I, Locavore: Manhattan Special Sodas


Ray Bradbury immortalized the earthy, aromatic flavor of sarsaparilla soda in his 1953 short story, The Scent of Sarsaparilla–an eerie tale that ends with the line, “The old, the familiar, the unforgettable scent of drugstore sarsaparilla.” If the soda was old in the fifties, it’s even older now, but Manhattan Special is still plugging away from its headquarters in Brooklyn, making antique sodas that taste like a time before corn syrup ruled the world.

Manhattan Special has been brewing the sweet beverages since 1895, when a family originally from Palermo, Italy, started the business. It’s most famous for espresso sodas, which you’ve probably seen around, but also concocts other old-fashioned soda fountain drinks like the one made from sarsaparilla, a bitter root that was thought to have medicinal qualities; gassosa, an Italian lemon-lime fizz; and cherry and orange sodas made with actual juice.

Manhattan Special’s headquarters are at 342 Manhattan Avenue in Brooklyn, making their products one of the only locavoric sodas we can think of, and are sweetened with cane sugar, which gives the drinks a clean, clear sweetness, rather than the syrupy, tongue-coating flavor that’s imparted by corn syrup.

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