Written by Steven Schmidt
In 1938, the Standard Grocery Co. opened the city’s largest “Super-Market” ushering in “a new era in food distribution” at 5639 E. Washington Street.
If you have enjoyed this virtual exhibit, please visit the Bona Thompson Center the next time you are in the area. The Bona Thompson Center is free and open to the public thanks to the generous support of the members of the Irvington Historical Society and donation's from our visitors and sponsors.
On June 20, 1919, entrepreneur Roy Allen opened a roadside root beer stand in California, using a formula he had purchased from a local pharmacist. More stands followed, and in 1920, he partnered with Frank Wright to create the A&W Root Beer brand. Allen bought out Wright and made the A&W brand America's first franchised restaurant chain. To ensure consistency and quality Allen manufactured the A&W Root Beer concentrate and sold it exclusively to these franchises.
By 1933, there were more than 170 A&W franchised outlets across the nation, including one next to the Standard Gas Station on the corner of Washington Street and Audubon Road (Today this is the lawn on the north side of the Indianapolis Public Library’s Irvington Branch.)
Each A&W franchise operated independently and each one controlled their stand’s design and menu. The Irvington A&W stand was easily recognizable as it was shaped like a gigantic root beer keg. The location, quirky look and five cent drinks quickly made the A&W Root Beer Keg a popular hangout for teens, such as Butler student Horace E. “Hop” Russell and his friends.
The Irvington A&W Root Beer Keg thrived for just a
couple of years at its Washington Street location, but it was relocated to a new life near 16th and Arlington Avenue.
We do not know why or when the Keg closed, but we have a theory. In 1929, the A&W Root Beer Company of Utah registered as a corporation doing business in Indiana. Over the next few years, they opened A&W Root Beer stand around Indianapolis. In addition to the Irvington “Keg” there was also a stand on West Washington Street and their corporate office on the northeast corner of Michigan Street and Pennsylvania Street. In 1933, the company withdrew as a registered corporation in Indiana. Shortly thereafter, small ads started appearing in the local newspaper offering the stands for sale or rent.
A&W Root Beer Keg
Just west of South Audubon Road
“The A&W Root Beer Stands was truly the hub of teenage activity. I have even more photos of the teenage ladies & gentlemen who frequented the place.” -- Hop Russell