What was life during early decades of the 20th century? I’m too young to know personally. But once in a while, I get a glimpse of the past. Sometimes, this can happen right around the corner from my apartment.
I recently stumbled upon an old soda shop called Lexington Candy Shop in my Upper East Side neighborhood in Manhattan. At this location since 1925, the shop is a step back in time. In the mid- 20th century, there were soda fountains and luncheonettes dotting each neighborhood in the City. I look around at the luncheonette where little has changed. At the counter, patrons seated on stools sip egg creams and lime rickeys. A Coca Cola display from celebrations and sporting events is set up near the entrance. I notice a 1940 vintage Hamilton Beach milk shake mixer next to the 1948 vintage coffee urns. Old timers tell me this dates back to when soda and ice cream drinks were made by hand by a “soda jerk”—that tradition lives on here.
A pricing sheet from the early 1940s hangs on the wall featured with an OPA (Office of Price Administration) seal. During World War II, the Office for Emergency Management placed maxims on pricing. At that time, there was a public relations campaign against inflation. One poster read: “Inflation—Prices Go Up, Then People Buy Less, Business Slumps, People Lose Jobs—Help Your OPA Fight Inflation.” Milkshakes were $.20 whereas sliced turkey was $.65.
Some of the food and beverages are what I imagine my grandparents having ordered. There are ice cream sodas, frosted floats, malted floats, egg shakes and egg creams. Some of these items are mis-named. For example, egg creams have neither eggs nor cream. It made up of milk, soda water and flavored syrup. A stand-out beverage is lime rickey, a combination of lime juice, simple syrup and club soda.
The menu and store signage make clear the restaurant aims for culinary historic authenticity with fine, local ingredients. The juices are fresh squeezed daily, the ice cream is from Philadelphia-based Bassetts and the bread is from another old time institution in the neighborhood Orwasher’s Bakery. The cokes are not what one would buy in a supermarket. They are made with seltzer and a shot of pumped cola syrup –how you’d picture a true classic cola. Real malted milk powder is whipped up in a vintage mixer to create the malts.
Centered in the picturesque Upper East Side, the locale has been used in many films. It was featured in a multitude of films including “The Nanny Diaries” with Scarlett Johansson and John Turturro‘s “Fading Gigolo” starring Woody Allen. Production pictures hang on the walls.
As I leave this hideaway and enter the hurried streets of Manhattan, I smile as a place where time seems to stand still exists amidst an ever-changing city.