One of the artists connected with the rebellious group known as The Eight, and by extension a prominent member of the Ashcan School, Glackens attended night classes at the Pennsylvania Academy while working as an artist-reporter for various Philadelphia newspapers. Encouraged by Robert Henri, he traveled to Paris in 1895, where he developed an enthusiasm for the paintings of the French impressionists, especially Pierre-August Renoir. He later purchased works by Renoir and other French modernists while serving as an art advisor to his high school friend the noted collector Albert C. Barnes.
Glackens is known as a painter of genre scenes of middle-class life. Although his early genre images were characterized by their sketchy effects, The Soda Fountain" was painted in a more academic style typical of his later work. The model for the soda clerk was the artist's son Ira, who stated that his father had assembled a rough approximation of a soda fountain in his studio for this painting. Renoir's influence on Glackens, from the feathery brushstrokes to the strident edge of the pastel palette, is emphatic in this work.