Northgate Soda Shop menu includes nostalgia, camaraderie
Back in the day, you’d find Ren Bell at Tucker’s Soda Shop on Saturday afternoons, reading the comic books. He even worked at the West Greenville hangout the summer before his senior year at Parker High School, earning enough to take Nancy Brown to the senior prom.
Today, you’ll find Bell almost every day except Sunday across town at Northgate Soda Shop, where his wife, Iris Hood-Bell, has been the proprietor for the last 11 years.
“I think it’s important to preserve a place like this,” Bell says. “There are not many places around here like it. People stop in to ask if they can come in and just look around.”
A trip to Northgate Soda Shop is a trip down memory lane where photographs of Greenville’s past line the walls and artifacts range from a collection of old soda and elixir bottles to bricks from some of the city’s longtime, but no longer landmarks.
Opened across from the North Main Rotary Ball Park by Doc Wilson in 1947, Northgate Soda Shop became a tradition with locals and visitors alike. And while the restaurant is now on its fourth owner, not a lot has changed over the years – especially the food.
Northgate’s Pimento Cheeseburger has been acclaimed by Southern Living magazine, and the Bird Dog – a chicken finger topped with swiss cheese, bacon, honey mustard and an onion ring – is another crowd pleaser, according to Bell.
Sweet tea is freshly brewed daily and sold by the gallon, and many stop in for a grilled peach or apple pie topped with a generous scoop of ice cream.
Aside from the food, Northgate Soda Shop has become a monthly gathering spot for those with a PHD, Parker High Diploma, Bell says. And it was Parker High School alums that helped the restaurant weather the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.
Before restrictions were placed on restaurants due to COVID-19, up to 80 Parker grads met at Northgate Soda Shop the first Tuesday of each month. But the soda shop closed in mid-March when SC Governor Henry McMaster ordered all bars and restaurants to suspend in-house service to combat the coronavirus outbreak.
“The Parker people got really agitated because they couldn’t meet, so they asked if they could tailgate,” Bell explained. “They brought trucks and dropped the tailgates. That back parking lot was full.”
For Bell, who retired as a regional manager for Bell South, owning a restaurant was not on his radar.
“(My wife) always wanted to have a restaurant. I came in here kicking and screaming,” Bell said. “I was a numbers guy at the phone company, and I said we’d give it three years and we’ve been here 11.”
As places like Tucker’s Soda Shop continue to disappear across the Upstate, Bell said he believes it’s camaraderie that keeps people coming through the door.
“We know people by name and what they drink, so we’ve got their drinks at the table before they sit down,” Bell said. “We embrace them like family.”
Want to visit?
Northgate Soda Shop, 918 N. Main Street, Greenville SC 29609, (864) 235-6770
Hours: Monday – Friday, 11 a.m. – 8 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.; Closed Sunday. The Other Side at Northgate Soda Shop is open Monday – Friday from 5 p.m. until 10 p.m.