Ice cream parlors

Ice cream is an affordable, intergenerational family-friendly treat with a mild sedative effect. Historically it’s been associated with the temperance movement, innocent youthful courtship, and after-theater refreshment.

For ages ice cream has been primarily a commercial product. As was largely true of soda and beer, it was usually consumed outside the home until after World War II. Only then did supermarkets and homes acquire extensive freezer capacity. In 1925, according to Jakle and Sculle’s Fast Food, 19% of all ice cream was sold in grocery stores, the bulk of it being marketed through confectioners, drug store soda fountains, wayside stands, restaurants, and lunch counters.

Those who could afford it in the late 18th century often obtained ice cream from confectioners and caterers of European origin who made it each day in summer and served it in outdoor gardens or delivered it to homes for immediate consumption.

Late 18th- and early 19th-century residents of Philadelphia and New York City enjoyed eating ice cream in private parks such as NYC’s Vauxhall, Washington, and Columbian gardens which opened yearly on June 1. An elderly writer recalled in the 1860s that in the 1790s at Contoit’s on Broadway in NYC, “Little alcoves, well shaded, on each side of the gravelled walk, had each its table, where friends or lovers, in undisturbed quiet, could enjoy their cream and cake.”

Ice cream saloons (the term merely indicating a spacious room) and parlors, as they were called later in the 19th century, were described as gaudy mirrored palaces, lit brightly by gaslight. In 1869 M. F. Brigham & Son opened a Ladies’ and Gentlemen’s Coffee, Lunch and Ice Cream Saloon on Washington Street in Boston, in connection with a confectionery at which they sold candy, pastry, ice cream, frozen puddings, sherbets, jelly whips, charlotte Russe, Roman punch, and other confections.

In Chicago, a number of these “ladies’ cafes,” as they were usually known, sprang up on State Street at the time of the 1893 World’s Fair, among them Gunther’s [pictured] and Plow’s. They featured special attractions – positively non-temperance drinks such as Yum Yum and a special version of Roman punch, the former 13% and the latter 20% alcohol!

It is strange, and a little jarring, to see so many advertisements of 19th-century eating places  specializing in ice cream AND oysters – until you realize the two were not usually consumed together. Featuring both as specialties makes perfect sense, though, since for decades oysters were not eaten during the summer months and ice cream was eaten only then.

Frequently, places that started out with just ice cream and simple refreshments eventually branched into restaurants selling lunches and other meals. When Schrafft’s established its first NYC store at Broadway and 36th Street in 1898, for instance, it served nothing beyond candy and ice cream.

With the increase in automobile ownership in the 1920s, and into the 1930s and 1940s, chains of roadside ice cream stands and eateries featuring ice cream began to form, among them Dutchland Farms, Howard Johnson’s, Prince Castle, Henry’s, and Friendly’s. “Soft serve” – a product whose name reflects that it does not meet the official definition of ice cream – caught on in the 1940s, a decade which commenced with the first Dairy Queen, located in Joliet IL.

In Southern California, people still fondly remember the Currie’s chain and its “mile-high cone” whose replica was often displayed billboard-style on roofs. The chain was started in 1927 by three brothers named Kuhns. After WWII they sold it to the Good Humor company who later sold it to Lipton in the 1960s. In 1964 the chain opened its 87th store, in North Hollywood. Although Currie’s anticipated launching units in every community in Southern California, only three outlets were listed in the 1967 Los Angeles phone book and the chain had disappeared by the 1980s.

