When you were in high school, did you ever get a certain frozen drink from a machine at a certain convenience store that rhymes with “Beven Beleven” just to dump a bunch of vodka into it? Yeah, we all did some questionable stuff back then. But now one thing remains the same: Slushy, fruity drinks mix really well with booze. On the next sticky, humid day, try a grown-up-ish version of that drink: a boozy Rita’s Water Ice Cooler!
Rita’s, which has achieved true ubiquity on the East Coast, is a big powerhouse brand (with over 500 locations in the US!), but did you know that it actually started right here in PA? That’s right! In 1984, Bob Tumolo, a former Philadelphia firefighter, started selling Italian Ice (Philadelphians know it as “water ice”) from a porch window in Bensalem, Pennsylvania. He named it after his wife, Rita, and hoped to make a bit of extra income.
What vaulted Rita’s to immediate popularity is the same thing that keeps it going strong today: the special formula that Tumolo designed with his mother, Elizabeth, which includes real fruit and is made fresh each day. By 1987, there were three more Rita’s locations in the Philadelphia area, and the company started franchising the business in 1989. By 1996, Rita’s had grown to more than 100 outlets in nine states. In the decades since, Rita’s has been sold to larger corporations, but each little neighborhood stand, with its cheerful red-and-white striped awning, has a bit of Philadelphia, PA rooted to its core.
Water ice is an iconic Pennsylvania food – everyone’s got their favorite flavor or flavor combo. There’s nothing quite like the hit of icy coldness and sweet fruit on a sweltering afternoon. Add a splash of local vodka to take the refreshment up to 11. There are tons of awesome PA-made spirits to choose from! Here are a few we suggest:
- Boyd & Blair, made with PA potatoes in Glenshaw, PA
- Stateside Vodka, made by Federal Distilling in Philadelphia, PA
- Social Still, made in Bethlehem, PA
- Three Bitches Vodka, made by Manatawny Still Works in Pottstown, PA
- Penn Square Vodka, made by Thistle Finch in Lancaster, PA
Splash some PA vodka in that Rita’s, garnish with some fresh fruit and garden herbs and kick it in a way that would make your high school self way jealous!
Boozy Rita’s Water Ice Coolers
|Prep Time||Cook Time||Total Time|
|5 min||0 min||5 min|
You can also buy a larger size of Rita’s (ask for extra personal-sized) cups. Pour the vodka into each cup, scoop the water ice in for each person and stir!
- 12-ounce cups of Rita’s Water Ice, your choice flavor (we suggest mango, strawberry or watermelon)
- 1.5 ounces PA-made vodka per serving
- Fresh fruit and herbs, for garnish
- Pour a shot of vodka into each cup of Rita’s. Stir well to combine.
- Garnish with fresh herbs and fruit and serve icy cold.
- GIF and photo: Dish Works