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The Brass Fountain brings nostalgia back to Solon’s Main Street
Prewar style ushers in the heyday of the soda fountain.
SOLON — At The Brass Fountain, being a jerk is a good thing, so long as you’re making a phosphate soda.
There, soda jerks are bringing new life to old-fashioned habits like soda itself. At this restaurant, your pop is made with housemade syrups from fruit and cane sugar stirred into fresh bubbly water — the way it used to be.
“I just thought how cool it would be to bring something back like that,” said owner Nick Craig, 41. “It seems like in life in general, and especially in the restaurant world, someone’s always constantly trying to do this brand-new thing. Sometimes, you lose sight of these great things we already had.”
Want a fresh zip you can’t get with regular soda today? Get a phosphate soda, made with phosphoric acid for a little added tangy flavor.
If you go:
Where: 122 E. Main St. in Solon
Hours: 3 to 9 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; 3 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday; closed Monday and Tuesday
Phone: (319) 624-6122
Details: Currently open for dine-in, with plans for expanded hours in the future
On Solon’s Main Street, a 115-year-old back bar and a Bastian-Blessing soda fountain from the 1950s are centered by tastefully paired, vintage-inspired tile, wood, brass and marble accents throughout. Returning to the heyday of the soda fountain, Craig wanted to bring a modern take to how the institution looked before chrome and neon lights.
The back bar, specifically made for soda fountains, was made with a particular bar depth, materials and style. With a marble counter top, soda fountains of the past century would fill cupboards with ice to chill the bar.
“I thought it was a great fit to bring this back to Main Street in Solon and create that old-school vibe,” he said. “Instead of neon and kitschy stuff everywhere, we wanted a more classic look with the tile and wood.”
At 122 E. Main St., the spot was completely gutted before Craig started renovations, giving him a clean slate to work with to design a whole new look. And the Bastian-Blessing soda fountain is a metaphor for the building itself.
“The outside is all original, but the inside is new,” Craig said. “This building is just over a century old. The shell still is old, but the inside is new.”
The idea started with inspiration from the Iowa City owner’s trips as a child to Pearson’s Drug Store in the 200 block of North Linn Street in Iowa City, where The Webster is currently housed. Although Craig’s idea to put The Brass Fountain in that location didn’t work out, he feels the Solon location is appropriate.
“The town needed another spot that was more conducive to full families,” he said. “They’ve got some great spots here in town, but we wanted to make it a really comfortable place for younger people to be at.”
There, children’s eyes widen when they’re told that bar stool seats aren’t just reserved for the adults.
But for folks looking for adult beverages at the tall counter, the fountain won’t leave you high and dry. With a menu of “prescription only” alcoholic ice cream floats, shakes and cocktails, you can have a relaxing drink while enjoying a meal or ice cream with the kids.
Fun concoctions include the Lucky Kentucky with root beer syrup, bourbon and sprinkles, and the Peanut Butter Solution with Skrewball peanut butter whiskey, bourbon and peanut butter in a glass coated with chocolate syrup.
In addition to sodas, non-alcoholic offerings include an entire menu of shakes, malts, floats, sundaes and egg creams — a foamy classic made with milk, syrup and bubbles in the flavor of your choice.
But it’s not all drinks at The Brass Fountain. The food is making a return to the time-tested classics, as well.
“We hang our hat on our burgers,” Craig said. “The burger, just like the soda, is something that everyone wanted to constantly try to outdo the next person. Everyone forgot a classic burger … is hard to beat.”
By paying attention to the simple basics like a quality bun and pickles, he said quality doesn’t need a jumble of newfangled toppings to be noticed. But the owner hasn’t shunned novel ideas, either.
If you want to “get dusted,” try a flavor dusting on your fries, chicken wings, chicken tenders or chicken sandwich for no extra charge. The Pickley Fries with a dill dusting are one of the restaurant’s most popular items.
Other food offerings include standard classic appetizers, fried catfish, pork tenderloin and a variety of hot and cold sandwiches.
Craig’s lifelong career in the restaurant industry started in college as he worked various jobs while taking classes at the University of Iowa. When he realized he was more interested in studying things for his job than he was for school, he decided to focus on the path of what he enjoyed.
He has owned Brix Cheese Shop & Wine Bar in Iowa City since 2012.
Now, with his second venture, he hopes to bring back soda fountains as a small piece of what Main Streets all over America have lost over the years.
“It literally started on Main Street and the culture of it died with Main Street,” Craig said. “I didn’t bring back Main Street to Solon, but it sure seems like a good fit to do this.”
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