© Jan Whitaker, 2012

50 Comments

Filed under food, history, restaurants

50 responses to “Ice cream parlors

  1. Manhattan Marty

    Born during the “Great Depression” in New York City and surviving eight exciting decades, makes me somewhat of an authority on life’s pleasures and pains in the “Big Apple”. The most important pleasure, even better than “you know what”, was ICE CREAM. And, the best ice cream could be found at Schlumbaum’s Ice Cream Parlour on Broadway at ninety-ninth street. It was a neighborhood icon since the 1890s and it was where everybody, young and old, went to get the very best ice cream and fancy candy in the world. It was all shiny brass, cut glass, wood paneled with mirrored walls. The small round tables were of white marble with turned metal wire legs. The chairs were all of turned wire, with round leather seats. At the back of the parlour were some private booths made of beautifully carved wood with high backs which provided privacy.The cushions were covered in soft leather and you sank into them, when you sat down. This was where you took your special girl on that special date….and bought her “anything she wanted” on the extensive menu (hoping that you had enough to pay the bill and hoping that you might get a kiss, later). I had a friend named, Mike, that I had known since kindergarten and we had our special booth, too. He’d get his root beer float and I’d get my vanilla ice cream soda with an extra glass of vanilla soda, which I’d carefully add to the ice cream as I drank the soda. This made it last even longer. Sometimes we’d get the great creamy and super delicious malted milk, which came with the canister that had enough malted milk left in it for a second helping. No matter what you ordered, it was all GREAT! When I was in my fox-hole during the Korean War, Schlumbaums is what I used to dream about most and it was the first place I visited after I returned home. Alas, it’s all gone now along with most of the things we held dear. But, not for Mike and I, we still talk about the “good old days” and knowing that our time is very short right now, we’ve made a pact that when we meet in the “here-after”, it shall be in our special booth in Schlumbaums. By Manhattan Marty.

  2. Reblogged this on josephcox5 and commented:
    Today good ice cream is hard to find, but it is out ther if you look hard enough.

  3. Charles

    Beernsten’s in Manitowoc Wisconsin is the real deal.

    http://beerntsens.com/

    I’ve been going there since I was born in the late 1960′s. It dates to the 30′s.

    Parkside Candies in Buffalo is another must see. http://www.flickr.com/photos/army_arch/6269194874/

    Buffalo, NY Parkside Candies luncheon

  4. Pingback: What is an ice cream parlor? | rowanberrywine

  5. Pingback: Ice cream parlors « Live, Laugh, Love

  6. Tom

    So cool, thanks for sharing!

  7. Hi Folks-
    Jan, you captured my interest with your “tasty” picture of the retro malt shop. A few months ago I saw a special on PBS about the best retro hamburger joints in CA still around, including a story about the original McDanald’s…along with photos & history. It was great!
    I grew up going to the Sanders ice cream and candy shops here in MI ..http://apps.detnews.com/apps/history/index.php?id=192
    old style tables chairs & swivel chairs at the counter.
    I just had to post this link to the Elliston Malt Shop in Nashville TN…

    http://www.roadfood.com/Restaurant/Overview/97/elliston-place-soda-shop

    an icon also…see the pics and enjoy. Retro, original and still standing. Found this charmer during one of my many visits to Nashville TN.
    BTW-
    A delicious and scrumptious blog!.

    http://starseeker777.wordpress.com

    http://www.soundclick/coolcatcal

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  9. Ice cream is potentially the most magical food ever created by mankind. Nifty to learn so much of its history. As my grandfather once said, “What does grandma love better than one scoop of ice cream? Two scoops of ice cream.”

  10. Fascinating! I used to work in an ice cream parlour… It was great to see the smiles of the kids. My particular store had been around for a while, and sometimes people would come in and tell us how much the store had changed in the past 50, 60, or 70 years… including the number of flavours of ice cream!

    http://www.thetravellingsock.wordpress.com

  11. Its always great to learn all the little known facts of our favorite things. Ice cream…chocolate ice cream is one of my absolute favorite things. Thank you for such an insightful post.

