The Rialto Cigar Shop and Soda Fountain on the corner of 2nd and Center Street has a lot of history.
The first thing the new owners had to do when they took over was erase much of that history.
“Constant cleaning,” said Rob Staffig-Piotter. “The smoke was so bad it took two days of cleaning to get it off the walls and cabinets.”
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The walls have been primed and repainted, the historic original wood cabinets have been washed and treated with lemon oil.
The little shop in the Rialto Theater building has been part of Casper’s history since 1921, when it was called The New Lyric.
The shop had a soda fountain, which in their day dotted every town in the country. The vast majority are gone, but the Rialto survives and is about to be revived.
While the cabinets and other details survived the years, the original bar and fountain did not. As Rob started to dig into the relics he found rotted wood and a rusted, unusable soda fountain.
He went about replacing the bar, and with some persistence found a completely rebuilt vintage soda fountain to replace the original. The flooring was so rotted out he decided to replace that as well.
Rob wants to bring back the experience of the soda fountain. “We’re calling this ‘Bringing back Yesteryear’, trying to give it a 1940s and 1950s feel,” said Rob.
He’ll serve ice cream from Donells, make fresh shakes and malts and, perhaps most importantly, mix sodas like it was originally done.
There’s a real technique to it, according to Rob.
The process involves pouring the right amount of syrup into the cup, easing the carbonated water into the cup then “jerking” the handle for a quick, intense spray that mixes it all up. The result is a much cleaner-tasting soda with a delightfully smooth carbonated feel.
While Rob and his wife, Vivian Meek, aim to “bring back yesteryear,” some of that yesteryear isn’t coming back. Namely, the cigars and girly magazines that the shop was known for. There was also gambling in a pool hall down below. This is Casper, after all, which has all sorts of sordid ghosts in its roughneck, frontier town days.
The new Rialto Soda Fountain, minus Cigar Shop, is getting a soft opening tonight for the June Art Walk. The hours will initially be 4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, and 2:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. on Sunday.