Hinsch’s syrupy history

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Hinsch’s Luncheonette on Fifth Avenue was one of three soda fountains that the Bay Ridge ice cream magnate Herman Hinsch opened in the neighborhood, the first of which served it’s first scoop inside a shop on 86th Street in 1948 — but the story of America’s unquenchable thirst for sweet, carbonated concoctions goes back much further than that.

Hinch’s gathering places were descendants of old-school pharmacies that rose in popularity around the country after Prohibition wiped out saloons, said Peter Freeman, owner of post-ironic soda fountain Farmacy in Carroll Gardens.

“Once people couldn’t get alcohol anymore, they started expanding,” he said “[Pharmacies] blossomed into community centers.”

Pharmacists would sell mineral water spiked with sugary syrup to entice people to drink the fizzy solution, which was believed to have healing properties.

But around the 1950s, larger pharmacies began buying up the mom-and-pop shops, and the classic soda fountain added food to its menus to ramp up sales.

“It’s hard just to make money on drinks, milk shakes and ice cream,” said Freeman. “Their solution was to add lunch and more retail and that’s where Hinsch’s came in.”

Hinsch’s fountain was instantly a popular meeting place for local teenagers when it opened, said Susan Pulaski of the Bay Ridge Historical Society, who said that the flagship soda shop was on 86th Street, buttressed by a satellite location on Third Avenue and 77th Street, and the shop that remained until last week on Fifth Avenue between 85th and 86th streets.

“Every Sunday after church, all the teenagers would head over to Hinsch’s,” she said. “They didn’t hang out on the street corner; they hung out at the soda fountain.”

Back then, you couldn’t stock up on gallons of rocky road ice cream or a 24-pack of Dr. Pepper: the soda fountain was where you went to get your sweet fix.

“You didn’t buy ice cream in a supermarket, you went to a soda fountain and they put it in a container to take home,” said Pulaski.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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