How do you define an ice cream parlor? Check out this recent National Geographic “Top Ten Places to Eat Ice Cream.” This post on Restaurant-ing Through History has some good information about the history of ice cream parlors in the United States.
I have always thought an ice cream parlor is different from an ice cream stand or somewhere that just sells ice cream from a counter to be eaten on the street. An ice cream parlor has to have tables, dainty preferably, where one can eat one’s cream out of a little dish…So here is my current thinking. Ice cream parlors grew out of fancy confectioner’s shops in the 18th century where customers could eat their frozen novelty on site if they did not want to take it home for a tony dinner party. Soon coffee houses were also selling ice cream, as were some of the urban pleasure gardens. It seems as though some of the pleasure gardens of New York were patronized primarily so that customers could eat ice cream. Finally, there were ice cream saloons. Huge ice cream parlors where many many customers could gather to imbibe their favorite frozen treat.
There are, however, a few oddities. For example, were there ice cream parlors in Italy? All of the examples I have given so far are from England, America, and France. Yet Italy is the home of ice cream. Many sources agree that Italians were the vendors of street ice cream, that they started ice cream parlors all around the world. But I cannot find a trace of evidence that there were ice cream parlors in Italy before the 20th century. That doesn’t mean they weren’t there.
If anyone knows about the history of Italian ice cream parlors, please let me know!