When Julian Diamond was a boy, seltzer water was the traditional dinner drink at his family’s table. The bubbly stuff came in old-fashioned glass bottles (called siphons), complete with chrome-plated pewter nozzle tops, inner glass tubes and decorative labels with distributors’ names etched into the glass.
“Seltzer always seemed to be there,” says the 73-year-old owner of North Hollywood’s A-1 Seltzer & Beverage Co. “We drank it all the time. Jewish holidays or not, it didn’t make a difference.”
Today, Diamond supplies “quite a few” Fairfax-area customers and Jewish families throughout L.A. and adjacent areas with the clear liquid that’s been called “Jewish wine” in those wonderful, nostalgic bottles that resemble miniature fire extinguishers.
They come six to a wooden crate, and Diamond — a slight man with silver hair — still does the heavy lifting himself.
He arrives from his bottling plant by Volvo station wagon or Dodge van (depending on the day’s delivery load), picks up the empties and may even stop to chat — a touch of personal service that apparently has not fizzled out.
Diamond has delivery help from four other employees, including son-in-law Kevin Tomlinson. And Diamond’s wife, Ethel, has served as secretary and bookkeeper for the last 47 years. They are the third and fourth generations of a family home-delivery business that started in England and moved to Los Angeles just after the turn of the century.
In the first half of the 20th century, Diamond remembers, there were at least 500 bottling companies in the area. The 1920s and 1930s were the industry’s heyday. By mid-century, however, just a handful of seltzer bottling companies remained here, including Arrowhead, Sparkletts and Shasta.
Why the slump in sales? Diamond cites the introduction of carbon dioxide tanks in bars, which eliminated the need for siphon bottles. And in the 1950s disposable bottles and mixed sodas became popular.
Of course, seltzer-drinking never really went out of style. “Almost everyone from Brooklyn and the East Coast knows about seltzer — especially the Jewish people,” says Diamond. “And they all seem to know what an egg cream is.”
It is, indeed, a New York delicacy that does not call for eggs or cream. You simply mix chocolate syrup with milk in a glass, squirt in cold seltzer and stir quickly to create a foamy head.
Diamond is busiest during the Jewish holidays, and mainly at Passover when, he says, you need a little burp during the seder. Since seltzer is purified carbonated water — salt-, sugar- and calorie-free — Diamond figures it is the key to long life: His mother is still a seltzer drinker at 104.