If someone told you about a bar openly serving cocaine over the counter, chances are you wouldn't think soda jerks and pop. However, writer and bartender Darcy O'Neil, in his book on soda fountains, Fix the Pumps, tells the story of pharmacists making "narc-tails" full of "cocaine, strychnine, cannabis, morphine, opium, heroine, and other neurochemicals."
That was just a start. It seems that long before Prohibition, the soda counter had started to nudge out saloons, turning the cocktail into an evening tipple instead of a morning drink, since waking "brain" workers like accountants, politicians, and lawyers preferred the cheaper, druggist-dispensed "nerviness." Cocktails became a way to wind down, creating a dangerous cycle for addicts.
The soda fountain wasn't just a bed of junkies; it was a place of great creativity. Pharma-bartenders would conjure up drinks using carbonation, acidulants, cream, eggs, extracts, and essences, and O'Neil's book is peppered with recipes. As O'Neil points out, there was even crossover between bartenders and soda jerks when it came to some drinks, such as the famous New Orleans Ramos Gin Fizz.
The creativity behind the fountain was not just stirred and shaken. Soda jerks developed their own discourse behind the counter, and the name of the book itself is a soda-jerk euphemism for checking out a buxom woman. As in, "I'm going to fix the pumps." Other creative terms used by soda jerks include "shake one in the hay" for a strawberry milkshake and "dough well done with cow to cover" for bread and butter.