Klavon’s Ice Cream Parlor

By | May 10, 2006

Klavon’s Ice Cream Parlor
3801 Penn Ave
The Strip, 15222
May-September: M & Tu: 10-5; W-F: 10-9; Sat & Sun: 12-9
October-April: M-F: 10-5; Sat: 12-9; Sun: closed

What an amazing place! I will always love Klavon’s, our very own local family-run authentic soda fountain in the Strip. It isn’t retro, it simply IS authentic. The story goes that the owner’s grandparents closed up the 1920’s shop after one too many downtown floods, and when the grandkids went to check out the old building decades later they found a pristinely appointed full service ice cream store, replete with weird old medicines (can you believe people used to take some of this stuff?) and usable furniture and equipment. In fact, the only new things in the whole store are the milkshake maker and the ice cream itself!

OK, so that’s not totally true. I think they bought a few new ice cream scoops since then. But really, by and large it is all the same stuff. The marble countertop, inlaid terrazzo floor, Art Deco light fixtures, woodwork, phone booths, and tin ceiling are all original to the place. I hear tell that they even still use the old banana split dishes, and the same brand of ice cream, Pittsburgh’s own Reinhold’s. And of course, you can tell the furniture is original the minute you sit down on the wonderful old stools, booths, and chairs, which are tiny seeming in comparison to today’s standards. In the words of Kath Day-Knight, “You’re mushrooming out on all sides!”

But no matter! You’ll only be sitting while you savor your ice cream; then you’ll be on your feet pouring over the intriguing objects packed in every nook and cranny throughout the store. Aside from the captivating array of weird old pharmacy-type stuff (my personal favorite is the suppository-making press), there’s an old one-cent scale to weigh yourself with and a bunch of old greeting cards from a time when women’s underwear would miraculously fall to the floor whenever they grabbed a sac of groceries. Punchline: ‘Sometimes you just get unlucky!’ Fascinating!

But the goodness of Klavon’s does not end with curiosities and apothecary bottles. The ice cream! The ice cream! Actually, it isn’t the ice cream per say… its what they do with the ice cream. So many old-timey ice cream shops only have shakes and sundaes, riding entirely on the appeal of the ambiance of the era. But Klavon’s is different that way. They have ice cream sodas, phosphates, pecan balls, and egg creams. What is an egg cream, you say? Well, there aren’t any eggs in it, if that’s what you mean. It’s usually chocolate, soda water, and milk. Weird, huh? Too weird for people to still drink anymore, which is why you’ve never heard of it! And if you HAVE heard of it, you know that it’s as old-skool as ice cream concoctions get!

Another reason to like Klavon’s is that they are close to their Pittsburgh roots. When the Klavons first opened their parlor in 1923, they actually had two different locations on Penn Ave. Their son (father of the current owners) helped out in the shop and ended up marrying a girl who grew up one block from their location in the Strip. Now the Strip location gets to be a piece of history, bringing more good news about Pittsburgh to the public eye by being featured on Food Network and the like. And they even serve desserts named for Pittsburgh landmarks, such as the ‘Strip District Split’ and ‘Float the Three Rivers’, which is your choice of soda float: The Monongahela (Root Beer), The Allegheny (Coca-Cola), or The Ohio (Orange). Ha ha ha!

And if you always wanted to be a sundae designer when you grew up, this is the place to come! They have the best array of toppings ever, including the more rare offerings of chocolate dust, chocolate balls, wet walnuts, Spanish peanuts, pineapple, wild cherry, marshmallow, and peanut butter. And the best part is the multiple kinds of whipped cream. Vanilla, Chocolate, Amaretto…I’ve even had Cinnamon and Coffee flavored whipped cream! You can really go to town! If you’re not feeling creative, get any one of their pre-designed treats: Turtle Split or Sundae, Tin Ceiling Sundae, Super Bowl Sundae, Martha Sundae (all chocolate), or a Brownie Sundae, just to name a few. Sundaes all come with a surprise too: a little decoration and usually a pretzel looped on the spoon handle (the salty to your sweet).

Maybe you prefer to drink your ice cream desserts? Well, I am here to tell you that the milkshakes, malts, and ice cream sodas are phenomenal! What’s best is that you can get either traditional flavors of chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry, OR you can be adventurous and flavor your malt, shake, or soda with any Torani syrup flavor you like. Just the other day, I had a mandarin orange ice cream soda. YUM! It was like a creamsicle! Next time, I am trying lime! Cherry is another favorite. And if you aren’t feel daring – no big deal – the chocolate malt is sublime.

It’s not over yet! The goodness of Klavon’s persists! They also keep on deck a ton of penny candy that will roll your grandma’s knickers up! I can’t believe they are still making some of this stuff. I mean, those little Styrofoam UFO discs with sprinkles inside are god-awful. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone actually eat one of those coconut covered peanut-candy sticks. But I do love a candy cigarette or two (they sell the kind here with a little powdered sugar on the end to ‘puff’ out with), and they have candy lipstick galore. You really can’t find a better selection anywhere, and they still only charge pennies.

Klavon’s is great for any person, any time. If you do bring a grandparent here, they will surely fondly remember their youth. The family that runs Klavon’s often sits with elderly customers reminiscing about their own soda fountain where they grew up. They knew that the ice cream parlor had an easy appeal to that age group, but what they didn’t expect was for younger people to be so interested. You may have never experienced such a place as Klavon’s in your whole life, but being there will stir some kind of memory inside of you. It’s a memory of youth. I’m trying not to get too cheesy here, but looking at the vast shelves of penny candy, all of the sudden I’m transported back. A pack of teaberry gum or a sheet of Candy Buttons? Wax Lips or Nik-L-Nips? Abba Zabba or Necco Wafers? Zag Nut? Sky Bar? All of the sudden it’s the most important decision of my life! If, for even just a moment, all you have to worry about is what kind of candy to spend your three dimes on, then life must be good – and that’s why Klavon’s is so great.

Shake, Malt, Ice Cream Soda
Your own personalized Sundae
Penny Candy

The lunch items are not spectacular. It’s not so bad that I wouldn’t get it if I just happened to be there for lunch… but why not just skip straight to dessert?!

If you are calorie counting, they very conveniently offer what they call a ‘wee-one’ sundae. I suppose it’s meant from a ‘wee-one’ but I will sometimes get it if I don’t want to eat a lot. Its just one scoop, which a little bit of topping and whipped cream. It’s just right! I love a wee-one peanut butter fudge ice cream with peanut butter topping and chocolate whipped cream. It’s just a few bites, and it truly hits the spot.

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