If you are looking for a nostalgic old-school soda fountain replete with ice cream sodas, gumball machines, antiquities, and 1960s vinyl furniture, you’ll find it at Watson’s Soda Fountain & Cafe in Orange, Calif.
The important question to ask is not whether you are looking for these goodies from the past, but why you would need to look for them. As one of the last remaining bastions of old-school eateries, Watson’s represents an important part of Orange County’s rich history.
Succumbing to the tidal wave of modern aesthetics and “Haute” cuisine trends, such as AnQi, restaurants like San Giovanni Ristorante and Cafe Lafayette have recently shuttered their doors. The residents and landlords of Orange County seem to lack any sympathy or compassion for something old for old time’s sake.
On a recent Saturday afternoon, sitting on the counter waiting for my ice cream soda, however, I could not help but feel protective of Watson’s history. Unmistakably American smells of hot oil and buttery hollandaise wafted pleasantly throughout the cafe. Diners dressed in a whole spectrum of outfits — flannel shirts, suits, and/or Lululemons — packed in the cafe, ordering diner classics like fluffy pancakes or New World must-haves like Huevos Rancheros and Egg Benny’s. Next door, Rockwell’s Bakery sold freshly baked pecan pies or birthday cupcakes to customers.
Something about Watson’s seemed to work.
One spoonful of my ice cream soda helped me see why. The warm fudge chocolate syrup, smooth vanilla ice cream, and frothy soda bubbles topped with sweet maraschino cherries on whipped cream made me nostalgic about these “American-style” comfort foods. Those, plenty of my fellow patrons were enjoying, quite jubilantly.
Watson’s used to have a pharmacy, the store manager said.
“We recently shut down our pharmacy — the oldest running one in Orange County — and replace it with Rockwell’s Bakery. Remodeling Watson’s without the pharmacy drove some of our older-generation customers away,” the Watson’s manager said.
Talking to and watching the patrons, who frequented the establishment, it became clear that Watson’s is one of the rarer bastions of good ole’ times — and let’s not forget the tried-and-true food items. Its offerings are far from groundbreaking, but that is perhaps exactly its charm.
Even though a large minority of Orange County’s population may not have the cultural or nostalgic connection with old-school eateries, we should work hard to maintain its local charm of places like Old Towne Orange. It is my — and should be many others’ — pleasure to do my part in preserving important institutions like Watson’s.