The Fair Oaks Pharmacy and Soda Fountain has been a South Pasadena landmark since 1915, according to its website. And the interior looks so old-fashioned it’s almost impossible to doubt it’s a real 100-plus-year-old antique. In actuality, it’s not, having undergone a number of transformations, not the least of which has been its name. From the South Pasadena Pharmacy to the Raymond Pharmacy (in the ’20s) to the Fair Oaks Pharmacy, its existence was nondescript until new owners decided to gussy it up in 1989.
Artifacts, including a complete set of pharmacy fixtures, an original soda fountain, stained glass cabinetry, marble-topped counters, heavy chrome bar stools and original Hamilton Beach malt mixers were purchased from an ancient pharmacy in Joplin, Missouri. Other authentic soda fountain and apothecary memorabilia were added to this collection, along with an array of unique gifts, greeting cards, toys and decorative accessories reflecting the era of the original store and classic collections from vintage film and television eras.
Newer proprietors have lovingly maintained the retro staging. And although the menu invites you to sit back and relax, there’s no way to get the full feel of the place without wandering through the entire store. There’s a mind-boggling clutter of soap, costume jewelry, shirts, magnets and stuffed animals, plus Lucy (Ball as well as Peanuts), Elvis, Marilyn, Superman, Betty Boop and Wizard of Oz collectibles.
I’m mesmerized by the huge amount of Coca Cola and Route 66 paraphernalia. But not so rapt that I can’t admire the tin ceiling, tile floor, marble tables and ceiling fans. The period music which provides a backdrop to browsing and dining is fantastic, and the “penny” candy (including those pink and white candy dots stuck on paper, Necco Wafers and Abba Zabas) takes me back to my youth. I haven’t seen Bonomo taffy or wax bottles, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were just out of stock.
Since the Fair Oaks Pharmacy has been compounding blood pressure meds for our cat Sandyclaws this past year, his periodic prescription refills have become a ready excuse to indulge in the irresistible excesses of the Soda Fountain as well. Every three months we’ve treated ourselves to hand-dipped milkshakes, malts and sundaes ($6.95) which we have made with the ever-changing choice of ice cream flavors posted on the board by the counter.
We’ve breakfasted on California omelets (stuffed with bacon, avocado and tomato and topped with cheddar – $7.95) and Fair Oaks Combos (bacon, sausage or ham with two eggs any style, two buttermilk hotcakes or a Belgian waffle ($9.95) with coffee or orange juice included. And we’ve stuffed ourselves with several of the 18 sweet or savory hotcake/waffle menu choices, e.g., Nana’s Bananas (two hotcakes or a waffle topped with sliced banana and caramel with whipped cream and nuts – $7.95), PB&J ($8.95), Bacon Everything ($8.95) and Life’s Lemons Waffle (lemon zest with whipped cream and nuts – $7.95).
We’ve lunched on burgers ($8.95 – $11.95), melts ($6.95 – $11.95), hotdogs ($7.95 – $9.94), sandwiches ($7.95 – $10.95) and salads ($8.95 – $12.95). We tend to like the basics: California Cobb, East Coast Dog (with sauerkraut and deli mustard), Double Route 66 Burger (with cheese, tomato, romaine and red onion) and egg salad (made without pickle relish, thank goodness). We’ve had Egg Creams ($4.25) and cherry Rickeys ($3.50), ice cream sodas, floats and freezes (each made with a whole pint of ice cream – $6.95) and soda water spiked with a number of the 30 or so Italian syrups they stock behind the counter ($3.95).
But until last week, despite our heavy patronage, we’d never visited the store in December. And believe me, a Christmastime visit to Fair Oaks Soda Fountain is an absolute must for anybody who could benefit from a little extra holiday cheer. In addition to the store’s overwhelming year-round displays, there are 29 completely decorated trees of all shapes and sizes to gaze at. The ornaments are for sale (and a bargain after the 25th) but I’m pretty sure no matter how many are bought, the trees will still seem full and festive.
Holiday music fills the air and special Christmas-themed gifts have somehow miraculously been added to the ordinarily overstocked shelves and display cases. As we awaited our Reuben Melt ($10.95) and BLT ($8.95) with fries ($1.95) and onion rings ($2.95) and sipped vanilla and chocolate phosphates ($3.50 each with free refills), we watched a gentleman purchase a replica of the iconic “Christmas Story” major award lamp, the one with a base shaped like a woman’s leg in net stocking and stiletto heel, to put in his window to surprise his wife when she got home that night, and were sorely tempted to get one for ourselves.
I, for one, really needed this recent Fair Oaks Pharmacy holiday pick-me-up, having been so shell-shocked at last year’s election results that I couldn’t get up the energy to take down our (artificial) tree which we had put up in mid-November as festive preparation for our first woman president. By July my husband said it was too late to take it down and so, like Miss Havisham’s wedding feast, it remained in our living room reminding me of when my “great expectations” were destroyed.
Its bright lights and the colorful Audubon birds perched on its branches did little to lighten my mood. But the Virginia elections somewhat restored my will to live while the defeat of Roy Moore cheered me even more. And, lo and behold, our fully decorated tree (which never, thank goodness, decayed like Miss Havisham’s cake) turned out to be a plus, allowing leisure time to drink in the rejuvenating holiday spirit along with our phosphates at the Fair Oaks Soda Fountain, completing my cure at least for now.
So take my advice. If this year’s been a disappointment for you, not to worry! 2018 is a mere hop, skip and jump away and maybe it’ll be better. At any rate, now’s definitely not the time to dwell on the future. Put away fears of the tax bill, climate change and nuclear war and revel in the joys of late December. As Dickens said of Scrooge at the end of “A Christmas Carol”: “And it was always said of him that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man possessed the knowledge.”
So, too, do the owners of the Fair Oaks Pharmacy and Soda Fountain. Don’t miss it.

Fair Oaks Pharmacy and Soda Fountain
1526 Mission St., South Pasadena  | (626) 799-1414 | Major Cards/No Alcohol