If your idea of blissful summertime fun is riding the retro carousel at the Santa Monica Pier, watching the pelicans and (maybe) blowing an insane amount of money on the rides and games — if this isn't your idea of fun, it's probably your kid's — then you now have another and perhaps even better reason to head to the pier these days. Soda Jerks, an old-time soda fountain, opened July 10th in the same 1916 building as the carousel.
Soda Jerks owner Kevin McCafferty, a South Pasadena native and a third generation self-described soda jerk, previously owned Soda Jerks in Pasadena, also an old-time soda fountain, which closed in 2005. About the same time, McCafferty was approached to open a space on the pier, and he's been working on the project for the last three years.
Because setting up a real soda fountain — the kind with historically accurate egg creams; 18 flavors of ice cream from Fosselman's, the Alhambra ice cream shop where McCafferty held his first job; 14 specialty sundaes, including the Route 66 banana split; soda jerks dressed as if they escaped from a 1930s department store, or a Woody Allen movie about one — takes time.
Yesterday McCafferty, between scooping ice cream and putting maraschino cherries atop sundaes for kids and their parents, paused to point out the 1905 case, now filled with both new and old-fashioned candy, that he'd converted and repurposed after finding it in a country store in Oklahoma. He talked about growing up with Chris and John Fosselman, whose grandfather founded Fosselman's in 1919 and who now co-own the store; and about how his own Depression-era grandfather (“people say this is a recession; this is nothing compared to what they went through”) opened a restaurant in 1938 in Indiana and started the soda fountain where McCafferty's father would also learn to scoop ice cream.
As the next generation of soda jerks, a crew of young men who looked scarcely older than the kids on the nearby carousel, made egg creams and polished counters, McCafferty's circumspection seemed suited to both the location — the carousel building, built by Charles Looff, is listed in the National Registry of Historic Places — and the idea of the soda fountain itself, dating to Prohibition-era dime stores, department stores and pharmacies.
“To be arrogant enough to call yourself Soda Jerks, you better know what you're doing,” said McCafferty.
Soda Jerks: 200 Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica; (310) 393-7632.