The Ice Cream Bar

The Ice Cream Bar

Rats! It used to be my dream to open an ice cream bar. But then again, that’s coming from the guy who thought that no one in America would be interested in bean-to-bar chocolate, no one in Los Angeles would ever buy artisan bread, and who sold his Apple stock when it was 38 per share.

As I’ve been traveling around the U.S., I’ve noticed all the artisan places that have popped up, everything from local olive oil at San Francisco airport, folks distilling whiskey in big cities, and people waiting three hours for a plate of smoked meat. Am not sure exactly how to explain this phenomenon to people who live outside the United States, but whatever triggered it, I gotta say, I’m swallowing my words.

The Ice Cream Bar

However perhaps I was ahead of the curve because after I’d written my ice cream book, I played with the idea of opening an ice cream shop (unfortunately, not with any money I made on my Apple stock), where I imagined myself churning away all sorts of flavors, using bean-to-bar chocolate (after I got done kicking myself…), artisan breadcrumbs (don’t get me started…) as well as local fruits and berries.

While on book tour, I met a number of swell folks who handed me their battered copies of The Perfect Scoop for me to sign, worn down from being passed around the kitchen of visionaries who had better insight than I, and opened ice cream shops.

The Ice Cream Bar

After a particularly filling dim sum lunch in San Francisco, where I became all-too-familiar with the Chinese habit of ordering in abundance, aka: everything on the menu – even if there are just two of us, we decided to cool down from the steamer baskets of dumplings, and plates of fried tofu rolls, and head to The Ice Cream Bar in my old neighborhood, Cole Valley.

The Ice Cream Bar

Once considered a dowdy neighborhood, probably because of its proximity to the scruffy Haight-Ashbury area, once again, I realized walking around this area with fancy cars and people pushing $895 strollers, that I probably should have held on to my place there, instead of selling it. (But I still have a bit of that San Francisco moxie in me as I got yelled at by a woman in a minivan when I was holding a parking space for my friend, who was turning her car around to park there. Since I learned my first week in San Francisco, way back in the early 80s, that when you see a parking space, you do whatever it takes to get it. And I still do.)

But je ne regrette rien – including not opening an ice cream shop, because they already got one.

The Ice Cream Bar

Not just an ice cream shop, The Ice Cream Bar serves soda fountain classics, like egg salad sandwiches and vegetarian black bean burgers (because it’s San Francisco) on homemade bread. However we were there for the ice cream, whose flavors included chocolate sorbet and another with coconut and chocolate chips, both noted as vegan. Ice creams they were scooping had green tea swirled through them, used caramelized honey as a base, made with local honey (because it’s San Francisco), and rosy scoops were studded with Morello cherries. Of course, the soda jerks put together sundaes, floats, malts and milkshakes, too.

The Ice Cream Bar

We sat at the bar and ate, while I gazed over at some fellows who’d stopped into the back bar, with various tinctures, Lactart (milk acid), and essences in little bottles lined up, which another jerk concocted frozen drinks and “remedies” for the over 21 set, with. While I wandered, my ruse was up when I was outed as the author of an ice cream book to the counterperson by my friend. Which bought us a visit to the kitchen, where cookies were cooling on baking racks, mounds of bread dough were waiting to be shaped for breads, and egg whites were whipping to be baked into waffle cones.

The Ice Cream Bar

After a quick look around, it was nice to see another how people were taking everyday foods, many nostalgically back the past, and making them relevant for today’s tastes. Now if I only had the foresight to move forward with my idea for making a time-travel machine between Paris and San Francisco, wouldn’t I be sitting pretty?

The Ice Cream Bar
815 Cole Street
San Francisco, CA
(415) 742-4932

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  • Steve Martin
    May 12, 2014 3:16pm

    Maybe it’s not such a bad thing to hang out in bars.

  • May 12, 2014 3:47pm

    There was an ice cream parlour in my home town when I was growing up and I loved it. I’d go every chance I got and whilst Italy’s gelaterie might be spectacular in the flavour department, they don’t quite have the thrill of sitting down in a cafè with a huge sundae in front of you. Quick, come to Milan and open an ice cream shop, my expenditure alone would make it worthwhile!

  • Bricktop
    May 12, 2014 3:50pm

    It’s nice to see you get excited over ice cream in SF when you have Berthillon in Paris.

