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NEIGHBORHOOD EATERY

Fair Oaks Pharmacy Serves Up a Vintage Soda Fountain

March 23, 1995|RENEE TAWA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The vintage look is there, just past the oak doors with beveled glass. There's the marble-countered soda fountain, the twirling chrome bar stools with red seats, the hand-dipped shakes made with a hearty pint of ice cream.

But this is a soda fountain with a '90s twist--penny candy is up to 35 cents, sundaes are dished up alongside cappuccino, salads include fat-free dressing.

Still, Fair Oaks Pharmacy and Soda Fountain in South Pasadena is much the way it used to be when it opened in 1915 for travelers on Route 66, said husband-and-wife owners Michael and Meredith Miller. The Millers, who bought the place in 1989, spent a year restoring the pharmacy, soda fountain and lunch counter to its original look. This year, the pharmacy and soda fountain turn 80.

"People walk in--especially the older generation--and they love it. They feel like they're home," said Meredith Miller, 40.

At first, Michael Miller, a pharmacist, had bought Fair Oaks Pharmacy as a place to sell medicine. But the Millers became intrigued with the idea of restoring the pharmacy's old soda fountain, which had been dismantled in the '60s. As a teen-ager in Brooklyn, Michael Miller had worked at his grandfather's soda fountain and candy store, learning how to whip up eggnogs and chocolate sodas.

Through an ad in an antiques magazine, the Millers found a turn-of-the-century pharmacy and soda fountain in Joplin, Mo., that was about to go out of business. In Joplin, the Millers hit pay dirt, buying up the old soda fountain fixtures, malt mixers, antique stained glass cabinetry and other items.

Now everything in the Fair Oaks soda fountain is vintage, from the napkin holders to the trash cans to the mosaic tile floor. The candy case is filled with old-time favorites, including jawbreakers, licorice whips and malt balls. Even the soda jerk--the guy behind the counter--wears a natty black bow tie and white shirt.

"People like to remember the good old days," Meredith Miller said. "We can all look back to our childhood and things were better then."

The soda fountain offers old-fashioned drinks such as grape phosphates--flavored syrup, soda and a bit of phosphoric acid for fizz--for $1.95, and rickeys, which are sodas with freshly squeezed limes, for $1.50. Sundaes range from $2.95 to $4.25, with toppings that include hot cherries jubilee and marshmallows. Ice cream sodas are $3.25, and malts and shakes are $3.95.

In 1992, Bon Appetit magazine named the soda fountain "one of the top ice cream parlors in the country."

Lunch offerings include sandwiches that range from $3.25 for grilled cheese to $5.95 for a submarine. Other offerings include soup, chili and salads.

And, oh yeah, the place also sells medicine and pharmaceuticals.

Fair Oaks Pharmacy and Soda Fountain is at 1526 Mission St., South Pasadena, (818) 799-1414. Hours are 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and noon to 9 p.m. Sunday.

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