Citing possible legal problems with the landlord, Elmwood Health & Mercantile owner Vicky Carter declined to comment on the closure of Ozzie's Soda Fountain earlier this month. The quirky old-school lunch counter was a beloved feature of the Elmwood neighborhood, attracting a mix of families, hipsters, and old-timers through inexpensive BLTs, egg and olive sandwiches, and lovably antiquated fountain drinks. This isn't the first time Ozzie's -- which, along with the Mercantile's predecessor, Elmwood Pharmacy, opened in 1921 -- has seen its milkshake machine sit idle. According to a contemporary account in the Daily Cal, the lunch counter closed temporarily in July 2005 after a dispute with manager Michael Hogan over business hours and other matters.
No word from Carter about reasons for the current closure, or the fate of the counter that's come to define its South Berkeley neighborhood. "In a way it's a personal sadness," said Berkeley resident Marty Schiffenbauer, who's been a Saturday regular for more than 25 years. "You go there for the company." In an email statement, music writer and DJ Derk Richardson (a former Ozzie's soda jerk) was just as mournful: "Although Ozzie retired in 1989, after running the soda fountain since 1950, the lunch counter remained a sentimental gathering spot for 'regulars' and neighborhood activists in the years that followed. ... One of the last of its kind, a true drugstore soda fountain, Ozzie's is an unofficial historical landmark in Berkeley, and although that may not be a good enough reason to try to keep it running, it would be a tremendous loss if the space were gutted and the classic lunch counter and stools relegated to landfill." As for Schiffenbauer and the group of Saturday regulars, they've been meeting at Filippo's, a nearby Italian restaurant. "It's kind of anti-climactic," Schiffenbauer said of the sudden closing. John Birdsall