The NYC Diner That Still Makes Coca-Cola The Old-Fashioned Way

Stepping through the kitty-corner door into New York City's Lexington Candy Shop for the first time must feel a bit like following Harry Potter through the secret portal to Track 9 ¾ at London's King's Cross Station. The hustle and bustle of the city's Upper East Side gives way to a diner that's happily stuck in the past. Established in 1925, Lexington Candy Shop has been a neighborhood mainstay since baseball slugger Babe Ruth played for the Yankees — and it's been owned and operated by the same family since the first patrons walked through that corner door almost 100 years ago.

John Philis, the grandson of the store's founder, runs the shop along with his business partner, Bob Karcher. While there's been plenty of opportunity for change over the years, Philis sees himself as a caretaker of sorts. That commitment to tradition encompasses more than the historic setting of the store; it extends to doing things the old-fashioned way, even in the face of easy shortcuts and modern conveniences — things like making Coca-Cola just like his grandfather did back in the day. As Philis explained in 2010 during an "Around New York" segment on a local on-demand television station, "Coca-Cola, any of the sodas ... We pump the syrup by hand and then mix it with seltzer with a spoon and create Coca-Cola for you ... just the way as it would have been done in 1925 or 1940."

Vintage menu items are their specialty

Old-fashioned Coca-Cola isn't the only authentically vintage item on the menu at Lexington Candy Shop. It's also one of the few places in New York City where you can still get a real egg cream. "It's hard to find somebody who knows what an egg cream is," Philis told Around New York, referencing the blend of milk, seltzer, and chocolate syrup that was all the rage in early-20th-century New York — a beverage native New Yorkers still hold near and dear. "And our milkshakes and our malteds," Philis added. "We use real malt powder. Nobody uses real malt powder nowadays."

That's not to say the menu is stuck in the past. Items have come and gone over the years to accommodate changing tastes. "We've gotten rid of a lot of cold-cut sandwiches like bologna, liverwurst, and salami," Philis said. "Those items don't really sell in this area anymore."

That brings to mind the name of the diner — Lexington Candy Shop. Wondering what happened to the candy? Back in 1925, Philis' grandfather had a vision that included the sale of homemade chocolates that were made in the basement of the shop. The family decided to pivot in 1948, discontinuing the candy counter to focus entirely on diner service. But after 23 years of building the business into a neighborhood, they decided to keep the original name. Still going strong 75 years later, that decision — among many — appears to prove the old adage: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."