  12. Brings back memories. In New York, we had Jahn’s Ice Cream Parlor. It brought fine dining to the icy-milk experience. In the 60′s when people hit the road, it was your local Carvel for soft ice cream — usually eaten in your car. Neighborhoods changed, movie theaters closed, and the local glitzy parlors became a thing of the past. Progress? Thanks for taking me back

  13. Great article…and yummy topic! Though I don’t think I could ever eat oysters with my ice cream :)

    Cheers,
    Courtney Hosny

  14. Thank you for this very interesting post! I love ice cream and even though I moved from Japan to the US, I’m glad that I can still enjoy my favorite dessert (in fun new flavors, too :) ).

  15. Loved this post! History and ice cream = some of my favorite things. :) If interested, feel free to check out my blog on art, history, and prehistory. You might enjoy my post which includes the history of garden gnomes! :) Cheers! http://anthropologygallery.wordpress.com/2012/06/06/what-will-archaeologists-of-the-future-think-of-garden-gnomes/

  16. Great post ! Interesting to read

  17. Thanks for the history. Decades ago I actually visited Brighams in Boston and it was fantastic, nothing like it today. We’ve been to LeMars, Iowa, which advertises itself as the ice cream capitol of the world, due to large Blue Bunny plant there, but the actual exhibit just mocks the visitor with what a real ice cream parlor used to be.

  18. Check out this one down the road from where I grew up in Rhode Island:

    http://www.roadsideamerica.com/tip/8599

    It was built in the ’20′s as an ice cream stand, shut down in the ’60s, moved in the ’80s to avoid being demoed to make room for a highway ramp, with the intention of renovating it, but it still sits there as it has since it was moved.

  19. I have wonderful childhood memories of a double chocolate soda from the City Dairy Bar in Horicon Marsh, Wisconsin. Ice cream & frozen custard equal summer! Thanks.

  20. I Love this! I lived in Savannah, GA for 2 years and they had the most fantastic “old-time” ice cream shop called Leopold’s…it made you feel like you were walking back in time!

  21. Thanks for the memories. I am thinking back to my favorite ice cream parlors :-).

  22. Lovely post. A nice piece of nostalgia. I remember arriving in NYC just before Schrafft’s made its farewell appearance. I had a job as an office temporary and the morning “Schrafft’s wagon” brought coffee and pastries right to our office. The typists took great advantage of this time to plan their lunchtime shopping, gossip and report on what they watched on TV the night before.

    • Anonymous

      I remember the Schraffs wagon very well. My first job in the city after graduation 1968. They had the best jelly donuts. The smell of the morning coffee was what made me a coffee drinker, up until then it was just orange juice.

  23. Love ice-cream. Love the post.

  24. In my home town of Grass Valley Calif, we had an ice cream parlor called The Brownie, it was a drive in. they made their own ice cream, I always used to order Maple Nut, it was great. The scoops of ice cream were huge by today’s standard. The milk shakes were rich and creamy and came in big glass jars that were at least a quart in size.

    The pineapple shakes actually had chunks of pineapple in it. and strawberries in the strawberry . At that time i think a shake was 0.25 cents.
    But its all gone now, progress took over.

  25. I am guessing almost everyone has a favorite ice cream parlor. We had Isaly’s which featured a cone aptly named “The SkyScraper” …. you had to eat quickly. We also had a local creamery which used milk from local farmers (before local was “cool”). In a nearby town was the Plain View Dairy which made all of their ice cream with milk from their own Jersey cows (high in butterfat) maybe not as healthy, but the best tasting ice cream you ever had! Enjoyed your post. Very informative.

  26. Great post, interesting read and some fantastic pics – congrats on being FP

  27. Fascinating. I never before considered that ice cream wasn’t consumed in the home until after World War II, when more people could afford freezers. Duh! What an interesting article.

  28. Molly

    What a wonderful post! My parents collected antiques for years and years. We used to have a “soda fountain room” where my parents had found an old soda fountain and installed it – put in a tin ceiling – had an older booth, all the accessories and even mannequins wearing vintge clothing to be the ‘soda jerks’. I think it is pretty neat now, they were really invested in their antiques and it was quite an impressive room (made the newspaper/news a few times) but when I was younger I thought it was just weird and embarassing haha. Love seeing old ice cream stores though now that have preserved that feeling though! Thanks for sharing & congrats on being FP!

