Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Zaharakos Ice Cream Parlor and Museum

We started this week on a nostalgic bent and today I go even further - back to the soda fountain era with a visit to Zaharako's Ice Cream Parlor and Museum in Columbus, Indiana. Zaharako's has been whetting appetites and quenching thirsts since 1900, and it finally quenched mine on a visit to Columbus last month.

My family and I were in town for the wedding of a good friend, but Columbus is a place we've visited many times before. In fact, I was born in this Midwestern town and spent a few years of my childhood here, so it's rather surprising that it took me this long to visit one of Columbus' most famous fixtures.

Tucked behind a handsomely restored storefront on Main Street, stepping into Zaharako's really is like stepping back in time. A working 1905 onyx soda fountain fills the space behind the 50-foot long marble-and-mahogany double backbar. Mirrored walls and lofty skylights give an illusion of light and space - an important feature in the days of the original gas chandeliers. Glistening tiffany lamps scatter their stained-glass light across gleamingly polished wood floors (the original maple, from the 1890s!) and, perhaps most notable of all, the shop's 1908 Welte orchestrion fills the room with the sounds of the turn of the century.

Tin ceilings and old-fashioned light fixtures add authenticity

Of course, Zaharako's wouldn't have survived nearly this long if it didn't also serve good food and great sodas! Their Artisan Grilled Cheese and Avocado sandwich was excellent - a toasted crust of parmesan and thick slices of avocado elevating it far above the typical white-bread-and-American-cheese sandwich of my youth. Matt ordered their famous 'Gom Cheese-Brr-Grr' which he really seemed to enjoy, and my sisters tasted their turkey soup and a turkey sandwich on a tasty-looking pretzel roll.

Since the best part of a meal is always dessert, it's here that we got really nostalgic. My sisters split a classic chocolate malt and my Mum requested a favorite from her childhood - a root-beer-float-and-chocolate-syrup mixture that she calls a "Budgie Beer." Though the drink wasn't technically on the menu, our sweet server went out of her way to make it happen (thanks, Emily!) and even served it in a frosty mug! Needless to say, my Mum was thrilled. (On a side note, if anyone knows the history of this drink (or its funny name!), I'd love to hear more about it. Sadly, my internet research has turned up almost nothing!)

The famous 'Budgie Beer'

After browsing the menu, I was intrigued by the sound of the Green River soda - a lemon-lime drink (emphasis on the lime) developed during the prohibition era that once rivaled Coca-Cola as a soda-fountain favorite. This peppy neon green soft drink now only appears at a few select locations - Zaharako's being one of them - so I knew I had to seize the opportunity to try it.

Green River Milkshake and Chocolate Malt

Of course, you can't just order a soda when you're in a famous ice cream parlor so I made mine a milkshake! I love anything lime and found the milkshake very refreshing - creamy and sweet without being cloying in the way that some milkshakes are - but if you're usually a chocolate or vanilla person, a bright lime dairy treat might be a bit of a surprise! (This video has more information about Zaharako's ice creams and menu items - delicious!)

Zaharako's Museum and Store

With my sandwich devoured and my milkshake drained, there was still more to explore at Zaharako's. In addition to the dining area, there's a museum and store adjacent, for sated guests to wander through. The museum boasts an impressive collection of antique soda fountains and the store sells old-fashioned candies, toys, and memorabilia.

Soda Jerk slang - so cute!

From the music of the orchestrion and placemats covered in old-fashioned soda jerk lingo to the polished wood floors and painstakingly restored light fixtures, Zaharako's is all about the authentic soda fountain experience. Visit Zaharako's and you'll be entertained, enlightened and educated - and, yes, the food's good, too!


  1. Very cool looking place, right up my alley. Hope we cross paths at some point, it's been way too long! Please let us know if you're ever in KC!

  2. Hi Rachel, so glad your mom loved the root beer float fudge. Of course you can post about it :)

  3. Jenn - I hope we can visit soon, too! I love your KC posts and would love to explore it with you!

    Aimee - thank you! I probably shouldn't confess this, but I've already made the recipe twice!!!

  4. As an artist myself, I enjoy reading Philip Koch's sensitive writing about Edward Hopper and Andrew Wyeth, who along with Whistler and Rothko, are my favorite American painters.
    I don't live in the United States but have traveled and passed a short time there. But even with the little time spent in your beautiful country, especially in small-town America, I can relate to some of the poetical feel that Hopper and Wyeth had captured in their art, which is for me part of the attraction of their paintings.
    Browsing at the other day, as I do now and then, I find a good selection of Edward Hopper's work, ,in the big archive of Western Art, that customers can order online for canvas prints and even hand-painted, oil-painting reproductions can be made and sent to them.
    Hopper's surrealistic and depersonalized world is there again. Timeless, yes, as it is still there now in the roadside cafes and diners that I ate at all over America.