If I were to move away from Los Angeles forever, abandon its surreal night life and oddball attractions, I’d have to take a slice of its culinary delights with me. I’d have a hell of a time choosing, but somewhere on that list would be a little local gem called Galco’s Soda Pop Stop. This unassuming brown building in Highland Park boasts 700 flavors of craft soda, and as an avid customer, I can tell you that’s a conservative estimate.
Soda enthusiasts very well might die of happiness right there, first step through the door. On the right is a wall of commerce awards and community appreciation plaques. Past the register is a sight out of Costco: little forts of cardboard boxes filled with wares, arranged in rows. Except these are filled to the brim with craft soda, and only craft soda. Lemon sodas, cherry, strawberry, all the fruits are of course represented. Of course they have root beer, but sasparilla beer? Maple beer? Birch beer? Ginger beers too, but not the syrupy brand-name concoctions; I’m talking the Jamaican brands that sear like forest fires. Make a Moscow Mule out of that and never look back.
Venture past the well-trod grounds of soda flavordom and step into wilder ground: elderflower soda, rose petal, and lavender. For the caffeine fiends, there are South American mate sodas, espresso sodas, and German coffee-lemonade. Search deeper and reach into the early history of American soda: your cane-sugar Moxies, lemon-lime Bubble Ups, and on and on and on. At the end of history, I’d like to think there are libraries listing every single variety of every single thing. Galco’s is basically that library of sodas of every nationality, flavor, and recipe.
And for adult tastes, Galco’s boasts an array of craft beers and liquors almost as impressive as its soda menu. I’ve been tempted in the past by big amber bottles of mead (‘honey wine’ is the most beautiful phrase is English), and their collection of lambic fruit beers.
The aisles are galleries of tiny illustrated labels, embossed bottles, and brightly inked boxes. It’s quiet, not the tidiest of places, not swarming with helpful employees, but that only enhances the beauty. The store seems to be holding its breath, or napping, and in the stillness you can appreciate the light glinting off of the tinted greens bottles, opal black glass, the panoply of designs winking at you, the way old movie posters do.
Most of all, I love the ethos behind Galco’s. Few things are more quintessentially American than the soda fountain and the mom and pop store: Galco’s was founded in 1897 as an Italian grocery store, it survived all those decades into 1995. Then, John F. Nese took over the reins from his father, and the Old World Grocery became the Soda Pop Stop. Mr. Nese dedicated his establishment to “classic, small-batch, exotic and hard-to-find sodas.” His allegiance is to dedicated craft sodas, and his motto is “Freedom of Choice.” As in, not having to make the dubious choice between Pepsi Cola or Coca Cola. There’s a subtle undertone of democratic pride, with an aftertaste of entrepreneurial zeal.
The store smacks of an exceedingly rare strain of old-school patriotism and idealism, built right into a whimsical 3rd-graders dream, of owning the World’s Best Soda Shop. If you’re in the market for lovingly-made craft soda, and prefer to do business with fellow dreamers, this is the place. Their website does bulk orders, and their selection is unbeatable.
All photos taken with a Fujifilm XM-1 compact mirrorless.