Ice cream has a rich history all around the world, but emerged in America in the late 1700s. Back then, it was considered a delicacy enjoyed only by the wealthiest of the nation. However, by the mid-1800s, with the invention of early refrigeration methods and a commercial push from the dairy industry, ice cream became more widely available, continuing to rise in popularity as technologies advanced. The oldest American ice cream parlors date back hundreds of years and have witnessed the evolution of ice cream from its unexpected origin as a luxury novelty food to a widespread sweet treat for everyone.
You'll notice several of the shops on this list have origins in pharmacies. That's because pharmaceutical soda fountains were an integral part of the invention of sodas and desserts like ice cream sundaes. According to one story, even the banana split was invented by a pharmacist in 1904. From the 1860s to the 1920s, let's take a closer look at some of the oldest ice cream parlors in America.
Read more: 25 Best Ice Cream Brands Ranked
Bassetts Ice Cream, 1892
Located in the heart of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Bassetts earns the title of the oldest ice cream parlor in America. The brand's history dates back to 1861 when founder Lewis Dubois Bassett started churning ice cream in his backyard using mule power. After he found success selling the product at local markets, the business opened their first retail store in 1892 where it's been located ever since. Still family-owned and serving multiple generations of those in Philly and beyond, Bassetts has become an enduring legacy of American ice cream.
Bassetts uses recipes that have been handed down through generations and at the original scoop shop, you'll find the same 125-year old marble countertop that has lasted through innumerable changes. Clearly, Bassets is more than just an ice cream parlor; it's a landmark that stands as a testament to tradition and to the enduring enthusiasm that Americans have for ice cream.
Fentons Creamery, 1894
Founded in 1894 by E.S. Fenton in Oakland, California, Fentons Creamery is one of the oldest and most beloved ice cream parlors in the country. The business was owned by the Fenton family for generations. Melvin Fenton, the founder's inventive grandson, created what remains its most famous flavors: Toasted Almond, Swiss Milk Chocolate, and Rocky Road. The business has changed ownership throughout the years but forever promises to stay committed to the quality that the Fenton family established over 100 years ago.
The restaurant was added in 1922 and you can still get sandwiches and salads here. But it's the ice cream–especially the sundaes–that will keep you coming back. The iconic sundaes, banana splits, and richly crafted ice creams have become legendary, attracting locals and tourists alike. Plus the vintage soda fountain and old-fashioned ice cream parlor ambiance will have you feeling like you stepped back in time.
Goolrick's Pharmacy, 1897
Goolrick's Pharmacy, nestled in the historic city of Fredericksburg, Virginia, is a cherished institution that has been opened since 1897, making it one of the oldest ice cream parlors in America. What started as a pharmacy grew into a soda fountain and a diner with a full lunch menu. While the business still ran as an active pharmacy for over a century, in recent years Goolrick's has transitioned to focus fully on the soda fountain, ice cream, shakes, and sandwiches.
At the time of writing this article, Goolrick's is temporarily closed for renovation but has plans to open back up in 2024. The new owners of the landmark are planning on fully restoring it to the glory of what it once was. According to the press release, the building was severely in need of repair after fire and flood damage. Not only will the new owners restore the lunch counter and bar stools, but they're also committed to bringing back original recipes. So in the future, Goolrick's will be even more nostalgic than it already was.
Zaharakos Ice Cream Parlor And Museum, 1900
Zaharakos Ice Cream Parlor and Museum in Columbus, Indiana dates back to 1900 when the Zaharako family, who were originally from Greece, opened up the shop as a confectionery. The overall look of the parlor has been preserved over the years and the whole building is decked out with antique charm. Full of mahogany, stained glass, Tiffany lamps, and vintage soda fountains, Zaharakos truly transports visitors to the early 20th century.
The museum section showcases an impressive collection of vintage ice cream memorabilia, including the largest collection of pre-1900 soda fountains on public display. The menu here keeps it classic with traditional flavors and toppings, sundaes, banana splits, soda floats, and milkshakes and malts. In addition to their sweet treats, they also offer savory food such as French fries, hot dogs, sandwiches, and salads. Whether you're dining in, savoring a sundae, or exploring their display of artifacts, Zaharakos Ice Cream Parlor and Museum is the ultimate parlor to experience the rich heritage of American ice cream culture.
