It’s strange what sticks with you from childhood. I have this memory from preschool or kindergarten of taking a field trip to Columbus, Indiana, to go to this soda shop and ice cream parlor. It’s one of those strange little things that has stuck with me, but I hadn’t been back since, and so last Summer Amber and I went to go find this little place. It turns out that it has a ton of history that was lost on my young self, and we revisited that spot again this weekend.
Now, I’m not sure which year it was that I originally went, because I went to preschool through kindergarten at the same place, a daycare and educational facility that was set up on the ground floor of the Johnson County Memorial Hospital. It was within easy walking distance when I was a child, and during those early years, my family was a one car household. So my mother would walk me to the daycare and then continue her walk to work at a near by nursing home where she worked in the laundry. Those years blur very strongly in my mind, but this is one of those things that stick out.
When I was little and visiting, the beauty of the architecture, the history, and even the array of goodies was lost on me. When we went, we were allowed to order a flavored soda as a treat. Zaharakos offers a large array flavored goodies: Cinnamon Coke, Chocolate Coke, etc. I remember looking through the options as a kid and trying to imagine what flavors would taste good together. I settled on a Cherry Coke, and was chastised by my teacher because I should “get something special”. For me, at that age, Cherry Coke was special, even though it’s so common place.
Visiting now as an adult is a completely different experience. Amber and I both marveled at the place. When you walk in through the beautiful stained glass doors you are greeted with the carnival like sounds of music played on a Welte Orchestrion, a self playing pipe organ playing cheery sounding numbers. The orchestrion is an antique in and of itself, having been built in 1908, and has been restored to its original glory. Amber was particularly excited because she recognized some of the numbers it was playing as being popular operetta numbers, and Amber loves opera.
The music isn’t the only wonder in the ice cream parlor. When you walk in you are greeted by lots of warm carved wood and marble. The entire fifty foot long bar is made of a slab of white marble, and it’s probably one of the most lavish things I have seen in person, especially in a business open to the public and available to touch and enjoy. Although there are plenty of other sights that clearly ask you to not touch, such as extremely ornate tiffany style stained glass lamps.
On the other side of the ice cream parlor is a small museum area that houses other self playing musical contraptions as well as other old soda fountains. Marble, ornate carved wood, and brass are everywhere, and the lushness of the old machines is impressive and awe inspiring.
Beauty is all well and good, but what about the ice cream!? The parlor offers an array of malts, shakes, flavored sodas, sundaes, and ice cream cones. While the array of flavors won’t compare to a Baskin Robbins, the ice cream is far better than that found at a typical Dairy Queen. On this particular visit Amber got a cinnamon Coke (which she compares to drinking a stick of Big Red, but in a good way), and a vanilla malt. I on the other hand got a glass of lemonade and a sundae comprised of orange dreamsicle ice cream, pineapple topping, whipped cream, and a cherry. It was extremely good and really hit the spot on this beautiful spring day.
The only downfall I saw while on this particular visit was the staff. Now let me first say that these folks were doing their best, and I don’t fault them at all. What I do fault is the management that put them in this situation. This was a beautiful Spring day, and they were very busy. There was a full lobby of people waiting when we got there, and that line never really disappeared. The kids that were working there (none of them were probably more that 25 years old) were running around like chickens trying to keep up, but it wasn’t to much avail. It took about twenty minutes to be initially seated and get our ice cream, but once we did our waitress disappeared until we were done with our treat and were waiting on our bill. You pay up front, and the line to do so was five people deep. While I waited up there for my turn I got a better look at the disarray that these kids were working in. They were obviously incredibly stressed, and a couple were snapping at each other, having clearly been pushed too far. This also led to me witnessing some messed up “to go” orders as communication was breaking down. I counted five people on staff, but they could have easily used double that number in order to keep up with the demand, and it was a shame to see such a lovely establishments charm tarnished by this. Hopefully their management will address this issue in the future, as I would imagine that during the Summer their demand is equally high, if not higher.