The corner soda fountain, long a revered neighborhood institution, has returned to South Baltimore.
The art of making the chocolate ice cream soda and sundae, the banana split, the malted milk shake, the fountain Coca-Cola, the root beer float and the ice cream snow ball lives on at Earl's Old Malt Shop at Fort Avenue and Jackson Street, due south of the Inner Harbor.
"I come here once a day, maybe twice," said customer Janet Heinbuch, a resident of the 1600 block of Webster St. "I like a good fountain Coke. It's something I haven't been able to get for years. And my two teen-age sons like it too. Earl encourages a family-oriented trade. There just aren't enough places like this left."
The man behind the shop, which opened earlier this year, is Earl Gallion, a life-long South Baltimorean who lives in an apartment above the store. His principal business, Earl's Beauty Inn, is in the rear of the building.
The store displays some of the fixtures once used in its former life as Sollod's Fort Avenue Pharmacy, a business whose origins can be traced to the early years of this century. There are old glass soda straw holders, a Bromo Seltzer dispenser, a pair of block ice tongs and Hendler's ice cream ("the velvet kind") and Coca-Cola memorabilia.
The drugstore closed last year when pharmacist Sylvan Sollod retired. Gallion purchased the property with an eye toward converting it into a beauty parlor. In recent years, Sollod filled prescriptions but he had stopped operating the Tennessee marble fountain, which fell into disrepair.
F: "But I got the idea that if the pipes in the soda foun
tain could be made to work, I'd reopen it and put the beauty shop in the rear, along Jackson Street," Gallion said. Indeed, the old curved nozzle on the soda water jet worked as well as it did in 1942. This device is the secret of Earl's fountain Cokes and chocolate ice cream sodas.
Earl's recipe for a chocolate ice cream soda begins with a tall glass, tapered to the bottom. At the base goes a squirt of chocolate syrup and a dab of vanilla. "Then you hit the seltzer water and add the scoop of ice cream," Gallion said. "And finish it off with a good hit of the fizz water."
He found two ice cream parlor booths at a flea market and cleaned the fruitwood cabinets and paneling that line the shop's walls. Its pressed tin ceiling got a coat of fresh paint. Some elbow grease and soap powder restored the shine to the marble fountain.
"I see it as a part of my childhood," Gallion said. "I used to cross Fort Avenue and come over here when I was a kid."
Gallion also was influenced by the hours he spent at Cooper's, South Baltimore's busiest ice cream parlor, once located in the 1200 block of Light St., and an old job at Ted's Confectionery, at Jackson and Clement streets.
Gallion has instructed his employees in the art of soda-jerking. And, like the corner stores of old, his shop is open long hours -- weekdays and Saturdays, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., and from 4 to 10 p.m. on Sundays.
On warm July nights, the shop gets busy after the dinner hour. Customers want their milk shakes and snowballs. A favorite treat is a chocolate snowball, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream dropped in the bottom of the cup.