by Jim Ridley
A favorite over the years of tourists, nostalgic locals and broke musicians, the diner has been a fixture of Elliston Place since at least 1939. In a 1996 Scene profile, Bob Holladay charted some of the Soda Shop's history:
The Soda Shop, as locals call it, is one of the last of a breed of Nashville lunch-counter restaurants. It once shared customers with Candyland, Walgreen’s in The Arcade, Sylvan Park Grille and a few other places that were truly local and unique. The Soda Shop, still resplendent in its 1950s American Graffiti glory, persists. Like Sylvan Park Grille and Brown’s Diner, it not only fits well into its neighborhood; it seems to epitomize it. The red vinyl on the booths still shines; the floor tiles are still white and green; and you can still get a meat-and-three for less than $5.
The Soda Shop is perfectly accepting of Elliston Place’s schizophrenia. The kids love it; so do the wanna-be musicians and the real musicians like John Hartford, Dan Fogelberg and Jimmy Buffett. Back when he was playing clubs like the Exit/In, Steve Martin was reportedly known to take an entire entourage down the street not only to Krystal but also to the Soda Shop. The Yuppies and the doctors from Baptist Hospital show up for lunch. The Soda Shop is a neighborhood lodestone.
Accounts vary as to when the Elliston Place Soda Shop opened. The menus and local legend say that its doors were opened in 1939, on the eve of World War II. However, bookstore owner Charlie Elder claims to have found a 1929 city business directory that listed the Soda Shop. That would predate by 10 years the purchase of the Soda Shop by restaurateur Lynn Chandler.
In the early days, the Soda Shop was next door to — and connected to — a drugstore, the name of which can still be read in the tiles in front of one of the street’s few vacant doorways. There was nothing funky about Elliston Place then. It was simply working-class nouveau. An H.G. Hill grocery store stood where Elder’s [Bookstore] now stands. ...
As recently as April, Brantley Hargrove was singing the Soda Shop's praises:
This innocuous little greasy spoon has some deliciously saline country ham. Add coffee, white gravy, two biscuits, hash browns, scrambled eggs doused with Louisiana Hot Sauce (not its last appearance of the day), signed pictures of LeAnn Rimes and Reba McEntire on the wall, and a waitress who calls everyone "baby," and you just laid the foundation for a Monday that is incapable of sucking.