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Screw It, Spoil Yourself at the Pool Snack Bar

Pool life is simple. Shouldn’t your pool snacks be too?

Basket of french fries sit alongside a pool. Shutterstock
Jess Mayhugh is the managing editor at Eater and Punch. Living in Baltimore, she prefers her crab cakes broiled and her Boulevardiers with rye whiskey.

When my husband and I were looking to join a community pool a few years ago, we only had a couple of requirements: a low-key and judgment-free vibe, members who were already friends, an adequate amount of adult swim time, and an old-school snack bar. You know the ones. More shacks than kitchens, these snack bars are keepsakes from my youth. They’re run by middle schoolers still figuring out how to calculate proper change and their “menus” are handwritten in Sharpee and only mildly accurate. They are perfect.

I’ve been lucky enough to experience the full gamut of snack bars in my life — from licking crimson-hued popsicles after soccer practice at the field behind my house to sipping light beers crowned with limes at a beach bar in Madeira. They come in all shapes and sizes, and tend to define the character of a place. That’s why in our pool search, the snack bar became the litmus test. We are less fancy country club food people and more whatever’s on the grill.

So when we came across the snack bar at a Northeast Baltimore pool, we knew we’d found the one. The selection included your classic candy and chips, Nestle frozen treats, and cans of soda and juice so the bees had somewhere to hang out for the day. But it was the extra touch of the microwave — so our friends’ kids could enjoy Easy Mac or slurp Cup Noodles — that sealed the deal. The selection was quirky and random, enough to keep swimmers happy all day without being too bougie or expensive.

Since joining two years ago, we’ve figured out the art of what to bring to the pool versus what we buy at the snack bar. Tupperware containers of watermelon and pasta salad get packed alongside canned beer and coconut water in our cooler. But we reserve our chlorine-soaked dollars for unexpectedly great pool food: a corn dog after we’ve swum a couple laps, a bag of tropical-flavored Skittles when the sun reaches its peak, an ice cream-filled Drumstick right before we pack up our things.

Yes, some days are filled with pizza from a nearby birthday party or cheeseburgers as we celebrate the Fourth of July, but it’s the unassuming snack bar that has provided us with the fondest memories. Like when I’ve reached a good stopping point in my book and notice that the line of kids has dissipated, I determine that a Rice Krispie Treat slightly warmed from the sun will hit the spot. And what else is summer if not tiny moments of spontaneous joy?