You don’t have to actually remember the golden age of phosphate sodas, root beer floats, and banana splits—sipped on vinyl stools under red-and-white striped awnings—to feel nostalgic for it. These old-school ice cream parlors around the South will appeal to anyone’s inner child, paper hat optional.
Serving since 1946, Brent’s Drugs’ extensive menu devotes a hefty section to soda fountain offerings. With the ability to add a house-made syrup to any fountain drink or fresh-squeezed “-ade” (lemon, lime, and orange are all available), plus an on-site cocktail bar, no guest will go thirsty. The full-service joint also boasts a lengthy list of milkshakes, including whimsical options such as Bananatella (banana and Nutella) and Ginger Finger (featuring Butterfinger candy bars and ginger syrup).
Since 1939, Elliston Place Soda Shop has marched to the beat of its own drum in Music City. It made a name for itself not only as a soda shop but as one of the original purveyors of the “meat-and-three” platter. Vintage enthusiasts can ogle a classic Bastian-Blessing soda fountain behind the counter while sipping a “Zinger,” an old-school phosphate soda. Hand-spun milkshakes made with local ice cream come in a mind-boggling range of flavors, including hot fudge butterscotch, peanut butter caramel, and pineapple. If you really want to double down on nostalgia, make it a malted shake for 99 cents more.
Founded in 1919 by three Greek brothers, Leopold’s continues to dazzle Savannahians with premium ice cream, shakes, malts, and banana splits. A striking pinkish-red neon sign adorns the entrance of the historic sweet spot, and once inside, you’ll be greeted by smiling employees wearing the signature “soda jerk hat” and red bow tie. The fun, retro vibe continues as you browse Stratton Leopold’s collection of film posters and props from his career in the movie industry.
Fletcher, North Carolina
Situated along the Hendersonville Ice Cream Trail, Baabals boasts an impressive thirty-six ice cream flavors and forty milkshake flavors—plus sundaes, banana splits, floats, and even barbecue and hot dogs. The parlor’s distinctly homey feel derives, in part, from its setting in an early-1900s stone house, complete with expansive wraparound porch and corn hole on the lawn. Adding to the familial ambience is the story behind the shop’s name—a mashup of the first initials of owner Roy Dickerson’s grandchildren.
The menu of “Mr.” Sandwiches (Mr. Tom, Mr. George, and Mr. Ham, among others) includes egg, tuna, and chicken salad, but you’ll also find old-fashioned malted milkshakes and ice cream sundaes. You really can’t lose when perched on a red leather stool in an establishment that’s been a local favorite since 1917. The devoted pharmacy at this all-in-one stop even offers home delivery—for prescriptions, not ice cream.
Greenville, South Carolina
The Pickwick has been a beloved gathering place since 1933. Though the leadership has changed (it’s now helmed by local ice cream biz Pink Mama’s), the menu is similar to that of its early days. Fill up on griddled sandwiches (cream cheese and pineapple, deviled egg, and pimento cheese, to name a few), shakes, malts, ice cream sodas, and freshly squeezed orangeade and lemonade. Choose from thirty flavors of ice cream, or try a cherry or vanilla Coke fresh from the 1949 soda fountain.
Dania Beach, Florida
An iconic red and white striped awning beckons visitors into an unassuming strip-mall shop that fills bellies with patty melts, crinkle fries, reubens, and most importantly, ice cream. Those looking to escape the scorching Florida sun are enticed by Jaxson’s cold and creamy treats, such as frosted floats, parfaits, and small-batch sundaes dripping with hot fudge. But the showstopper is the infamous Kitchen Sink, a glorious (or gross, depending on your point of view) thirty-six-scoop mountain of ice cream…served in a dish designed to look like a kitchen sink.