I'm a freelance writer/photographer living in the East Village neighborhood of New York City.
Published August 31st 2011
People might tell you that the best egg creams can be found in Manhattan, but we disagree. New York's most amazingly smooth and delicious egg creams can only be fully enjoyed at Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain located on Henry Street in Carroll Gardens. The soda "jerks" create the delightful and refreshing concoctions right in front of you, along with plenty of other decadent treats including triple thick shakes, sparkling sodas, and root beer floats.
Much of the charm is found in Brooklyn Farmacy's atmosphere, of which there is vast supply. Owner Peter Freeman, who became intrigued with the closed, out-of-date pharmacy after moving to the neighborhood, has breathed life back into the space. Like a spark of lightning, he had an idea to restore the once-thriving pharmacy to recreate an old-fashioned soda fountain as a tribute to the American ice cream parlors of yesteryear where throngs of kids known as bobbysoxers gathered in large groups after school and on romantic dates. Since opening in 2010, his plan has been a tremendous success.
But before Freeman could set up shop, there was nearly a century of neglect to reverse. Beneath all the grime were rich wooden cabinets, detailed floors made with mosaic penny tiles, an elaborate and original pressed-tin ceiling, and more antique bottles and preparations than one could ever imagine. For effect, many of the original artifacts, including many photos and other ephemera from its early days, were preserved and are now on display as permanent conversation pieces. Sometimes, older residents from the same neighborhood share their stories of what the pharmacy was like during its early days, such as this story from Augustino Vitiello, who worked there in the 1940s.
And while the old times may be long gone, you can relive them during your visit. Even the menu harks back to the good old days. On it you'll find plenty of children's favorites like ice cream sundaes (our favorite is the Sundae of Broken Dreams, named for the flavorful addition of broken pretzels pieces which are sprinkled on top). Other simple selections include grilled cheese (a soda fountain staple then and now), seasonal soups, PB&J, "Nutty-ella" sandwiches, and homemade fruit pies.
While the kids are spinning on those signature ice cream parlor chairs along the counter, take a moment to look around. The middle room, once used to mix the medicines and tonics that were customized to individuals and hand-crafted by expert pharmacists, now houses a small table. Tiny antique jars line the cabinets and shelves. On the wall is a framed collage of assorted papers and photos found during the extensive renovations. Upon closer inspection, they help paint a portrait of the businesses that were once housed there, Longo's Pharmacy among them, in what appears to be just one incarnation. The very back room is sometimes opened for small private functions, such as birthday parties and baby showers; and because this is Brooklyn, there is frequently live music too, like an occasionally spontaneous jam session by musically inclined soda jerks and their friends.
Order the "Grumble Grumble" Special for just $8.95. Not only does it give you a chance to enjoy one of Brooklyn Farmacy's fantastic egg creams in chocolate or vanilla, but it also comes with a freshly made grilled cheese sandwich, a cup of the day's soup, and a ton of personality served in abundance by a team of happy soda jerks. The kids will delight when watching the sodas and sundaes being prepared and adults will enjoy a moment of nostalgia that they never thought possible.
Before leaving, check out Brooklyn Farmacy's packaged treats. Besides an abundance of retro hard candies and chocolate confections, many of Brooklyn's independent food artisans also stock their wares in the shop. You can pick up the fixins' to make your own homemade sodas at home from P&H Soda Co., grab a pint or two of delicious hand-packed ice cream from Adirondack Creamery, or if you're expecting, add a jar of spicy Asian pickles from Bootleg Farms.
All day and night neighbors waltz in and out of the shop, bringing samples of foods prepared from new recipes, sharing exquisite farm-fresh fruit or loaves of hot bread, or just popping in for some refreshment and conversation. Freeman says the sense of community that has spawned around the shop is the most rewarding aspect of his job. It's not difficult to see why. As we sipped away the last of our egg creams, he seemed suddenly distracted. To our astonishment, it was because a young customer's soda wasn't quite perfect. "Let me fix that for you," he said. "Would you like it to be less tart? Would you like it sweeter?" Even before the young girl could articulate a response, Freeman had returned the sweeter drink to her, topping it off of course. Smiles all around and then right back to that straw.