The story of Bluebird's beautiful antique soda fountain starts with stomachaches. Newly installed in the ice cream shop's Fremont branch, the varnished wood and polished white marble counters originally graced the G.O. Guy pharmacy in Pioneer Square at the turn of the last century. Soda fountains started, the un-uniformed but well-informed soda jerk at Bluebird told me one hot afternoon last week, because pharmacists of yore would prescribe soda water for upset stomach—here she winningly rubbed her tummy—but people didn't like the taste. So they added sugary-sweet flavorings, and voilà: The drugstore soda fountain was born. It would, of course, fall out of fashion and pretty much die later, but not before helping to birth a national obesity epidemic, after pop delivery became an inexpensive two-liter bottle or 64-ounce plastic cup, administered several times daily... but that's another story.
The story of the G.O. Guy pharmacy, which was located in the 1893 Metropole building—which survived the Great Seattle Fire of 1889, but has been boarded up since a 2007 fire started by a cigarette in a garbage can—involves a cinematically epic shooting. According to seattle.gov, the drugstore formerly located at Second and Yesler:
...is also famous as the site of the 1901 gun battle between Chief of Police William Meredith and John Considine. Considine was the owner of the People's Theater, known as a "box house," which provided both "theatrical" entertainment such as magic acts, singing, dancing, minstrel shows, as well as sexual services. In 1901, the Seattle City Council was waging a war against "vice." As a result of this conflict, Chief of Police Meredith, carrying a sawed-off shotgun, pursued John Considine and his brother Tom into the G.O. Guy Pharmacy. Meredith fired at John Considine, eventually grazing him slightly and nearly hitting G.O. Guy, the owner. In self-defense, John Considine clubbed Meredith with the shotgun, which he had managed to wrestle away from him, and then shot him. Although the anti-vice forces wanted John Considine hanged for Meredith's death, at the end of a dramatic trial, he was acquitted.
G.O. Guy was eventually bought by local chain Pay 'n Save, which was in turn bought by Payless, in turn subsumed by Rite Aid. But this, too, is another story.
On the back wall at Bluebird in Fremont now, there's a big photograph of an innocent-looking tyke operating the brass taps of the soda fountain back at its old location. "That's the pharmacist's grandson," the soda jerk said, causing several people sitting on the wood-topped stools (also original) to swivel and coo, "Ohhhh! Cute!!!" The brass taps are at Bluebird, too, though not in operation, as replacement gaskets are difficult to come by. They'll eventually, it is hoped, dispense soda, while the current soda taps will dispense beer after the place gets its liquor license.
Between Pioneer Square and Fremont, the soda fountain lived yet another life entirely. According to the soda jerk, its home in between was in the apparently large pool house of an apparently rich man, as an oversized toy for his lucky children and grandchildren. After they were all grown, he decided to get rid of it.
And so the soda fountain came to Bluebird in Fremont. The closure for its installation, the soda jerk told me, was supposed to be for a month, but it stretched out to eight. She seemed a little chagrined, implying that Bluebird needs to get it together, and after two visits, I have to agree. The soda jerk was hindered in her jerking by a lack of whipped cream; while she tried to find it, I went spoonless as my bowl of hot fudge and vanilla ice cream turned into a soupy mess. She ended up not charging me—it would've been $4.50, with whipped cream 50 cents extra—which seemed only fair, since it wasn't much of a treat. A friend ordered something with chocolate syrup, and I glimpsed a brown plastic bottle with a weird-looking label; Bluebird makes all its own stuff, artisan-style, except Rachel's Ginger Beer. I asked what the syrup was, and she said they usually use Hershey's, but they ran out, so: "I had to use what I could find." It seemed like it'd be rude to press matters, especially after she said we had to try their salted caramel and snickerdoodle ice cream on a sample spoon together. "We call it Cinnabon!" she said, and it tasted just like the mall smells. They make snickerdoodle soda, too, which tastes like a cream soda ate a cookie.
On another visit, I ordered a black-and-white shake. "I don't know what that is," the (different) soda jerk said flatly. Okay, I explained—it's vanilla ice cream with chocolate syrup—but the chocolate syrup was again a problem; they didn't have enough, she said, after squeezing an inch or so of Hershey's into a plastic cup. (She was using plastic cups and then pouring the contents into metal shake cups, possibly for portioning, in defiance of decades of less wasteful, accepted milkshake-making practice.) I said I'd have just a chocolate shake, then, but she put Bluebird's very rich chocolate ice cream on top of the chocolate syrup, which was overpoweringly chocolatey, like liquefied, chilled molten chocolate cake. It had zero lumps of ice cream in it, which made me sad. My friend's root beer float came in the form of a float glass partially filled with root beer with one scoop of ice cream cantilevered on the top edge of the glass. This format may have some historical precedent of which I'm unaware, but it resulted in ice-cream drippage and zero, my friend said, of those little root-beer-icy nooks that are the best thing about a root beer float. The float and the shake each cost $5.
At the risk of sounding whiny—being disappointed in an ice cream place feels that way automatically—it's also really warm in the Bluebird Fremont shop. They have a big fan in the doorway, but still, the ice cream melts fast. Another fan in the back, near the portrait of the pharmacist's grandchild, would probably help. Go to Bluebird in Fremont anyway, though; you've got to see this beautiful, historical soda fountain in person to appreciate it, and you can't go wrong with a scoop of ice cream.
This article has been updated since its original publication; the soda fountain was extensively refurbished by Young & Young Design Build.