where a 50s feel was maintained with checkered floor, aluminum accents and retro red bar stools at the lunch counter. Everything in the shop gives a nod to the cultural phenomenon of the 50s right down to the old fashioned fountain which proudly serves Coca-Cola as well as old fashioned strawberry, cherry, pineapple and chocolate soda, milk shakes, malts and even a strawberry delight – vanilla cake and ice cream topped with strawberry sauce and whipped cream. Yum! You can also get breakfast, pitas, wraps, salads and baked goods.
Which soda shop is on your list to visit? Let me know in the comments below!