The Legend of NYC’s Egg Cream
Question: What is something non-alcoholic, contains no more than three ingredients, and will cure that harsh hangover?
Answer: The title of this article of course! A good ol’ egg cream.
The egg cream soda is one of my personal favorites because it is truly an art. Concocting the perfect solution of U-Bet Chocolate Syrup, Seltzer Water, and Milk brings out the best in anyone. This is one of New York City’s staples that says, “My liver is weak, but I’m still cool!” I’m straight-edge as well, so I feel like the non-alcoholic equivalent to some snobby wine critic. And I am also a soda connoisseur, and I’m lonely.
The history of egg cream soda is strangely complex and uncertain; no one knows for sure when. One theory goes to a Yiddish theater pioneer in the 1880’s. Boris Thomashevsky had asked a New York soda jerk (soda jerk is the soda equivalent of a bartender) to reproduce chocolate et creme (a Parisian drink) and got lost in translation. Another theory goes that the name “Egg Cream” is simply an Americanization of “echt keem”, Yiddish for “pure sweetness”.
But the one that is more commonly known belongs to one Louis Auster. This guy owned a candy shop in the Lower East Side and had this recipe shaped up with his own chocolate syrup and was widely popular. According to a 1964 New York Tribune article, “The Egg Cream Mystique”, Auster’s son Emmanuel stated, “We are in business since 1892. We started in at Stanton-Lewis Streets on the lower East Side. About 1900, my father originated egg cream chocolate. We made all our syrups.”
We do not know how exactly this tasty drink came to be, but two things are for certain: 1. It all leads to either the Lower East Side of Manhattan or some candy shop in Brooklyn. And 2. It has Jewish lineage.
If you were to ask me which were the more believable story, I’d say the Auster one. There are two establishments in/near the LES that are known to provide top notch egg creams: Gem Spa, newsstand shop on Second Avenue and St.Mark’s, and the Eisenberg Sandwich shop on Fifth Avenue and 22nd. So given the economic makeup of an egg cream soda (the ingredients are very cheap to acquire) and New York City culture in the 1890’s, it holds more weight that a Jewish shop owner made and sold it rather than some actor trying to explain a drink. The Thomashevsky story could have more believability if say, his Wikipedia article could have freakin’ mentioned it (Control+F it yourself). I can’t find much more information on the Thomashevsky-Egg Cream relationship as well, so really it’s more of a legend, in my eyes.
Either way, you look at it, the egg cream soda deserves more attention than it does now. People think the drink is so antiquated, that it represents a time when New Yorkers couldn’t get buzzed legally. It reminds them of grandma, etc. I think you people are partying a little too hard. Relax, and have an egg cream. If not, then get hung over, hate yourself because of it, and then have an egg cream.
Lou Reed eulogized the beloved soda in his song, “Egg Cream”.
“When I was a young man, no bigger than this
A chocolate egg cream was not to be missed
Some U-bet’s chocolate syrup, seltzer water mixed with milk
You stir it up into a heady fro, tasted just like silk
You scream, I steam, we all want egg cream.”
Interesting Egg Cream related stuff: