A&W Root Beer

A&W Root Beer still has a thriving presence in the fast food world but as with so many dining landmarks of the past, it ain’t the same. For one thing, they’re no longer drive-ins, at least in California. The last one in the state, which was located way out in Ontario, closed on April 30, 2006. No more car hops bringing you trays of burgers and A&W Root Beer.

When I was a kid, there were two kinds of A&W dining establishments in Los Angeles — the drive-in restaurants and the stands. The stands seemed to be located primarily in the rotten parts of town. As I was then prowling Los Angeles second-hand bookstores in search of old comic books, I often found myself near one. They were cramped little hot dog and burger stands, usually manned by one employee. For a nickel, you could get a frosty cold mug of root beer — and it was a real glass mug, not a paper cup. They also had a pretty good orange drink which cost a dime and which almost no one ordered. I never understood why the orange drink was twice the price of the root beer.

In classier neighborhoods, you had the drive-ins. I remember one out on Santa Monica Boulevard in Santa Monica and another on Sepulveda just south of Venice Boulevard. The standard meal was a burger, fries and root beer. They had Coke and 7-Up and milk shakes but if you asked for one of those, the order-takers acted like you were the first person ever to not want the root beer. The burgers ranged in girth from huge to a kid’s size called the Baby Burger. Some adults liked to order several Baby Burgers and wolf them down like White Castle slyders.

The main thing I recall about drive-in restaurants is how utterly awkward it was to eat a meal that way. The server would bring your order on a tray that hooked onto your car window. It was not easy to get your food on and off this tray and there was much spillage. A lot of people probably lament the passing of the drive-in but I’ll bet not many of them actually went to them. More than once, at least.

41 Responses to A&W Root Beer

  • JD says:

    A little interesting trivia – at some point, the company split into two: the American company (which excludes the NorthWest) and the Canadian company (which included the Northwestern states). Both modernized to sit down restaurants and a more “American classic” menu. About 10 years ago, those of us with the Canadian side saw a return to the original menu. While car service didn’t return (except when they were backed up at the drive through), we have almost all of the classic menu – the Burger Family (including newer members Uncle Burger, Grandma Burger and the twins), all the classics (even the Whistle Dog) are here (with the exception of the seafood).

  • Tad Stones says:

    What does it say that I lived within two blocks of an A&W stand? But it was beautiful Burbank and I loved those frosty mugs. I also had my first burrito there although it was deep fried. Last time I was in that space, I was recording William Shatner singing “To Infinity and Beyond, ” the stand long gone replaced by a recording studio. Cuz it’d be weird to record at an A&W.

  • Doug Abramson says:

    Shatner’s done weirder.

  • Will Hamblet says:

    Where the hell is Hampton’s. Yummmmm. And, maybe the first place in L.A. to sell premium wine by the glass.

    Oh, & CC Brown’s WAS incredibly better than B&R was. As a matter of fact, you can still get a facsimile at The Tamoshanter.

  • Joshua Sparkman says:

    Mark,
    There are at least two A & W drive in’s in the central valley here in CA. One in Modesto and one in the birthplace of A & W, Ripon CA. They still have the car hops and everything.

  • Joshua Sparkman says:

    correction, the birthplace of A & W is of course Lodi, CA not Ripon. I picked the wrong day to stop sniffing airplane glue.

  • Craig D. Smith says:

    Evanier is right about the stands being in the seedier parts of town. The one my friend’s family franchised back in the late 60s was in an unincorporated part of Whittier. You know, where people are free to keep horses and chickens in the backyard and abandoned cars in the front but things like streetlights and sidewalks are considered luxuries. Still, my buddy’s older sister was always willing to give us free root beer on a sweaty July so I ain’t complainin’. And you gotta love those glass mugs that weighed more than the drink itself.

  • ShadZ says:

    My wife and I stopped by the A&W in Berthoud, CO on Monday, and it is a drive-in! Who knew?

  • Mark Berney says:

    My favorite A & W Rootbeer stand was the one in Filmore California where they filmed the movie Iron Eagles.

  • Craig D. Smith says:

    Oh, one thing I forgot to mention. You know how people always claimed the Coca-Cola that came out of the 6 and 1/2 ounce bottles was tastier than the Coke at the fountains or larger sizes despite the company’s protests it was all the same stuff? I think I had a simlair reaction to A & W as I thought the drink you got in the glass mugs was the tastiest in the world but when they later sold it in supermarkets I realized it was no better or worse than Dad’s or Barq’s or whoever.

  • lbes1@yahoo.com says:

    hey, fondest, earliest memories is “ending up” at the local a&w drive in here at taos nm..my uncle used to own a taxi service and weekly we would all load up and go into town to get “stuff”, groceries, farm supplies etc..and along the way there was this great a&w drive-in which we would pass…well, the two older kids (guys) would “prompt” me to ask my uncle and grandma (she was always the one who had ALL the info on what we needed to get) to just “stop in” and get something for us all..i can still remember seeing those menus and not being able to read, the pic’s were so enticing,,they made me want to learn to read i think..!and the taste of the a&w root beer and feel of those mugs,,they had “kid size” mugs also at this a&w..perfect..

  • terry nelson says:

    looking for pictures of culver city a&w 1964-65

  • Ed W. says:

    There was an A&W drive-in on Wilshire Blvd. in Santa Monica in the 60s, around Lincoln Blvd. Car hops and everything. A couple blocks from Zuckys.

  • Dirk M. Eberle says:

    In reply to Craig D. Smith when my mother made the root beer back in the late 60′s the recipe called for 40 pounds of sugar per every 100 gallons of water, one gallon of syrup, my mother only used 35 pounds, it’s what gave it its thirst quenching, me I was only 12 back there running the grill, guess my mum wanted to get that fast food thing out of my system early in life, it worked never have worked fast food. To the guy about them deep fried burritos, my mother starting making real burritos, she went to Guses burger stand (Candlewood Burgers) bought one of his famous burritos took it back to the A&W disected it and wala real burritos at her A&W….

  • Harrison Hine says:

    At Santa Monica High School we had an “open” campus so all of us surfers would head down to Bay street to check out the surf at lunch every day and the A&W Root Beer stand. The food was pretty poor but it served a good purpose, got us off campus and we could check out the surf. If it was up we blew off afternoon classes!
    I still like A&W root beer!

  • Shelley Kresan says:

    When I was little we used to have a stand in Monterey Park (Atlantic & Garvey). We used to walk down there and get hamburgers, fries and root beer. I still have the mugs! Later the stand turned into Manny’s El Loco. Now it’s under a huge dim sum place. Ahhh, time marches on.

    These things that now call themselves A&W are not the same.

  • Michael Loveland says:

    There are at least two A&W’s here in Colorado, the one in Berthoud, mentioned above, is a full-service drive-in, and the place of the most action in Berthoud! (That’s a sleepy town.)
    The other is in Longmont, right by a Wal-Mart, and is somehow combined with a Kentucky Fried Chicken. You can order from either menu or both, and still get a frosted mug!
    When I lived in L.A., there were times I’d use the excuse of “going to A&W’s” to take a drive to Santa Barbara or Lodi.

  • Rolly Doucet says:

    Part of growing up through my teen years, was getting between four and eight people into the same car and going to the nearest A&W to eat. Good times for sure.

  • SF says:

    we are lucky in Colo to still have A & W locations, one i know of is near the old Stapleton location, another in pueblo that i understand may put its drive in back in after the Sonic combo sucess, another location in Gunison I am not sure was rebuilt after learning it burned down in early 2010.

  • The ChocolateDoctor says:

    There is nothing better than A&W Root Beer served on draft (none of that canned stuff for me) in a frosty mug–no ice needed. It is this beverage that I remember and loved as a kid. There was a 7 or 8 stool A&W across the street from what was then known as Westlake Park (now Macarthur Park) that I used to go to when boating on the lake (I did finally get my card punched as an Admiral).

    At one time A&W was the largest franchise restaurant business in the United States. They had a small corporate office in Santa Monica, California on Pico Boulevard that ran the nation. As time passed and the ownership of the parent company changed hands several times innovation stopped and competition grew at an astounding rate until the number of A&W stores dropped to below 450.

    Sid Feltenstein purchased the company and re-introduced the glass mug and making the famous original root beer base, with real cane sugar, back to the store. He then went about putting the 50’s store look along with the introduction of the “Bigger, Better Burger” which was the reincarnation of the Papa, Mama and Baby burgers from an earlier time. He built the chain back to about 1,500 stores before selling to Yum Brands (KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell).

    Who says, “You can never go back/”

  • Carolyn says:

    There’s a drive-in A&W in Hollister, California, which is still feeding folks while playing cool oldies 1950s music over loud speakers to your car! You have to walk up and order, no car hops, but still the best fries in the world and the best root beer floats. I so miss the submarine sandwiches, my best friend and I used to split one when we were teenagers, along with the float and fries.

  • Danny-O says:

    A&W drive-ins were a popular treat growing up here in B.C. too. The girl with the jangling change belt, the root beer (and if I was good, a root beer float!)… i still see the drive-in buildings around in New West and Surrey, but now part of a dilapidated car lot or truck awning shop. Back in the early ’80s while working in Elkford I’d get a hankering for a Teenburger and drive 2 hours to Ft. MacLeod, even once in a snow storm! Here in the Vancouver area we still can get ‘car-hop’ service at the White Spot, an upscale burger spot, but you turn on your car lights, a server comes out and takes your order, then brings your food on a long tray that goes inside from one window to the other! A&W seems too greasy for me now, but I loved how their burgers had this mustard-relish taste… Sure wish I had spent time dining at some of these great LA joints! Thanks for making a great website!

  • Pam (Pitti) Turner says:

    My high school hang and one of the places went after Friday night football games. Remember those mama and papa burgers well. Loved the car service. Root beer floats were so good. It was my “grown up” place after Currie’s Ice Cream parlor in Culver Center closed. My family spent a lot of time there too.

  • Cyndee Reynolds says:

    Another place long gone. My most vivid memory of A&W drive-in was when I was 5 (1961) and was in the back seat of my sisters (13 years older than me) boyfriends 56 Chevy eating away on my baby burger and drinking my root beer in one of their classic glass mugs. All of a sudden they decide to leave and start to pull out and I go into a panic and start screaming out the car window ” Help!! police murder!!” Why I threw in the murder I don’t know I was in a panic like I said. My sister and her boyfriend would always tell me that if I took one of the mugs I would go to jail. Terrible teenagers!!
    All kidding aside I went to A&W more times than I can count all the way through adulthood. Another classic gone too soon.

  • G.A. Vidal says:

    While in high school in the early 60′s, I was the youngest in the group of neighborhood guys I hung out with…and on Friday nights (before I got my box boy job with Boy’s Mkt) the guy with the ’55 Chevy would take us all to the A & W in Hawthorne..nr 135th St. You had about a 15-20 min wait in a line 1/2 block long to get in (good thing gas was only .25 gal) Oh, yes the A & W we frequented was also the one patronized by some Hawthorn musicians…the Wilson brothers and thier neighbor Dave Marks…who went on to become “The BeachBoys”….today I’ve introduced A&W rootbeer to my son…as I remind him his grandmothers favorite cool drink was a rootbeer float.

  • Dave B says:

    There is still an A&W in Paso Robles, near the 101 freeway, with the full menu. They still mix the root beer every day, and still serve it in ice-cold frosted mugs.

    I have fond memories of the one in Oak View (between Ventura and Ojai); the quart-size take-out root beer came in a paper cone with a wide bottom and a little cap. Many impromptu megaphones were made after finishing off the root beer. The location became some other eatery and then remodeled into a bank.

  • Dave B says:

    Correction — Atascadero, not Paso Robles.

  • Sam D says:

    My earliest recollection of A & W was when I was in elementary school in the mid 1950s. A small A & W Root Beer stand opened in West L.A. on the north side of Santa Monica Blvd. near Federal Ave. We used to gather there after school. The frosted mugs of root beer were 5¢ for the small one and 10¢ for the large mug. Sometime later on that stand closed when a new A & W drive-in opened on the opposite side of the street.

  • david heimark says:

    Palm Springs had a great stand, now home to Tyler’s Burgers. The other, in Indio, was a drive-in and it was common to take the glass mug home full and return it empty. In high school a bunch of us worked at the local ice house next to the one in Indio and we’d spend our paychecks filling our teenage appetites there a couple of time a day.We’d get quarts of root beer in the waxed paper cup with the clip on the top to seal the cup and a hole to put the straw in.