  • Catherine
    May 12, 2014 4:18pm

    Cool ice cream shop! I know what you mean about regrets — after my brother married a girl from California some years ago he would refer to the state as the land of fruits and nuts.

  • Claudine Richman
    May 12, 2014 5:04pm

    How did I miss this on my last trip to SF????? As a fellow soda jerk, I once had 3 milkshakes fly off of the Hamilton Beach whose photo you’ve e so kindly included! It was truly a frozen “milk bath!” Can’t wait to go on my next visit.

  • Kelly
    May 12, 2014 5:05pm

    My local ice cream shop always tempts me with something new: Rose, Basil, Creamed Corn, Sesame Tahini, Cardamon, Lavender Black Pepper Brownie. I love the green milkshake machine photo. Brings back memories of my cafe work days … yucky syrups and only three ice cream choices. Glad times have changed!

  • Linda
    May 12, 2014 5:08pm

    66 years ago I was within walking distance of a “malt shop”. I spent quite a lot of time nursing my cherry (or lime) phosphates. Every once in while I remember how good they were. I was just in San Francisco and wish I had known about this place. I expect it is pricey but oh so worth it!

  • Linda
    May 12, 2014 5:08pm

    By the way, they cost 15 cents.

  • May 12, 2014 5:16pm

    About selling your Apple stock – have no words! I would not wanna be you! :)

    I think Icecream bar is a great idea. I know I would go hang out at one every day, knowing how much I go grab gelato and icecream at every corner I see. It is kinda astonishing to me as well how much the food scene and people’s approach has changed. When I came to US in 2000, all international students would make fun of the Americans for their lack of “cuisine”. Now, I can not pinpoint an overarching cuisine still that I call American, but I do love all these regional, micro-cuisines in different places.
    I think it is a good thing that there is no one-umbrella cuisine.

  • Alexandra
    May 12, 2014 5:21pm

    I love your idea and think you should move forward with your version of the Ice Cream Bar! We need one in coastal Massachusetts where I live, that’s for sure. I read somewhere that people in Massachusetts have the highest per person consumption of ice cream in the US regardless of the season.

    As for those Hamilton mixers…They bring back such memories of ice cream shops I grew up going to in NYC. We had a smaller version of that Hamilton mixer purchased at at Brimfield flea market some years ago and then gave it as a gift to a friend who coveted it. We miss it though and happen to be heading back to Brimfield this week where I know we’ll find another.

  • May 12, 2014 5:22pm

    Based on your pictures and tone, I imagine this place is a little piece of heaven! Looks awesome. You may have passed on many opportunities, but seems to me that you have made all the right choices! Still, it makes me wonder if I should move away from being a scientist and start working full time on my blogging and my cooking with the hopes of one day making a successful career out of it.

  • Janet Highland
    May 12, 2014 5:37pm

    David – although you are not coming to London for a book signing, I purchased the book yesterday and love it – not sure I love it more than ice cream but I absolutely adore the stuff and even make my own. Good luck with the book and it is such a shame you could not come to London as we are only a train ride away. xx

  • May 12, 2014 5:37pm

    Why not an ice cream bar in Paris?
    we need it bad!!
    Black cows svp.

  • Helen
    May 12, 2014 5:39pm

    I know why I personally support local farmers/food growers, food artisans, make my own bread, raise as much of my food as possible and choose to eat food when it’s in season. It’s the same reason I shop and buy from local businesses. If we don’t support our local communities/businesses they will disappear and we will be left with the questionable stuff available from the huge chain stores. I want to know where the food comes from, how it was raised and especially how it was prepared. Is it a GMO? Raised as naturally as possible without massive pesticides, herbicides and various noxious and deadly chemicals? I’m lucky I have the necessary skills and opportunities to raise and choose the foods I (and others) eat in my home. I applaud those artisans that take the risk to provide us with carefully and thoughtfully prepared great food.

