Just when you think history has shifted permanently in one direction, you stumble upon something so amazing, it's as if time has momentarily stopped. Case in point: the lunch counter at Fox's Drug Store in Raytown.
It not only may be the last operating drugstore soda fountain in the metro, but customers can still smoke there. Is it really 2008?
I noticed the little glass ashtrays on the tables and on the counter the minute I walked into the dining area, which is just off the side of the venerable drugstore. "It used to be on the other side of the store," explained Everett, the kindly older gentleman who meticulously — as in very slowly — mixes up the chocolate malts, cherry limeades and vanilla Cokes. Fox's Drug has operated a soda fountain at 10004 East 63rd Street since 1939. The "new" soda fountain area was added in 1957, when practically every neighborhood had an independently owned drugstore and most had a counter set aside for simple meals and fizzy fountain drinks such as phosphates and root-beer floats.
Here, you can still order a float and sip it between puffs of a Kool. I didn't believe it, but the pharmacist later confirmed it: Fox's is still smoker-friendly.
The counter is now topped with marbleized Formica of more recent vintage, but the shiny stainless-steel equipment on the other side of the counter looks like it dates back to the days of Boss Tom Pendergast.
It's a wonderful place, open from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday, that serves a limited menu of breakfast and lunch items: burgers (no fries, but you can get hash browns), egg-salad and grilled cheese sandwiches, grilled hot dogs and daily specials. Wednesday is "pancake day," but Everett had sold out of his famous maple-nut flapjacks before I arrived. "We had a rush this morning," he said.
Everett moves so methodically that it's difficult to imagine him coping with a "rush" of more than three customers at once, but what the hell.
I eventually ate a delicious double cheeseburger and the best chocolate malt I've tasted in years, served in a disposable cup, with the half-full frosty metal canister on the side. It was worth the wait.