  • Daniel Taylor says:

    I remember the A&W Root Beer restaurant located on Orangethorpe Avenue between Knott and Western Avenues in Buena Park.

  • Tom says:

    We had one in my hometown in Massachusetts that in summer we’d go to. I remember those frozen mugs of root beer (pronounced “ruht be-ah” thanks) and the fact that I had to have a baby burger. Which I couldn’t finish, but I couldn’t wait to graduate to the larger size. Wish I had one now..

  • Jason Houston says:

    In the mid-60′s there was a huge A&W on Hawthorne Blvd. where LA’s pre-gang teen cultures cruised and often clashed: the mondos and the surfers. I was in the latter group. My friend and I “cruised the A” one night in his ’54 Mercury station wagon with the tailgate up, and we were boo’ed and hissed at.

    In the central Calif. town of Coalinga was a very old A&W that was still operating in 1983.

    BTW, thanks for the really, super-great website!

  • Betty King says:

    There are A&W Root Beer places around Colorado, including Idaho Springs, Frisco, Denver, and the ones mentioned above.

  • Joe - Omaha says:

    Our dad passed away 3 week ago… July 8th , 2013. I’m the 3rd oldest.. he took us to the A&W Drive INN on saturday nights.. Please if anyone out there in the Internet world has seen the menu card inserts that were in the car hop signs.. we’d like to have a couple.. we want to remember him and one our fondest times was checking out the prices of the burger family… if any one has info or contacts, please email boatsfound@aol.com all the best..

  • Linda Staniger says:

    Where was the A&W in Bell, CA in the 60′s and when did it close?

  • Jim Gannon says:

    There is an A&W in Downtown Hollister CA. . . . . .burgers are the same, root beer too, but no “frosted mugs”. Car hop service ended about ten years ago, other than that, its the real deal.

  • Debbie says:

    Loved A&W and I still do! I was one of those carhops, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, who would take your order over the auto waiter and then take it out to your car. It didn’t matter whether it was 30 below or about 30 above I ran the run way, sometimes with three trays on my arm. We used to be open until 3 am in the morning. Started working at the “dub” back in 1974. Applied for the job on a Wednesday and got the job on the same day. My first job started when I was 15. When asked by the manager why I wanted to work there I told her, “I want to be an airline stewardess (like my cousins) and I thought it would be excellent training. Well she probably didn’t get many answers like that! It sure was a great way to spend my weekends as my friends would come in and then everyone would go out at sit in the Country Kitchen that was open 24 hours a day. Can’t do that these days. Love the site, thank you! :)

  • Frank K3 says:

    I’m a huge fan of A&W. It was a place I remember fondly being taken to by my parents when we lived in Michigan – it always felt like a ‘treat.’ We would make root beer floats at home, but it had to be with A&W root beer!

    Several years ago in the Inland Empire area (Ontario, Pomona, Rancho Cucamonga) there was a time when an A&W restaurant (either free-standing or in a gas station) would open up, last for a year, and then disappear.

    Nowadays to get my fix I have to wait for my annual drive up to Oregon, where A&W stands are located everywhere! Almost every exit has one. My wife’s family doesn’t understand the absolute need I have to go to one.

  • Karen says:

    We used for go to one in Santa Monica on Wilshire and about 9th when I was in junior high. I fondly remember the last day of school, before we moved up to high school. I don’t know how many of us squeezed in there and ran those poor waitresses ragged. If any of you are out there, I’m sorry! We sure had a good time.

  • Peter Shakrian says:

    I have lived in Santa Monica since 1972 and I do remember the A&W on 9th Street and Wilshire Blvd as a crazy kid growing up in this great town. The burgers and root beer floats were so so good. All my friends would go there after school and hang out and I do remember the drive-in as well. Santa Monica was such a great city to grow up in and now you only see greed, homeless and over development. Progress does suck sometimes unfortunately.

  • Jeanie D says:

    Had so much fun cruising from the A&W to the Wichstand, in the seventies. What a blast. I still have an a&w mug. It sits in my kitchen by my sink. What great memories.

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