  • May 12, 2014 5:42pm

    I think it’s never too late for you to open up that ice cream shop, David! You’d probably have to move back to the States but I can see your shop in CA (or better yet, come to NY) and I can just imagine the lines! Just sayin’… : ) And I can relate to the over-ordering at dim sum. I try to go with my extended family as much as possible because a person just can’t resist asking for everything and then you look down at your table and there’s nothing to do but eat it! : )

  • May 12, 2014 5:52pm

    so reminiscent of my days as a bona-fide soda jerk in the fifties when I could not only mix up the best cherry coke (from syrups) but an orgiastic malted (with an egg if you wanted to make a meal of it) but I anticipated the desires of all the known customers and just handed their delight upon their arrival :)

  • Judi Suttles
    May 12, 2014 6:05pm

    Well, we must have been related in another because Isold my Apple stock just a little higher than you did. Now I’m trying to invent a kick-yourself-in-the-pants machine. I feel there is a large market for such an item.

  • June
    May 12, 2014 6:32pm

    I’m sorry, but nothing touches an local, made on premises, organic, seasonal Ice Creamery like the Penny IceCreamery in Santa Cruz!! The flavors change with the seasons…like pink peppercorn strawberry, my favorite. They make the most unusual and unique flavor combos you have ever heard of bar none. Roasted Barley, which is one of my other favorites, it’s way better than it sounds, Sweet corn and blackberry, Walnut honey something else…who can remember, they switch them up and are so freaking different…here’s their list for today..Orange Creamsicle, Candy Cap Mushroom, Whiskey Coffee, Mascarpone Kumquat, Brown Sugar Oat Walnut, Cardamom Pistachio, Beet Hibiscus Sorbet, Tahitian Vanilla Bean, and Dark Chocolate Sorbet.
    I really think you’d be missing out by not making a stop this way…we also have a huge locally owned book store that is the hub of traffic and constantly busy, The BookShop Santa Cruz…you could have your ice cream and book signing too! I’m just sayin!

  • May 12, 2014 6:53pm

    Even worse, buying Apple stock at its peak and now losing money on it as it traverses down…..this Iphone 6 better be amazing guys.

    Particularly like the old school ice cream soda bar they have.

  • BJ
    May 12, 2014 7:59pm

    My name is BJ… and I’m an ice cream a’holic… and while this ‘bar’ looks pretty good, a trip to Portland’s Salt and Straw is another stop you shouldn’t miss…

  • Cyndy
    May 12, 2014 8:18pm

    Somebody always has “a better place you should have gone to,” no matter what the subject. I’d be very happy with anything that even came near to the ice cream bar you’re writing about!

    • May 12, 2014 9:29pm
      David Lebovitz

      You’re right. There’s always someone else, that’s better than where you went. On a book tour, free time is pretty valuable (or non-existent), so you need to fit in what you can, energy-permitting. (Often, you make a choice between putting your feet up for a few minutes, or racing to a place to eat something – and sometimes, putting those feet up sounds too good to pass up!)

      I was happy to have some time to get to a few places on this tour and coming here, was a spur of the moment decision.

  • Philip
    May 12, 2014 8:42pm

    Look on the bright side– this shop is legendary not just for its ice cream, but also the municipal hoops the owner had to go through to get it open. It was formerly a grocery, and so there was a “change of use” issue at a time when SF was making it very hard for restaurants to open. The owner hung in there with a year’s delay and 100K over budget.

    Even though I lived just a few blocks from Ice Cream Bar, I always thought Humphrey Slocum was better, and “vaut le voyage.” Much as people rave about Smitten in Hayes Valley, they don’t use a custard base, which I miss– though were you to open an ice cream shop in Paris, it’s the Smitten model I’d recommend, if only because it doesn’t exist there, and Berthillon does such a great job. Although there’s probably some French law dictating the custard content of “glaces” sold to the public.

  • May 12, 2014 8:47pm


  • May 12, 2014 9:02pm

    Regrets forbidden. Had you taken the ice cream parlor route – after selling your Apple stock for 3 times more – you would not have ended up in Paris nor fallen in love. So no. No regrets. However, as another reader suggested, perhaps a parlor in your Paris neighborhood? Parisians seem to be going crazy for things they would have sneered at a decade ago: mixed cocktails, cupcakes, sandwiches, hamburgers – all with a very definite American flair. So, yes. They have a great ice cream spot on the Ile Saint Louis, but surely they could use two. Especially with your rep. That chocolate scoop looks sinful!!

    • May 12, 2014 9:25pm
      David Lebovitz

      Yup. For all the stuff that you regret, that you didn’t do, there were things that you did, that panned out. You can’t make the right decision 100% of the time, although on that Apple stock, I kinda wish I did : )

      And yes, Parisians are going ga-ga over anything that has a whiff of America. (Which, I guess I could say, my idea to open an ice cream shop there was, which was ahead of the curve.. although I didn’t do it..)

