On Skype the other day with my parents, my mum mentioned she’d found a matchbook from back in the day. My mum – along with many (?) of her generation – traveled quite a bit back in the day. I remember her telling me and my sister how she had a book detailing how to live on 5$ a day in Europe. She left Australia sometime in her early twenties (I’m taking liberties here, mum, if you have adjustments to these facts, please do tell) and went on a wild adventure around the world. [Not to make my dad jealous of this tale, he, too, was in his own adventure after graduating from the US Air Force Academy. They met in Taiwan when he was stationed there for the Vietnam war.] One night when I was about 15 years old, we were living in Oklahoma and I couldn’t sleep. So, I took to down-right inappropriate spying and went through my mum’s memory chest that was sitting out in the living room. I found all these amazing black and white and early color photos from places all over the world with all different kinds of people – I remember a photo of some white-bleached-dyed-hair woman, sitting on a bed (in a hotel?), with her hair all up in ratty spazness, her eyes bugged out with a silly grin. The light in the photo tells me it was daytime and I imagine they were waking up, getting dressed, fixing their hair to go out on the town for another long day of tourism and …. dare I say, boys? I think she was one of the many traveling friends of my mum’s. So, if my mum said she found a matchbook – it meant she found a cool piece of history.
She told me it was from a drugstore in Paris on Boulevard Saint Germain, and that using Google Maps (which is totally awesome now that they have the on-ground photos) she’d found that the drugstore was now replaced by some high fashion store. Well, Blvd St Germain has definitely turned high end fashion, in fact it’s rather depressing to be a poor grad student walking around in this neighborhood with all the cool art galleries, amazing clothes stores, and Bobo cafés.
So, the other day I set out to find this place, asked her to send photos of the matchbook and asked if she’d mind if I posted it all here.
In the meantime, I had brunch the other day with a school colleague and his friends, an older gentleman and his wife. The older gentleman had worked for the NYT distribution sales or somesuch, wherein they sell the NYT news to other editors and other news outlets. His lovely wife had a very accomplished career, as well, and had know-who and know-how coming out of her beautiful ears. They’ve lived in Paris for over 20 years and every Sunday they have brunch at Le Deux Magots, directly across the street from where said “drugstore” was located. Poor grad student that I am, I was thoroughly grateful for the company and the meal. Well, I shared the story of the matchbook with them and she told me a bit about the “drugstore,” aka “Le Drugstore.”
Mum told me she’d been in Paris in 1968, not around the time of the May 1968 riots though. I wrote her back joking that she’d picked up the matches to have a super cool smoke over at Le Deux Magots while people-watching in an arty neighborhood. Lo and behold, as I was envisioning a small pharmacy drugstore, the woman at brunch was telling me all kinds of stories about how it was NOT at all that. In fact, Le Drugstore was a high-end drugstore of sorts where young women could buy classy perfume or more expensive hair brushes. Young people gathered there late into the night for food and conversation, as it was one of the only places in Paris open late into the night. It sounded more like London’s Harrods, which mum had told me about, hanging out there around the same time in the late ’60s, and where she’d bought the famous brown leather skirt and matching jacket that I’ve worn almost to death over the years.
This woman also mentioned that Le Drugstore was the site where so-and-so was shot and killed. The conversational din in the background prevented me from hearing his name and I felt like an idiot for not knowing, as it sounded like some political history with which I should be familiar. She also said that the neighborhood was up in arms when Armani’s moved in, as it suggested the formal transition of the neighborhood to something more commercial. So, we wrapped up brunch and I took some snaps of where Le Drugstore used to be, now replaced by Armani’s. Next to the La Brasserie Lipp (beware embedded music on website) and down the block from La Taverne Saint-Germain.
Ce boulevard fut percé à travers un dédale de petites rue moyenageuses entre les années 1855 et 1866.
On lui donna le nom de la plus vieille église de PARIS, St-Germain-des-Prés, église romane à choeur gothique dont la présence a longtemps rythmé la vie de ce quartier. Aujourd’hui encore artistes et intellectuels se retrouvent sur la place a Café de Flore, aux Deux Magots, chez Lipp, ou au Drugstore St-Germain, tandis que libraires et antiquaires abondent tout au long du boulevard.
_____Refermer la pochette
avant d’enflammer l’allumette
Thanks, mum. It’s so very cool to be in the same place you were once — before I was born or even a thought, and perhaps with different landscape.
