The feel of yesterday as you cool off from today’s heat

The feel of yesterday as you cool off from today’s heat
The feel of yesterday as you cool off from today’s heat

In 1984, President Ronald Reagan signed Proclamation 5219, setting aside an entire month for celebration of his favorite treat and designating an official day in honor of what he described as “the perfect dessert.”

July has been National Ice Cream Month ever since, and on the third Sunday of July, folks all over the country celebrate National Ice Cream Day. It’s July 19 this year.

Michael Lisotta had never heard of this little-known holiday when he fortuitously opened his beloved ice cream parlor for business July 23, 2012. But the cheerful, blue-eyed owner of Mike’s Old Fashioned Soda Fountain seems to have a unique concept of time that customers get to experience when they walk into his ice cream parlor.

“Most people kind of go to a special place when they come in here, I think,” Lisotta said. “You get an experience that’s a little different and a little out of the ordinary.”

Located in the heart of downtown Port Neches, Mike’s Old Fashioned Soda Fountain recreates the authentic atmosphere of multiple yesteryears – spanning from the 1890s up through the ’60s and ’70s.

Customers come in to the Soda Fountain to enjoy old-fashioned root beer floats, malts, milkshakes, and sundaes served in glassware. The milkshakes are whipped up with mix machines from the 1940s right behind the bar that Lisotta himself fashioned from parts of old doors and other architectural salvage.

“The difference in our milkshakes is that we use real ice cream,” he said. “Fast food joints advertise real ice cream, but usually it’s soft serve or ice milk. Real ice cream has a richness that soft serve doesn’t have. It doesn’t need to be disguised with M&M’s and all that stuff because it’s real ice cream.”

Mike’s Old Fashioned Soda Fountain has certainly stood the test of time – in a manner of speaking. After only three years of business, the place is timeless.

The most popular items customers come to enjoy include the old-fashioned root beer floats, the banana split, and the best-seller and Lisotta’s personal favorite, the brownie sundae.

In his first year of business, Lisotta strictly sold ice cream desserts, but he has since added a lunch menu offering chicken and sausage gumbo, chicken pasta salad, and a classic barbecue sandwich that everybody enjoys.

The menu features other items one could expect from concession stands at Coney Island, like hot dogs and Frito pies.

What’s fascinating about Mike’s Old Fashioned Soda Fountain is that it comfortably accommodates so many knick-knacks and collectables that recall nearly a century of American culture.

“Well, the times get blurry,” Lisotta said. “In my mind, I imagine a young person in 1910 opened up a soda fountain, and then in the 1920s he added some more stuff, and in the 1930s he added more … and he ages with the ice cream parlor.

The reality of how all of these antiquities came together is not too far from that scenario – Lisotta has collected memorabilia since he was 10 years old. There’s a lot to look at while you enjoy your old fashioned summer snack: turn of the century antiques, art deco architectural elements, and a 1947 Rockola Jukebox. Guests will also notice a variety of theme music plays at the Soda Fountain – Big Band, ragtime, ‘40s swing, and duwop hits from the ‘50s and ‘60s.

Sitting behind Victorian trim is a flatscreen television that plays classic movies like The Wizard of Oz or cartoons from the 1930s and 1940s, such as Betty Boop and Tom and Jerry.

“Everyone loves the Tom and Jerrys from the 1940s, and most of the younger kids have never even heard of Betty Boop.”

The inspiration for Mike’s Old Fashioned Soda Fountain came from Lisotta’s youth in Port Arthur.

“One of my fondest memories from my childhood is when our family would go to Shakey’s Pizza Parlor on Gulfway Drive every Saturday night. They’d have a lady on the ragtime piano and show silent movies like Laurel and Hardy. There were several places when I was growing up. When I was growing up there was a place in Parkdale Mall called Farrell’s.”

Mike’s Old Fashioned Soda Fountain will celebrate it’s third anniversary this week, but residents seem to have trouble remembering a time before the parlor on Port Neches Avenue.

“People seem to feel like they’re somewhere special,” Lisotta said. “There’s a genuine charm here that I think people appreciate. I hope so.

Mike’s Old Fashioned Soda Fountain is at 1302 Port Neches Avenue in Port Neches.