“It’s the best lunch in Bar Harbor,” said TyTy Anda as she was sitting at the soda fountain at West End Drug recently. “It’s just a classic old-fashioned lunch spot.”
Both she and her mother, Ann, were having the daily soup special, tortellini. They shared an egg salad sandwich, and each of them followed that up with an ice cream soda.
“This is our date,” TyTy Anda said with a laugh. “We like to hike the Beehive and then come here for a lunch date.”
“They have the best sandwiches in town,” her mother said, “and really good homemade soup.”
Sitting next to her at the counter was Alice Long, enjoying a bowl of soup and a cup of coffee.
“I come here pretty often,” she said. “I hate cooking. And, you know, in the winter, you have to really hunt sometimes to find a place that’s open. But they’re open because they’re a drugstore.”
Ann Anda said it isn’t just the good food and reasonable prices that keep people like her coming back to the soda fountain; it’s also the people on the other side of the counter.
“They’re friendly, and yet they leave you alone,” she said. “They don’t pester you with endless conversation.”
One of those friendly but nonpestering people is Kristen Carter, whose job, for lack of a formal title, is “head soda jerk.” She has worked at West End Drug for 18 years.
She said ice cream concoctions are popular all year, with frappes selling especially well in the winter.
“In the summer, it’s more ice cream sodas,” she said, “because people from away either have never had them or haven’t had them for a long time.”
Julie Clark, a clerk at West End Drug, said, “A lot of people from out of town come in because they want the old-fashioned sodas like they had when they were kids. They come in and say, ‘You really make sodas?’ We hear that all the time.”
Every day, the soda fountain offers a full-meal lunch special such as meatloaf with mashed potatoes and peas or beef stroganoff with green beans.
“We try to do a balanced meal for people,” Carter said. “Everything is homemade.”
Clark added, “You can get a good, hearty lunch, wholesome and fresh, that’s reasonably priced. And it’s a nice atmosphere.”
The homemade soups at the soda fountain are popular, especially tomato soup, which is offered mainly in the winter.
“People started asking back in the fall when we were going to start serving the tomato soup again,” said deputy soda jerk Emma Bunker.
The list of sandwiches on a menu board behind the soda fountain hasn’t changed much over the years. Carter said the chicken salad, tuna salad and grilled cheese are probably the biggest sellers.
There are eight stools at the soda fountain counter and seating for at least eight more at two booths at the front window.
The soda fountain has its regular customers who come in for lunch or an ice cream treat, including people who work in the nearby stores and banks. There are others who come in only occasionally. And then there are the summer visitors.
Asked if many cruise ship passengers find their way to the soda fountain, Carter said, “Tons.”
“We get people from all walks of life,” Clark said. “They come from everywhere. It’s interesting to see.”
Soda fountain glossary
As in the old soda fountain days, the West End’s treats are made from scratch. “When you make them the way we do, they come out different every time,” soda jerk Kristen Carter said. Here’s a guide to some of the soda fountain lingo.
Black and white: An ice cream soda with chocolate syrup and vanilla ice cream. It can be ordered as a white and black, reversing the syrup and ice cream flavors.
Brown cow: Root beer and vanilla ice cream, a common root beer float.
Cocoa freeze: Cocoa mix, chocolate syrup and milk.
Coffee freeze: A West End Drug original, this drink is made with coffee syrup, coffee, half-and-half and ice cream.
Egg cream: Heavy cream, flavored syrup and soda water. Regional variants use milk instead of heavy cream.
Float: Any flavor of soda with any flavor of ice cream.
Frappe: In New England, a frappe is ice cream, flavoring and milk. This is not to be confused with a milkshake, which does not contain ice cream.
Ice cream soda: Ice cream, syrup and soda water.
Jimmies: Also known as sprinkles, the little sugar shapes, whether rainbow or brown, that go on your ice cream.
Lime rickey: Lime syrup and soda water, often ordered with raspberry and cherry flavors added.
Malted: A way to order a frappe, adding a scoop of malted milk powder to the drink.
Roy Rogers: Cola with a splash of grenadine, named after actor and singer of the same name.
Shirley Temple: Ginger ale, a splash of grenadine and a maraschino cherry. Some recipes substitute lemon-lime soda for ginger ale. It is named after the child actress — and later, diplomat — of the same name.