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Highland Park Sips Soda for Southwest Museum

Mount Washington teen Julian Axelrod rubs elbows with culture humorist Charles Phoenix and samples "Poptails" at Galco's first "Summer Soda Tasting".

“Poptails at Galco’s Soda Pop Stop?” said my teenage son.  “I’m there.”

On Sunday, so were hundreds of others, ranging from Southwest Museum supporters to soda pop aficionados, hipsters to historians, family units to fans of pop culturist Charles Phoenix.  Phoenix was the mixologist with the mostest at the first ever "Summer Soda Tasting” event at : the Highland Park fixture that stocks over 500 hard-to-find sodas from around the world.

Galco proprietor John Nese hosted the fundraiser to benefit the Friends of the Southwest Museum.  He's also a member of the Coalition that hopes to help reopen L.A.’s first museum, which was founded by civic booster Charles Lummis in an effort preserve vanishing Native American culture and subsequently closed for general exhibitions by Autry National Center in 2009.

Click for more on the Southest Museum and the Autry National Center.

There was already a line of eager Poptailers snaking down York Boulevard at 5:00 p.m. when my pop-loving offspring Julian Axelrod and I arrived.   Guests received commemorative Galco’s/Friends of the Southwest Coalition pop shot glasses and were greeted at their first soda pop stop by Mr. Phoenix.  The cultural humorist donned a highly festive, neon-graffitied/glitter ensemble while he tirelessly poured “poptails” like The Southwest, The Galco, and the Highland Park--concoctions conceived in The Charles Phoenix Test Kitchen.  Phoenix not only mixed up multiple sparkling beverage brands in his soda pop “mashups” but incorporated items from Galco’s extensive line of nostalgic candy.

Think bright-colored Dots and chewy Gummy Shark garni instead of cocktail olives and onions.

After being greeted by the indefatigably cheery Phoenix, guests wound their way past the display cases of old-fashioned sweets and coolers of carbonated goodness to the second pop stop where they sampled sips of Red Ribbon sodas with classic tastes like root beer, grape, and cherry from the Pennsylvania bottling company Natrona.  “Red Ribbon has some ridiculously good flavors,” confirmed my teen cream soda connoisseur.  Julian isn’t a fan of nuts so he “wasn’t expecting to love Almond Cream”, their most unusual flavor, but gave it a shot.  The report?

“It was wonderful.   It felt like sipping a cream soda in space,” enthused my designated sampler.  Julian is a stand-up comedian and therefore has a, shall we say, unique way of looking at the world.  Still, I’m sure he would be willing and available if his rapturous report prompted NASA to recruit him for any future space race soda taste tests.

A Soda Surprise Unveiled

The Natrona Bottling Company was also a supporting star in the Summer Soda Tasting’s “surprise”.  Soon after the event began, the beaming, red-aproned Nese unveiled “White Rose Cream Soda."  The extremely limited edition of 2,500 sodas is bottled by the Pennsylvania-based Natrona, one of the few companies willing to do such a limited run, according to the King of Pop.

White Rose Cream Soda is the first in a new line of “Highland Park’s Own” sodas that Nese and Galco's will be rolling out.  Nese describes the soda as “homage to historic Highland Park where many, now-defunct water companies once took advantage of the creeks and springs that fed into the Arroyo Seco.  Nese’s new pop offering is based  on a cream soda from the Rose Springs Water and White Rose Soda bottling company,  which operated from the early 1900’s to the late 1960’s on Figueroa Street (near ) at the base of the Southwest Museum.  The new soda’s blue and white label was recreated from a 1930’s label by Arroyo Seco artists Amy Inouye and Julie Keehner.  As an ongoing commitment to benefit NELA’s communities, Galco will donate a portion of each bottle of White Rose Cream Soda sold to the Friends of the Southwest Museum Coalition to help reopen the and Casa de Adobe.

Nese points out another symbolic connection between Galco’s and the Southwest Museum: Branch Street, which runs just behind Galco’s, was the former course way of North Branch Creek, which once meandered over to the museum.

A Pop World-Tour

White Rose Cream Soda was definitely the debutante drink of the event, which was attended by Councilman Ed Reyes and other local officials, as well as artists and activists, but there were plenty of tried and true beverages to taste.  In addition to the Phoenix Poptail and Natrona stations, subsequent pop stops included Australian brewing company Bundaberg, whose kangaroo-labeled bottles contained “spectacular fruit flavors”, according to Julian, such as “Blood Orange” and “Peachee."   Julian has always wanted to go to Australia, so that may have influenced his rating, but as a citrus fan, I can certainly vouch for the sweet tang of the “Pink Grapefruit."

Subsequent stops on the Yelp-promoted event included England’s Fentiman’s, whose Rose Lemonade and Victorian Lemonade are long-time personal favorites, and Hank’s from Philadelphia.  According to Julian, “Hank’s root beer and orange cream soda were as sweet as the people serving them.”  This glowing review was due in part to the Hank’s servers, who put the beneficence in benefit by telling him to sample as much soda as he wanted.

Needless to say, Julian was in Hank’s heaven.

Sipping into the Sunset

At 7:00 p.m., patient Poptailers were still wending their way into Galco’s as art lovers perused the silent auction while local band Artichoke played in the evening sun.  As he opened case after case of White Rose Cream Soda, Nese expressed satisfaction about the brisk sale of Galco goods, all of which will benefit the Coalition in addition to the $12-$15 event ticket sales and auction proceeds.  The pop shop owner was especially pleased that the event raised awareness of an issue dear to his heart, though.

As we drove off, Julian clutched several bottles of Galco’s finest in his arms and remembered taking “trips to the Southwest Museum, which really opened up a whole world of Native American culture in a way I’d never experienced before.  The Southwest Museum should be preserved for the people who have been there,” my teen opines as he sips a Hank’s root beer, “and even more for the people who haven’t experienced it yet.”

I’ll raise a glass of White Rose Cream Soda to that.

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