If I wanted to get rich and famous in Portland, I'd open an old-timey soda fountain. I'd call it Dr. Pickwick's Tonics & Elixirs. I'd fill it with vintage pharmacy bottles and old patent medicine advertisements and a gramophone that scratched and skipped away in the corner. The servers—I'd call them carbonologists—would wear bow ties and sleeve garters and sport curly waxed mustaches. They would theatrically craft each drink with antique soda siphons, housemade syrups, local herbs and hand-churned ice creams. At night, they would serve alcoholic versions. There would be live taffy pulling every Sunday. The New York Times would be on it like a rash on a sailor. I would be wildly successful, but, alas, I would then have to kill myself for being such a twat.

I can't tell you how delighted I was to discover that Fizz—a new soda fountain and candy store off Southeast Belmont Street—does not resemble my nightmare of the 1890s. Modern, bright and minimalist in décor, its shelves are stocked with plenty of brand-name sweets from multinational food conglomerates. This suited my dining companions just fine. Felix, 6, was especially taken with the Angry Birds and Super Mario gummies. Zoe, 10, had been concerned "it would be, like, an old-fashioned place."

The only nods to retro are a stand of classic candies—Mallo Cups, Turkish Taffy, Goo Goo Clusters—some of the impressive 200-plus bottled-soda selections, and a "shrine" to departed children's TV presenter Ramblin' Rod, which is really just a jacket covered in buttons (you can add your own) attached to a slightly creepy cutout of his face. 

But the Fizz's raison d'être is its soda fountain, which boasts a menu of about 30 flavors, ranging from four types of root beer to bananas foster, chocolate peanut butter and strawberry cheesecake. The syrups are from Pittsburgh (2,165 food miles!), though they're made with cane sugar, and the ice cream is good old Alpenrose. 

Sodas ($1.75-$2.25) and floats ($3.50-$4) are mixed to order via a sleek soda tap. The servings aren't quite the overflowing monsters you'll get elsewhere, and the carbonation was a little gentle for my egg cream ($2.50, made with Fox's U-Bet), but these are adult quibbles. The biggest concern for the kids was the overwhelming number of choices—our server recommended the butter beer (it's apparently a Harry Potter thing), which tasted like butterscotch and root beer and was pronounced by Zoe to be "really yummy." The weirder we went, the better everything was. For an extra 25 cents, you can add phosphoric acid to any drink. It should be added to everything, everywhere, as it imparts a wonderful tartness, magically enhancing everything you'd expect (mint ginger) and everything you wouldn't (sarsaparilla float).

Sharing sugary science experiments over a bag of gummy snakes is about the most fun you can have in Portland for under $5. Fizz probably won’t make The Times any time soon, but Zoe and Felix say its “cool,” which is good enough for me.
  1. Order this: Mint Ginger Mama with phosphates ($2.50).
  2. I’ll pass: Milkshakes, which you can get anywhere. 

GO: Fizz is at 817 SE 34th Ave., 894-8980, fizzportland.com. 11 am-9 pm daily. $ Inexpensive.