Serious Eats: Drinks

The Pear Delicatessen, A Soda Mecca in Seattle

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[Photos: Lisa Martin]

Seeking out and sampling every variety of canned and bottled pop isn't always easy. Regional restrictions, limited product roll-outs, arcane legal restrictions, and the brute realities of the market keep us forever on the hunt. Lucky for us, in almost every big city in America, there's a store that understands our passion for carbonation. If you're as into soda pop binges and flavor overdoses as we are, there's probably someplace in your town that stockpiles a variety of soft drink brands and hard-to-find tipples. And if you happen to live in Seattle, that place is the Pear Delicatessen & Shoppe.

Located in the Emerald City's legendary Pike Place Market, just a stone's throw from the original Starbucks, the Pear Deli went through a number of permutations before it ended up as one of our favorite places to buy soda. Long a family business, it began as a cab dispatch before becoming a meat packer and a costume warehouse before ending up, in 2003, as a delicatessen catering to the busy crowd at one of the city's busiest tourist attractions. The Pear offers sandwiches, specialty chocolates, cookbooks, and a wide selection of beers, but for our purposes, the real draw is its gargantuan wall of sodas.

The Pear Deli's treasure trove of micro-bottlers and regional colas numbers over 250 flavors and varieties of over 50 brands, spanning the whole U.S., from Hawaii to New England. The selection ranges from the usual corporate giants and brand-new flavor combinations to tiny family-owned soda brands going back as far as the Civil War. The choices are forever changing; and Pear's owners, though admirably dedicated to their old favorites, are also willing to switch things up.

Among the available brands during our most recent visit were ones we've sampled before, including Fentiman's, Squamscot, Hot Lips, Waialua, AJ Stephan's, Jackson Hole, Fitz's, Faygo, Sprecher, Maine Root, Blenheim, and Kutztown; we also found old favorites like Berghoff, Virgil's, Sioux City, Abita, and Dad's alongside less familiar brands like Sea Dog, Barrel Brothers, Captain Eli's, and Olde Rhode Island. We loaded up a basket with Grown UP Sodas, a cola from Seattle's Pig Iron BBQ, some Dog 'n' Suds for nostalgia value, and even tried something purporting to be Capone Family Secret Soda before we ran out of stomach space.

The Pear Delicatessen is open seven days a week for your soda-drinking pleasure. Prices can be high, especially since they sell only by the single bottle, but the selection can't be beat, and everything is properly chilled and ready for sipping. Best of all, at least for non-Seattleites, the Pear is starting an online store. It's not up and running yet, but once it is, it'll be a terrific opportunity to sample some of the country's rarest sodas without having to trek to Pike Place.

Have you ever visited the Pear Deli? What's your one-stop shop for rare and specialty sodas?

Pear Delicatessen & Shoppe

1926 Pike Pl, Seattle, WA 98101 (map)
206-443-1926; pearatpikeplace.com/

About the author: Leonard Pierce likes his films noir, his boudin blanc, and his drinks carbonated. He 'tweets' at @leonardpierce.

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