These popular soda-fountain drinks have nothing to do with Boston, but everything to do with Detroit: Vernors ginger soda, said to be America’s oldest surviving soft drink, was born in 1866 in a downtown Detroit pharmacy, where James Vernor accidentally (according to legend) developed the barrel-aged syrup for the soda upon returning from the Civil War. Now widely distributed, Vernors is part of Texas-based Keurig Dr Pepper, but Detroiters still call it their own, and the golden ginger soda—which has more zip, carbonation, and sweetness than the dry ginger ales most of us are accustomed to—still provides the base for these two beloved kid-friendly beverages.

The Vernors float combines Vernors ginger soda with vanilla ice cream; the Boston cooler blends the two together, so it’s more of a shake. Both the Vernors float and the Boston cooler are essential to Detroit—if you want to impress an old-timer local, bring up either one of these. They’re a must-try for Detroit visitors!

Where: Our Boston cooler—which goes by the name Detroit cooler in this shop—came from the Livonia-area Sanders, which has since closed. Sadly, the longtime Detroit staple (and regional chain) Sanders closed multiple Michigan locations in 2020, leaving only two stores open (in Rochester and Clinton Township) in the Metro Detroit area. Neither is super close to downtown, but the Clinton Township one is your best bet (23770 Hall Rd, map). The shops always seem to have charming old-timey fountain-like interiors and friendly staff.

Any Sanders parlor will serve both the coolers and Vernors floats. (Despite the photo, neither is made with Diet Vernors; this branch carried only the diet version in bottles, which we used for photographic purposes.) 

When: Mon-Sat, 9am-9pm; Sun, 11am-6pm

Order: Of the Vernors float and cooler, we preferred the latter, because we love sweet, smooth, creamy milkshakes (who doesn’t?). The float has its merits, of course—you can better taste the separate components, for one—but the blended cooler proved quickly and addictively delicious. If you can handle more sugar, try Sanders’ beloved hot fudge cream puff, too.

Alternatively: You can find Boston coolers at many of the ubiquitous Coney Island restaurants in the Metro Detroit area, including Kerby’s Koney Island (multiple locations including 16531 Ford Rd., Dearborn, map) and Leo’s Coney Island (multiple locations including inside Comerica Park stadium at 2100 Woodward Ave., map). If a restaurant can make a Boston cooler, it should be able to also make a Vernors float as well. Square-pizza favorite Buddy’s Pizza (multiple locations including the original, 17125 Conant St., Hamtramck, map) has Vernors floats on its dessert menu.

Updated: April 19, 2024