Green River Soda: America’s Forgotten Drink

Green River Soda at Zaharakos in Columbus, Indiana

Prohibition changed everything in America. A thousand things we never think twice about today—from Income Tax to dinner parties—were the result of the Temperance Movement or Prohibition. Whole industries were turned on their heads. The Eighteenth Amendment which banned alcohol was passed on January 16, 1919. There would be a year before it came into effect. That meant breweries, distilleries,bottling companies, restaurants, bars and saloons, among others, had to think fast and get new products and services to the market.

I visited Zaharakos in Columbus, Indiana, to see a rare survivor of those years of turmoil. An ice cream parlor founded in 1900, Zaharakos has the most amazing collection of turn-of-the-century decor, from Tiffany stained glass to an onyx soda fountain made for the 1904 St Louis World’s Fair. It is also one of the few remaining places you can buy a glass of Green River Soda.

Zaharakos in Columbus Indiana

In 1919 the Schoenhofen Brewing Company in Chicago faced going out of business unless it developed something to replace their soon-to-be-outlawed beers. It was expected that Prohibition would provide a massive boon to candy manufacturers and so, Schoenhofen developed a soft drink: Green River Soda.

Although I’ve only had it half a dozen times, I’m a big fan of Green River Soda. It has a clean, summery taste which is claimed to be a lime flavor, though I’m not sure I believe that. It is surprising how unsweet it is—which is probably an indicator that it was a soda marketed at adults, not children.

Green River Soda Advertisement from 1929

Green River Soda advertisement from The Deseret News, August 12th, 1929.

By the end of Prohibition, it was second only to Coca Cola in popularity throughout the Midwest. But at the end of Prohibition, the Schoenhofen Company sidelined Green River Soda, believing their beers would be more popular. The gap in the market for a citrus-flavored soda was quickly filled by 7-Up. Schoenhofen went out of business in 1955.

Today it’s not easy to find Green River Soda. A few outlets in Chicago sell it. Occasionally you can find it in bottles, sometimes in the oddest of places. I was amazed last year when I walked into a hardware store in rural upstate New York to find it in the fridge, next to Coke and Pepsi. Whenever I’m in Indiana, I love to order a Green River Soda at Zaharakos—it has found its perfect home here, a place that preserves fragments of lost America.

Zaharakos, the perfect place to order a Green River Soda
Address: 329 Washington Street, Columbus IN
Hours: 11am – 8pm, seven days a week

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About Richard

I am a writer who travels endlessly. Fascinated by how our lives are propelled forward by what's left behind, I thirst to know everything. I read, collect, gather, organise, list. Here are some of the things I read, see and experience. Please make yourself at home: drinks and pretzels will be served shortly. If you'd like to get in touch, I'd love to hear from you!

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