Angelo Brocato, 1905
Angelo Brocato is a beloved institution in New Orleans, Louisiana. Its storied history dates back to 1905 when Italian immigrant Angelo Brocato opened the now-famous gelateria. Brocato had spent his youth apprenticing in a Sicilian ice cream parlor and used this knowledge to share a host of Sicilian treats with citizens of New Orleans, including torroncino, a vanilla gelato flavored with cinnamon and almonds, granita al limone, a citrus Italian ice, and Sicilian cannolis. The parlor has been run by generations of the Brocato family since.
The focus of this New Orleans staple is undoubtedly gelato, which differs slightly from ice cream in that it uses more milk than cream and is churned more slowly than its American counterpart. Unsurprisingly, this ice cream shop has an old-world charm and considering its Italian heritage, has more of a European ambiance than other shops on this list. Using traditional recipes that have been handed down through the family, Angelo Brocato has a culinary legacy that has endured for generations.
Wilson's Restaurant & Ice Cream Parlor, 1906
Opened from May to October, Wilson's Restaurant & Ice Cream Parlor is a beloved seasonal restaurant that has been located in the picturesque town of Ephraim, Wisconsin since 1906. Ephraim is a waterfront village with scenic views of the coast of Green Bay, which is an arm of Lake Michigan. This charming town, with its rich Norwegian and Moravian heritage, is full of historical charm.
The interior, with its vintage soda fountain and classic diner ambiance complete with a jukebox, evokes a sense of nostalgic familiarity. The menu is full of American classics like hamburgers, hot dogs, and freshly brewed draft root beer. But of course, it's the ice cream and traditional sundaes that they're famous for. Among them is the Wilson's Banquet, a monstrous five-flavor sundae generously adorned with three customer-chosen toppings including sauces, whipped cream, crunchy pecans, and the quintessential cherries on top.
Fair Oaks Pharmacy, 1915
For over a century, Fair Oaks Pharmacy has stood as a timeless ice cream parlor on the historic Route 66 in South Pasadena, California. Since its doors first opened in 1915, it has remained a huge part of the community, continuing its role as a trusted pharmacy even today. Dating back to the days when pharmacies and soda fountains went hand in hand, Fair Oaks preserves that tradition by continuing to offer ice cream, shakes, sodas, and floats as it has for generations.
At the fountain counter, with its marble countertop, chrome stools, and vintage posters you'll find loads of sweet treats with classic flavors. But what sets Fair Oaks apart is the fact that it also offers new, inventive flavors. For example, this past summer it added the creative Buttered Popcorn Milkshake to the menu. This establishment has certainly weathered the test of time, adapting to modern tastes while preserving nostalgic charm.
St. Francis Fountain, 1918
St. Francis Fountain, established in 1918, is the oldest ice cream parlor in San Francisco, California, as well as the oldest running business on 24th Street. Founded by the Greek-born Christakes family, St. Francis was exclusively a family-run ice cream parlor, soda fountain, and candy shop for several generations until the early 2000s when new owners took charge and completely revamped the place, turning it into the full-menu diner it is today while preserving the historic soda fountain.
The ice cream menu has stayed simplistic and traditional, offering a variety of old-fashioned milkshakes in flavors such as vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, coffee, banana, and blueberry, all with the optional addition of malt drinks. Unlike many old-fashioned parlors, St. Francis Fountain also offers a vegan option of milkshake, made with a soy-based vanilla gelato. You can also simply get a scoop of ice cream as dessert after enjoying some of their diner-favorite menu items.
Leopold's Ice Cream, 1919
A cherished institution in Savannah, Georgia, Leopold's Ice Cream has been a beacon of soda fountains and frozen treats since its inception in 1919. Savannah is a historic city close to the coast, so enjoying a scoop of ice cream from a 100-year-old parlor while sightseeing in the Southern heat just makes sense. It's no wonder Leopold's has endured for generations. The business was originally founded by three brothers from Greece (George, Peter, and Basil Leopold) and continues to be run by members of their family today.