  29. I love this topic! Thanks for writing about ice-cream parlours. It makes me want to get an ice cream!

  30. I really enjoyed your blog – keep up the good work. I will make sure to visit your page more often. Please visit http://www.mynutritioninsight.com for information and disease prevention and healthy food and drink recipes.

  31. Awesome post. Very insightful. I love the topic choice. I sort of have a topic related post about street vendors and ice-cream stands. Anyways I’d love it if you could check out my blog. Peace.

  32. Kimball’s Farm still around but Rocky Farms gone. Of course I remember Howard Johnson’s 28 flavors and the orange roof, right up to the 1980s. Ice creams past include Mobile, Alabama (in Navy), A 1992 Fourth in Pennsylvania, and Boy Scout hikes to a dairy bar near a NH camp 1960s. The Great Brook Farm sells ice cream to eat while looking at dairy cows. And in 2008 I stopped at the Hot Spot Drive In, rural Utah. Hood, Breyers, Edy’s, Blue Bunny and Meadow Gold all beckon in our stores too! Oh the fat, but oh so cold refreshment: Neopolitan ummmmmmmmmmmmmmm!

  33. what a cool post! one of the things i love most when i go to visit my family in europe every summer is the abundance of ice cream salons. they really take their ice cream serious over there, and it’s such a wonderful part of their day to day culture. i am particularly partial to the “real” iced coffee drinks there, which include a full scoop of ice cream, whipped cream on top, and a couple of wafers to boot! nothing like the typical coffee slushie thing that unfortunately passes for an iced coffee here in north america.

  34. Really interesting blog entry with some great images. You might enjoy looking at my post on Jahn’s Ice Cream Parlor, which is located in Jackson Heights, Queens…

    http://benjaminherman.wordpress.com/2012/07/01/jahns-ice-cream-parlor/

    And this reminds me that I should do a write up on Eddie’s Sweet Shop in Forest Hills, another great old-fashioned ice cream spot.

    • Oh, my Goddess! As soon as I saw the post on ice cream parlors, I immediately thought about Eddie’s Sweet Shop. I love homemade whipped cream, and my first time there, one of the employees came out with a BIG bowl of whipped cream. I pride myself on being a proper food consumer in public, but how I wanted to dive into that bowl! And yes, Ben, please do a write up on Eddie’s, although I plan on going to Jahn’s quite soon (especially since I AM in Jackson Heights, Queens, once or twice a month).

  35. ah..you know…all those photos just show what a different place the world was in those times…simple pleasures…morals still alive and kicking…courtesy almost everywhere to be seen…compare that with now…

  36. dellasman

    Neat post. Since moving to the restaurant-less boonies in ’04, I sure miss Baskin & Robbins!

  37. Ok, this is awesome! Except that I read it at work and can’t get Ice Cream for several hours. I really need to work on my timing!

  38. that a great take on ice-cream parlors… loved it…

  39. Makes me want a cone. Right now!

  40. Thank you for writing this fun and interesting post! One of my favorite stops when I go back home is Dewar’s Candy and Ice Cream. When you walk into the original parlor, it meets your expectations immediately of what an old fashioned ice cream counter should be like. It opened in 1909 http://www.dewarscandy.com/index.cfm?category=5 and is still going strong. Now, I’m off to get some ice cream!

  41. Great post, I never knew any of this…
    Check me out at: http://awesomerockreviews.wordpress.com

  42. Halo Halo Designs

    Great bit of history, thanks for sharing! Congrats on FP :)

  43. A unique and creative blog idea! Enjoy the journey!

  44. Fascinating! I love the little tidbits of trivia — oysters and ice cream? Simply awesome…
    :)

  45. Great post! Now I’ll put on my sweater and go out in search of a cone — this being August in New England!

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