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The Boston Cooler, a Detroit Original

In the city where Fred Sanders is credited with inventing the ice cream soda, pharmacist and founder of America’s oldest soft drink, James Vernor, took it one step further with the Boston Cooler. Originally a mixture of sweet cream and spicy, tickle-your-nose Vernor’s ginger soda, the drink eventually morphed into a thick, vanilla ice cream-based blended shake that is still available at Detroit-area Dairy Queens and independent ice cream parlors.

Vernor operated a drug store and soda fountain on Woodward Avenue near what is now known as the Boston-Edison historic district, the main thoroughfare being Boston Boulevard, hence the seemingly disconnected name. Though houses weren’t built and occupied in the area until the early 1900s, the mixture of vanilla ice cream and Vernor’s ginger soda was popular as far back as 1880.

As the name suggests, a Boston Cooler is fantastic on a hot summer day when you might want the weight of plain ice cream balanced out with the mild heat of ginger soda. But it’s plenty good enough as a year round treat. Enjoy one with another Detroit original named for somewhere else – the Coney Island hot dog.

Posted on 2010.03.02 by Todd Abrams at 2:36 am
This entry was posted in GUD Blog and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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20 Responses to The Boston Cooler, a Detroit Original

Evan Hansen says:

One of my favorite treats as a kid and still something I get or make every now and again, especially during the summer months. What do other cities do without Vernors? I pity the fools.

2010.03.02 at 4:23 am |

Steve (S.) says:

"Though houses weren’t occupied in the area until the early 1900s"–do you mean "built"?

Thanks for explaining the etymology of the name. As a former Bostonian, I've been struck by the number of foods and drinks that carry the "Boston" moniker that I never saw in Boston.

2010.03.02 at 1:18 pm |

Todd Abrams says:

Thanks for your copy editing assistance, Steve.

2010.03.02 at 2:32 pm |

Carl Oxley III says:

I LOVE me a Boston cooler!

2010.03.26 at 4:45 am |

I tried a Boston Cooler many years ago in the Detroit area. We went on a vacation to Key West, Fla. in the late 70’s and the Dariy Queen there never heard of it.
I didn’t have one for quite a while but, saw it advertised at Wendy’s today. I was just a wonderful as ever. I am certainly glad that I got back into it.

2013.01.12 at 9:36 pm |

Carol Mosier says:

As I recall, when we would visit the Vernors’ bottling plant in Detroit we were able to watch the whole bottling process through the big glass walls, while we sipped on our Boston Cooler. We had to buy a strip of tickets (or my dad did), and we could actually get the ginger ale with other flavors, too, even strawberry, but I liked the vanilla ice cream best . . . and still do!! We always went there before or after boat trips to Bob-Lo Island!! Good memories! Thank you for keeping Vernors available in Florida!!! Carol Florida U.S.A.

2013.02.12 at 6:20 pm |

Pingback: Famous Michigander Friday: James Vernor | Mitten History

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Teresa Clark says:

Where was a Boston Cooler advertised at Wendy’s??? Have loved the drink since I was a child growing up in the D!! :)

2013.07.11 at 12:04 am |

sue says:

sounds fantastic on a hot az day…..great mi memories!

2013.07.13 at 6:04 pm |

Emily Zermeno says:

Love my Vernors. Takes me back to my childhood in Cincinnati in the 1940’s. We yankees were thrilled when it made its way down south to Houston a few years ago. I never had Boston Cooler but am leaving for the grocery to purchase some vanilla ice cream!

2013.07.21 at 4:56 pm |

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Gary workman says:

I grew up in Port Huron, about 50 miles northeast of Detroit . Vernors was very popular; hospitals provide to kids after they had their tonsils out, at football games it was served hot with a lemon slice! I have found it in small quantities in the several Midwestern states. I still enjoy a Boston cooler but use the diet version these days .

2013.12.18 at 12:12 pm |

Anita says:

I didn’t know it was called a Boston Cooler, but my grandmother made a variation of the float for us on hot summer days. She added a heaping teaspoon of frozen orange juice concentrate. Yummy!
I love my Vernors, and sometimes I drink it mixed with orange juice. I used to call it a baby screwdriver.

2014.01.14 at 10:37 am |

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Jamie says:

Been out of MI for 15 years now and just learned that the grocery store in my tiny town in Maryland sells 6-packs of Vernors! The summer of the Boston cooler begins right now!

2014.06.05 at 9:07 pm |

Katy says:

You say that they are available at Dairy Queens in the Detroit area. Be careful who you ask for one, last year I wanted one and was asked at DQ that is with Root Beer, isn’t it?

2014.06.20 at 11:36 am |

Pingback: It's 5 o'clock! somewhere...Boston Cake Cooler - elleroy was here

jerry says:

yes black cows were great from the local A&W back in the day in the D.but boston coolers were the best on a hot day after your paper route.
just picked up a 6 pack of vernors found it at krogers down here in myrtle beach and looking forward to my first boston cooler in years,now if i could find some saunders ice cream that would be the cats —!!!!5

2014.08.27 at 8:54 pm |

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