Several of their flavors have remained unchanged since 1919 so you can taste them as they have always been. These include Tutti Frutti, a rum-based ice cream with Georgia pecans and candied fruit, Rum Bisque, a rum ice cream with crumbled almond macaroons, and lemon custard, a refreshing lemon ice cream with lemon zest. In addition to the scoops of ice cream, it offers a soda fountain service that includes sundaes, banana splits, milkshakes, and floats.
Petersen's Ice Cream, 1919
Located in Oak Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, Petersen's Ice Cream dates back to 1919. Since its opening, the old-fashioned style of ice cream has received praise and accolades from many Mid-Westerners. In fact, Petersen's chocolate ice cream and vanilla ice cream have won several blue ribbons at the Illinois State Fair over the years. The ice creams here are made with 18% butterfat so expect extra creaminess and an intense richness of flavor.
If the ice cream alone isn't indulgent enough for you, then don't worry, there are plenty of decadent sundaes to choose from as well. From the timeless hot fudge sundae to the people-pleasing cookie dough sundae, there's an enticing selection to satisfy every sweet tooth's desire. The turtle pie is one of the most inventive options at Petersen's, created with a graham cracker crust, vanilla ice cream, hot fudge, and caramel sauce, and topped with roasted pecans.
Graeter's In Hyde Park, 1922
Graeter's Ice Cream has a history that actually begins in 1870 when Louis Charles Graeter began making ice cream and selling it out of a cart on the streets of Cincinnati, Ohio. This technically makes Greater's one of the oldest ice cream brands in America. But it wasn't until 1922 that the original brick-and-mortar retail shop opened up, located in the Hyde Park of Cincinnati where it still stands today. The tradition of making it the old-fashioned French pot way has been slightly updated since the company's inception, but members of the Graeter family still oversee the production and ensure it meets the standards of their ancestors.
When it comes to visiting the scoop shop, be prepared for an overwhelming amount of flavors and sundae options. In addition to the wide variety of ice cream flavors, some menu highlights include sundaes like the 1870 Tower which features Black Raspberry Chocolate Chip ice cream, chocolate bundt cake, hot fudge, fresh whipped cream, pecans, and a cherry. Or go for the classic banana split that gets topped with your choice of ice creams and toppings. There are also floats, shakes, and frozen coffee ice cream concoctions.
Klavon's Ice Cream Parlor, 1923
Located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania since 1923, James and Mary Klavon originally established Klavon's Ice Cream Parlor as an apothecary with an attached ice cream parlor. After shutting down in 1979, the shop was closed for 20 years. However, in 1999, James and Mary's grandchildren collaborated to convert their family's old vacant pharmacy into a complete ice cream parlor, successfully preserving all of the building's unique historical features. In 2013, the parlor changed hands and though the shop is now owned outside of the Klavon family for the first time, the current owners have a true passion for the ice cream business and are committed to keeping Klavon's as preserved as it has always been.
There are so many scrumptious sundaes to choose from at Klavon's and you really can't go wrong with any of the options, which are all served in traditional glasses and topped with whipped cream and a cherry. Klavon's charm not only lies in its homemade ice cream and hand-crafted sundaes, but also in its authentic antique features like the marble counters, the old-fashioned fountain equipment, and classic soda fountain stools.
Eddie's Sweet Shop,1925
Eddie's Sweet Shop in Queens, New York is truly a unique place. It's been open since 1925, which makes it the oldest ice cream parlor in New York City and its interior and decor look pretty much the same as it did nearly one hundred years ago. But its age is not the only thing that sets it apart from other scoop shops. It's their commitment to quality over quantity that makes all the difference. The staff of the family-run business makes all of their ice creams from scratch using traditional recipes that were passed down from the original owners. And every day a fresh batch of syrups and whipped cream gets made by hand.
The menu of flavors and sundaes sticks with tradition so you won't find any wild, inventive trendy scoops at Eddie's. But what you will find is endless nostalgia and a true New York City eatery that has stood the test of time.
Read the original article on Tasting Table.