  • Virginia
    May 12, 2014 9:15pm

    David, I can’t tell you how much my family enjoyed celebrating my birthday with an ice cream party that I threw in my own honor (I love making ice creams from The Perfect Scoop). The stars of the party were your Bourbon & Spiced Pecan Ice Cream. and Mango Sorbet. Thank you for your marvelous creativity, artistry, and down-to-earth humanness. Most Sincerely, ~Virginia from Eugene

  • aqua6
    May 12, 2014 11:29pm

    We were glad we could come by Omnivore last Saturday for autographed books! I was one of the ones toting an old copy of The Perfect Scoop. We’ve used it many many times though it still is in good shape. Hope there were enough Post It notes to last the afternoon! – Elke

  • Gavrielle
    May 13, 2014 2:31am

    Am not sure exactly how to explain this phenomenon to people who live outside the United States

    Artisan has been a huge trend in a lot of places, though, hasn’t it? It’s certainly been a big deal here in New Zealand for a good decade or more. So no explanations necessary. Let’s just enjoy it and hope it lasts a long long time!

  • João Víctor
    May 13, 2014 2:47am

    …Ice creams they were scooping had green tea swirled through them, used caramelized honey as a base…
    …used caramelized honey as a base…
    caramelized honey

    Wait, is that even possible?
    *googles it up*
    *head explodes*

  • louise
    May 13, 2014 3:12am

    I’d buy one of Judi’s ‘kick-yourself-in-the-pants’ machine! Excellent idea.

  • Sarahb1313
    May 13, 2014 3:44am

    Well, thank you for making me look good with the salted caramel ice cream recipe.
    Better than breathing (among other things). And the avocado ice cream is so oddly enticing.
    I would have lined up at your ice cream shop way before lining up for a cronut, in case you had it on your list of NYC don’ts this week!

  • Brooke Evans
    May 13, 2014 10:49am

    San Francisco seems like mythical place to me, as do all the cities of the US that we only see on tv (and now the net) here in slow-mo New Zealand. But I know that SF must be a real place because that delicious ice-cream looks oh so real.

  • May 13, 2014 11:34am

    I’ll take a bit of that blackberry chevre with your ‘wry’. :-)

    Thorough enjoyed this post!

  • May 13, 2014 2:36pm

    You had me at…the color of that chocolate ice cream. Next time we’re in SF, it’s on my list! (Every time you say, “Ice cream bar,” I keep seeing ice cream bars–great homemade ones…) But, David, if you DO open up an Ice Cream Bar (and I sure hope you serve ice cream bars: raspberry coconut, chocolate-tangerine, coffee-milk chocolate), would you please have hot (drinking) coffee, too? I have to have coffee with my ice cream or I’m both unhappy and freeze. I so hope the rest of your trip is perfect P.S. THE PERFECT SCOOP is about to be a wedding gift with an ice cream maker. (What happened to the great 1-quart models??)

  • May 13, 2014 2:57pm

    One day you should open an ice cream bar, The Perfect Scoop is my go-to ice cream bible :-)

  • May 13, 2014 8:30pm

    I’m SO jealous right now!! Having said that, I spend every summer in Italy so I’ll be eating plenty of gelato this summer!!!

  • Lisa
    May 14, 2014 4:32am

    Sometimes I wished I did not live in such a non enchanting food enriched place.

  • kathy
    May 16, 2014 1:22am

    If you’re in the neighborhood…stop at Woodside Farm Creamery in Hockessin Delaware. Family farm established in 1796, creamery opened in 1998, a herd of Jersey cows provides the foundation for some of the BEST ice cream you’ll ever taste!

  • GaiaGoodnessNaturalFoods
    May 16, 2014 8:18pm

    I’m ordering The Perfect Scoop for myself because I’m obsessed with ice cream making. I used to make ice cream as a kid with the old school churn. My grandmother and I would use freshly fallen snow in the Winter to make the ice cream. Those were the days. I will share this article with friends who live in the Bay area. I live in Los Angeles. The next time I visit San Fran I will be stopping by The Ice Cream Bar. Thanks so much for sharing.