This Old-Fashioned Soda Shop in Alabama is 150 Years Old
The former pharmacy opened in 1869.
Few places evoke a different era the way an old-fashioned ice cream and soda fountain do. And if you’ve not seen one in several decades (or ever), you can reminisce at Payne’s Soda Fountain in Scottsboro, Alabama, which is celebrating its 150th year in 2019.
After the Civil War, druggist William Henry Payne returned to Scottsboro and opened W.H. Payne Drug Co. in 1869. His first shop sat a few blocks from the current location on the northwest side of the Scottsboro square. When the Jackson County Courthouse opened in 1891, Payne moved his drug store to the two-story, painted brick building where it still resides today.
In 1939, the Payne family added the soda fountain. Behind the 20-foot long counter, which is still in use today, employees churned out milkshakes and soda floats for decades. Payne’s was also the first establishment among neighboring communities to serve Coca-Cola by combining syrup with carbonated water on site. (It would have cost you a nickel then.) The current restaurant still has the soda dispenser, but age has taken its toll, and it cannot be used regularly.
Payne’s changed with the times, offering curbside drug pickup and delivery by boys on bikes. The soda fountain was such a popular draw, too, they had to hire multiple soda jerks to keep the crowds’ appetites whetted. They even began selling hot dogs with their famous red slaw, a ketchup-based topper that has a just-right kick and is made from a secret recipe that’s hard to pin down, even from the generations of former Payne’s cooks who’ve made it.
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Payne’s pharmacy operated continuously until 1991 when it closed. The full-service sandwich shop and soda fountain opened in its place. Today, you can pop into Payne’s, order up an ice-cold soda, a red slaw dog, and a bag of chips, and take a journey into time with the memorabilia that lines the walls of the narrow brick building. Look for old prescriptions and drug bottles, recently unearthed in an excavation of the restaurant’s floors.
The soda fountain has seen updated several times in its 150 years. The most recent leaves the interiors with a decidedly 1950s vibe, which will leave you aching for a poodle skirt and oil-slicked coif. Today’s owners, Lisa Garrett and Jessica Walton, embrace the old-fashioned feel with their menu selections—freshly-made sandwiches and salads and daily specials that often pay homage to the store’s history, neighbors, or even its employees.
Don’t leave without a scoop of ice cream, or if you bring a crowd, get the Banana Rama, a 15-scoop banana split that’s worth getting if only for the Instagram photo and bragging rights.
Payne’s Soda Fountain is open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.