Some news and mentions of Le Drugstore:
The modern glass and aluminium frontage of the Chelsea Drug store shocked Royal Avenue residents when it opened in July 1968. They were even more appalled by the clientele. The residents demanded that access to the King’s Road was closed, which was done in 1971. Chelsea Drugstore was modelled on Le Drugstore on Boulevard St Germain in Paris. Arranged over three floors the complex included bars, food outlets, a chemist, newsstand, record store and boutiques. It was open 16 hours a day, seven days a week. A major attraction was the ‘flying squad’ delivery service. This was made up young ladies in purple catsuits using motorcycles to make home deliveries.
“Paris became a focal point for Palestinians who were prepared to use French sanctuary to plan and carry out operations against Israeli targets or against rival Arab factions….The most infamous of these was a grenade attack on the Jewish-owned Le Drugstore café complex in Paris in September 1974. Two people died, and thirty four were wounded in the explosion, which was launched in support of another operation: a hostage siege at the French embassy in The Hague, where Japanese Red Army terrorists were trying to force the French government to release one of their members. This operation succeeded; the jailed terrorist was released, and he and his colleagues were flown to the Middle East with hostages and a large cash ransom.”The Deadly Sin of Terrorism: Its Effect on Democracy and Civil Liberty in Six Countries, 1994
Le Publicis Drugstore (one in the chain of Le Drugstore):
Drugstore with a French accent Feb 2004
A startling new building – or, at least, a new façade – was unveiled last week on one of the most visible sites in Paris, at the top of the Avenue des Champs- Elysées. Depending on your level of architectural sophistication, the building looks like an exciting swirl of reflecting glass shards, or a standard 1960s glass shoe-box that has just had an accident with an aircraft.
The building, designed by a computer and the Californian architect Michele Saee, is an attempt to recreate a part of modern French history – Le Drugstore. In the early 1960s, an all-night shop and café of that name, on this site, became the favoured haunt of young and wealthy Parisians, in the days when American culture was regarded as chouette (cool).
After a fire in 1972, it was rebuilt, only to decline in recent years into a seedy labyrinth of late-night shops and cafés. The new drugstore has a brasserie with glass walls and extraordinary views of the avenue, an exclusive restaurant, two bookshops, a wine-shop, a grocery and a pharmacy. It may not resemble any drugstore that I remember in the US, but it’s a fitting symbol for Franco-American understanding: a shattered mirror.
NYT – March 2004
For visitors who define themselves as more lowbrow than high, there is another recent iconic restoration: Le Publicis Drugstore at the head of the Champs-Élysées.
After a two-year renovation by the California architect Michele Saee, the new Drugstore, once a Paris hot spot after opening as a minimall in 1958, is now wrapped in a patchwork of glass. Inside, a brasserie (glass walls offer a view of the avenue), a members-only restaurant, a bookshop, two cinemas, a wine shop, an international newsstand, a luxury grocery store, a Cuban cigar shop and, bien sûr, a pharmacy fill more than 32,000 square feet. Alain Ducasse has been hired as consultant to both restaurants and planned the menus.
The original Drugstore opened on the same spot in what was once the Astoria Hotel, the home of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower when he was supreme commander of Western forces in Europe. With its all-night shop and café, it became a fixture of hip Paris in the early 1960’s.
It was rebuilt badly after a fire destroyed the original structure in 1972. Two years later, a terrorist bombing killed two people in Le Drugstore St.-Germain, one of its satellites, and it declined into the sad and seedy.
Noisy, crowded, expensive and with heating that leaves something to be desired, the new Drugstore has the feel of an airport lounge. But according to Mayor Bertrand Delanoe, it is nothing less than ”a symbol of the city.” And where else in Paris can one buy a Jean-Charles de Castelbajac teddy bear for $203 or a hamburger deluxe with foie gras for $20 after midnight?
In 1958 the founder of this company, Marcel Bleustein-Blanchet, following a visit to the United States, created a new concept for Paris that became a legend. Years later, a fire in one drugstore and a bombing in a Left Bank branch ended its glory. But Le Drugstore has made a spectacular comeback. Truman Capote once defined a city as a place where you can purchase a canary at 3 o’clock in the morning. In Paris, the Drugstore is a place where you can purchase a 200€ ($290) teddy bear or order a deluxe hamburger with foie gras in the wee hours. The Drugstore stands on the site of the old Astoria Hotel, the home of General Eisenhower when he was supreme commander of the Allied Forces in Europe. Today it houses a brasserie and a restaurant, a bookshop, a wine shop, two cinemas, a newsstand, and a high-end grocery store. The famed chef, Alain Ducasse, planned the menu offered in both dining places. Every food item from grilled scallops to ham with truffles Ducasse-style is served here. Naturally, the Brasserie has the cheaper prices; a more refined service and better cuisine is at Le Marcel.
About The Screens by Jean Genet