Make a Cherry Key Lime Rickey and feel like a real soda jerk

This staple of Northeast soda fountains calls for just five ingredients.

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Cherry Key Lime Rickey
Graphic: Karl Gustafson, Photo: Allison Robicelli

I have recently learned that not every American had the good fortune to grow up drinking cherry lime rickeys, and that’s the sort of tragedy I cannot turn a blind eye to. The cherry lime rickey is a soda fountain staple throughout much of the northeast that is, just like soda fountains themselves, gradually vanishing from the landscape. I haven’t been able to find one in the wild ever since I moved away from my hometown of Brooklyn five years ago; while I have been able to find some sort of cherry-lime relief at a suburban Sonic, no “-ade” or “slush” is comparable to the tart, fizzy perfection that is a rickey. If you have yet to experience its splendor, get ready to have your life changed.

Unlike an egg cream, a cherry lime rickey doesn’t need any ace-level soda jerk skills; as long as you have cherry syrup, lime juice, soda water, and the ability to stir, you can be sipping on rickeys all the damn time. Now, some people strongly believe that lime syrup should be used instead of juice, but I have no interest in arguing over which is the “right” way to make a cherry lime rickey, because there is no wrong way. For this recipe I use bottled key lime juice because I like its bright flavor, and I don’t always have the patience to wring out a whole bunch of tiny limes. If you want to use freshly squeezed lime juice, or fresh cherries rather than frozen, go right ahead! Do whatever it takes to make this the summer beverage you keep coming back to.


Cherry Key Lime Rickey

Makes about 8 servings

  • 8 oz. pitted cherries (fresh, or thawed from frozen)
  • 1/2 cup key lime juice (if you can’t find this, fresh Persian lime juice will do)
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • Soda water

Add the cherries, key lime juice, sugar, water, and salt to a large glass jar or plastic quart container and gently stir to combine. Partially cover and microwave on high heat for two minutes; stir, then microwave an additional 1-2 minutes until the liquid begins to bubble gently. Let the syrup cool on the counter for about 10 minutes, then seal and refrigerate until cold.


To make a rickey, spoon a few cherries into the bottom of a large glass, then pour in 2-3 tablespoons of syrup. Fill with soda water while stirring gently; taste, adding more syrup as desired to find your perfect ratio. Serve with a fresh wedge of lime.