If City Tavern’s hearty Colonial fare isn’t what you’re after during a day of Philadelphia sightseeing, but you’d still like to indulge in a delicious taste from the past, find just the right refreshments at the Franklin Fountain and Shane Confectionery.
Brothers Ryan and Eric Berley were besotted with a turn-of-the-20th century brick building at 116 Market Street their family had purchased in 2003. Vintage advertisements were painted on the exterior of the place that had once been home to a handful of retail establishments, including a saloon, a printer, a coffee roastery and a pharmacy. Original penny tile floors lay beneath circa-1906 tin ceilings adorned with masks, gryphons and fruited urns with fleur-de-lis swags and beading.
The Berley brothers decided to give the object of their affection new life as an ice cream parlor. They researched archival soda fountain dispensary manuals and visited old-time soda shops to learn the lost art of soda-jerking. They designed an old-fashioned soda fountain with vintage Tennessee pink marble counters. They furnished the place with antique fixtures like a circa-1910 cherry wood bar with Arts & Crafts-style stained glass doors that hailed from a Lancaster County pharmacy and a circa-1905 onyx lamp with a slag glass lampshade. An antique oak wall intercom near the front window relays messages to an upstairs office, while a 1920s wall telephone takes calls from customers. Two bronze and nickel-plated brass National Cash Registers from the 1910s ring up cash-only sales; favorite Benjamin Franklin quotes were painted on the $ keys of the nickel-plated model. Reproduction 1890s ceiling fans are powered by a sewing machine belt drive. A circa-1910 oak cigar cabinet from a Chester, Pennsylvania pharmacy displays candy, gum and bottled soda. A vintage brass and cast iron water fountain stands outside on the sidewalk to clear customer palates.
Since opening in 2004, the Franklin Fountain’s soda jerks have dished up historically inspired house-made ice creams crafted with locally sourced milk, cream and in-season fruits from scratch recipes. Regardless of flavor, the Philadelphia-style ice cream is made with the finest-quality cream, sugar and flavorings, but without eggs or thickening agents, like the ice cream Elizabeth Goodfellow taught upper-class young ladies to make in her 19th-century Philadelphia cooking school. As Becky Libourel Diamond, author of Mrs. Goodfellow: The Story of America’s First Cooking School, noted, Philadelphians were among the first Americans to serve frozen desserts, and “Philadelphia ice cream” became the standard of excellence.
I debated between Cherry Butter Almond, a concoction of roasted and salted almonds and organic Bordeaux cherries; Maple Walnut, featuring English walnuts in Pennsylvania maple syrup; and Teaberry Gum, a minty pink wintergreen flavor that’s a central-Pennsylvania favorite. I finally settled on a dip of Caramelized Banana, a flavor concocted in honor of Pope Francis’ visit to Philadelphia in September 2015, served in a waxed paper container like the original ice cream carton patented in the early 1900s. It was worth every penny of the $5.40 I paid.
Ogle the menu and you’ll be tempted by pages of cleverly presented mouthwatering choices, including the Peach Melba Parfait, named in honor of the dessert that French chef Auguste Escoffier created following soprano Nellie Melba’s performance of Richard Wagner’s Lohengrin in 1893. The Maple Leaf Rag, a sundae named in homage to Scott Joplin’s 1899 piano ballad, is described as featuring “two dipperfuls of chocolate or banana ice cream shellacked in pure maple walnuts, the syncopated sweetness cut by The Sting of prickly pineapple, crushed fresh, all keyed up with whipped cream.”
Try a Franklin Fountain iteration of the classic banana split, which pharmacist David Strickler created in 1904 in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, and his apprentice, Howard Dovey, introduced to Philadelphians. Indulge in a Philadelphia milk shake, perfectly spun on a triple-spindle Hamilton Beach mixer and awarded in 2013 as the “Best Milk Shake in America.” Or order the Cherry Bomb, a seasonal concoction featuring a dip of bittersweet chocolate ice cream dropped into a house-made cherry soda. After all, the introduction of ice cream to the soda occurred in 1874 in Philadelphia.
If a cool drink appeals, consider a phosphate, that tart, old-timey beverage of soda tinged with citric or phosphoric acid. Who wouldn’t, with choices like the “Havana Sunrise,” a Prohibition-era phosphate with raspberry, ginger and lime, or “Hemingway’s Dream,” sweetened with lemon juice, fresh mint and anise syrups, and topped with an absinthe-soaked sugar cube. Or select a hand-drawn soda made with house-made soda syrups like anise mint, ginger, lavender and raspberry.
Choose from “college ices,” made with one scoop of ice cream and one topping. Or try a New York Egg Cream, a mix of chocolate syrup, milk and seltzer. More adventurous eaters might go for the Philadelphia Egg Cream, a concoction of cream, simple syrup, vanilla extract, and raw egg yolks made from a recipe from The Standard Manual of Soda and Other Beverages (1897).
Like Franklin Fountain’s home, the old-fashioned confectionery is housed in another neighboring turn-of-the-20th century Market Street building with wide-plank pine floors, pressed-tin ceilings and hand-carved wooden display cases.
Established in 1863 by Samuel Herring, a wholesaler of candy-making supplies, the confectionery is the oldest continuously run candy shop in the United States. It’s located just two blocks from the Delaware River, a natural resource which facilitated the import of sugarcane and led many candy producers to set up shop in Philadelphia. The Shane family ran the confectionery for nearly a century, so when the Berley brothers acquired it, they also inherited its antique candy-making equipment, including copper fudge cauldrons, candy stoves, a cast-iron buttercream machine, and more than a thousand candy moulds. Like the Franklin Fountain, a cash register dating from 1910 rings up sales.
Neat rows of classic candies, such as chocolates, nonpareils, lollipops, caramels and hand-dipped bonbons like the “Liberty Bell” house specialty are presented on silver trays. Clear-toy candies molded into the shapes of animals, circus figures and more are cast-sugar recreations of 18th-century favorites brought by the Pennsylvania Dutch from their native Germany to the Delaware River valley. Click here to watch these artistic candies being made.
Beyond the confectionery’s sales area, find a cozy spot known as the Chocolate Café. Here, you can order milkshakes house-made with chocolate imported from Nicaragua, Peru, Ecuador and Venezuela, resulting in tasting notes that range from peach, apricot and raspberry to banana, walnut and rum.
Savor your selection while sitting at glass-topped tables filled with trade cards and other confection-related vintage ephemera. Many turn-of-the-20th century “jewel-box” retail shops, like Shane Confectionery, began as wholesale and dry goods stores, then matured into small businesses that marketed their products with elaborate window displays and elegant store interiors. No wonder the cards for the Berley businesses are as charming as the products they promote.
For more on Shane Confectionery, see “A Sweet Taste of Nostalgia,” from the March/April 2015 issue of Victoria magazine. The confectionery’s website, as well as the website for the Franklin Fountain, are worth virtual visits in themselves. Click here and here to see what I mean.