Zaharakos and the Politics of Ice Cream
It being August, our fancies turn to ice cream. Driving through Indiana, I was delighted to learn that Zaharakos - the classic ice cream parlor (or parlour) in Columbus, Indiana was once again open for business after four years shuttered with new owners. Zaharakos was opened in 1900 by Greek immigrants. The turn of the century was the golden age of ice cream parlor throughout America - palaces of delight and danger - many of them opened by southern Europeans (especially Greeks and Italians), and the public was both attracted to this otherness and fearful of the danger. Ice cream made its greatest impact in the Midwest at the time of the St. Louis Exposition in 1904. Rumors were spread that the unscrupulous owners would put narcotics into the ice cream of pretty young women dining alone and then sell them into "white slavery" (in contrast to that other form of slavery!). In fact, ice cream parlors were somewhat less reputable than tattoo parlors are today. For an excellent account of the dangers of ice cream, see a recent article (very readable) by Bill Ellis in the Journal of American Folklore:
Bill Ellis. "Whispers in an Ice Cream Parlor: Culinary Tourism, Contemporary Legends, and the Urban Interzone." Journal of American Folklore 122.483 (Winter 2009): 53-74.
Even today ice cream is somewhat dangerous as Illinois governor Patrick Quinn has signed a law that bars sex offenders from driving ice cream trucks. This could limit the employment options for some politicians, but presumably not our governor. Perhaps the next stage is to prevent these miscreants from working in ice cream parlors.
Zaharakos is open again (about five minutes from I-65 in the architecturally-splendid Columbus, Indiana. The woodwork and the fountain and the organ has remained,
although the space is somewhat too large for the number of tables, giving a slightly empty look (ice cream parlors should be bustling). Still simply having Zaharakos open for business again is terrific. Service was energetic, if not polished (on the evening I was present, there didn't seem to be any adults running the place: not necessarily a bad thing). I ordered the Gom Cheese Brr-Grr (Brr-grr, get it?): a Maid-Rite sort of sloppy-joe/cheeseburger on white bread (although not exactly thick white bread as the menu proclaims).
The Ice Cream soda was a worthy blend of ice cream (butter pecan, in my case) and cinnamon syrup, although not a super-premium ice cream.
By dining alone in an ice cream parlor one misses something (or if one were a women in 1909 perhaps gets something as well); still just knowing that Zaharakos is back in business, even without a frisson of danger, is comforting.
Zaharakos Ice Cream Parlor and Museum
329 Washington Street
Columbus, IN 47201
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