SODA JERK

I have often joked that when I was considerably younger I was a soda jerk and now I’m just a jerk. I did work at the local candy store in the 60’s and later. Spent much time in the place I called “Irving’s” even earlier. I remember it well.

Irving’s had a small store front which was comprised of the newspaper stand and the candy display, located on Broadway between 81st and 82nd. You entered the store proper through a door which was angled to share an entry space with, if I recall correctly, a Chinese laundry next door.

Directly in front of you, when you entered, was a counter top behind which were racks of cigarettes and just over the counter, to your left, was the sliding glass door to the candy display. Here stood Irving or Joe minding the window and selling the smokes.

To the right on the other side of the counter, on both sides of a walkway there were all the paraphernalia for making sodas and ice cream dishes, sinks for cleaning up and the soda spigots.

On the public side of the counter, down to the right were the counter stools for those of us who ate or drank in the shop. Behind us there was the comic book rack which rose way above my reach. Superman, Batman, Aquaman, Green Lantern, Lois Lane, Lana Lang, Lori Lemaris and so many many others resided back there. I remember them as 10 cents in those days.

If you walked further into the back of the shop you passed a wooden phone booth on your left and racks of magazines on your right. I wondered if there was anything besides storage in the back room.

egg cream 2.jog

This is where I learned the proper way to make an egg cream. If you wanted smooth, this was the way: chocolate syrup, milk, stir until a smooth looking chocolate milk, leave the spoon in the glass, add seltzer to the tipped glass, stir again and serve.

We served only Breyers Ice Cream. Today as then, I am in awe of Breyers’ vanilla. I made a mean ice cream soda too and in those days a malted actually had malt in it (those mixers were loud). Chocolate malted was my favorite, strawberry ice cream soda was my favorite; I never had any kind of egg cream except chocolate.

I did fool around behind the counter before I was old enough to work but I did actually work for Irving and his father-in-law Joe. So I really was a soda jerk.

Irving’s was not a hang out for a group of us but it was a place I frequented probably more than once a day for many, many years. Joe was older and a little scary. He was my father’s height, no more than five, six with short cropped white hair. I remember a glare and a bark but he could be made to smile.

Irving was probably five nine or ten. I remember black hair and a kind and friendly manner. He even came to my Bar Mitzvah. He was one of those West Side institutions that my dad and I shared.

8 thoughts on “SODA JERK

  1. Thanks for another wonderful piece of nostalgia, Ken. There are numerous photos of the “candy store” on the Facebook Growing Up on the Upper West Side group to which we both belong. I remember the comic book section you so clearly described, as I spent more time there than at the library. And I remember the newsstand out in front, which operated on the honor system. You’d put your coins in the paperweight holding down a pile of New York Journal-Americans, World-Telegrams or Daily Mirrors–all of which are long gone. However, my fondest recollection was the front counter inside, where I would offer the clerk a nickel, dime, or sometimes even a quarter, and get my latest packs of baseball cards. I was a serious collector and card flipper–skillfully tossing a card on the ground to win more cards from friends like you. My brother Mike still has many of them, quite possibly a very valuable collection. Looking forward to the next installment.

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  2. Always look forward to your essays, Ken. Irving’s! This was my hangout in the 60s, I remember it exactly as you described it. I don’t recall “Lori Lemaris” comic books but how about Classics Illustrated? Where are the Facebook photos of Irvings? You can see that block on “Naked City’s” Episode “Alive and Still A Second Lieutenant”. Detective Flint gets into an altercation with a cab driver just to the right (North) of Irving’s!

    I just had lunch with two of my classmates from JHS 44, Class of 1966.

    Question for you: What was the name of the bar just to the left (South) of Irving’s? I only remember the bar as “Sir Rootie’s”. Any recollections?

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  3. After reading your blog I had to look up the derivation of “soda jerk” which apparently is a take off on soda clerk mixed with the jerk of operating the soda machine.

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  4. I don’t believe I ever had a true “egg cream”, that is, exactly as you describe, Ken, except that what gave it its name was the inclusion of some egg white. Yes? Though I love(d) chocolate ice cream sodas made exactly this way (just more of it in a larger conical glass with a scoop or 2 of ice cream on top & whipped cream & topped off with a cherry, eh?), I was always partial to a straight chocolate soda over an egg cream. Just syrup & seltzer. And of course it was Fox’s U-bet, right? On the Chinese laundry: I did have a flash image upon first reading this entry, that yes, it was on the right (north) side. I had this image of wooden slats painted a blue-green or green-blue color. With a low shelf in the window, on which rested various bundles of people’s finished wash, wrapped in brown paper & tied with string. On soda fountains: I won’t mention Krum’s on the Concourse (a little below Fordham Road), as that is too far outside the neighborhood candy store model that you’re talking about, but must mention Bigeglow’s. This was a fairly large family operated pharmacy/drug store on 6th Ave in the middle of the block on the east side of the street above 8th Street, diagonally across & just below that church (?) they eventually turned into a library. They had a soda fountain counter on the right as you came in, a prime example of this drug store “model”. Yes?

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  5. I’m so glad you describe making egg creams in pretty much the same way I’ve always made them. When I see someone making one (or describing making one in a “recipe”) by combining the milk and soda water first and then stirring in the syrup, I get seriously annoyed, since that way the soda water loses too much of its carbonation. What’s the point of having an egg cream that’s already “flat” before you start to drink it? It even bothers me when the instructions say to put the syrup in the glass before the milk, since that’s what causes more of the syrup to “stick” to the glass and fail to be dissolved in the milk. Of course, your method seems to suggest putting the syrup in the glass before the milk, but maybe you didn’t really mean that.

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