Casteix Pharmacy

Casteix Pharm CroppedMy grandfather, Martial Casteix, owned eight drug stores in New Orleans. He was in competition with a pair of gents by the name of Katz and Bestoff, although they were friends. Martial got a bit over extended and lost most of his stores during the Great Depression. K&B managed to hang on for another fifty years before Rite Aid bought them out.

I know the locations of several of the Casteix stores and have pictures of some of the interiors I made from originals my cousin, Melanie, has. At least two of the stores were in the Vieux Carré. One was on Bourbon Street and the other on Dauphine. Years ago I found a picture of the Dauphine Street store online and played with it in Photoshop to give the low-resolution image an old and distressed look, which is what you see here. I visited the location recently and shot a Casteix Pharm Todayphoto of how it looks today. Not surprisingly, it is the French Quarter, after all, the building hasn’t changed much. It appears to be a residence today. Someday, I will go knock and on the door to see what happens.

The Bourbon Street store is a bit more famous in more ways than one. Today it is the home of the Famous Door Bar. Ninety years ago, it was a pharmacy and my grandparents lived there above the store.

They moved out rather suddenly in the twenties after Martial decided the French Quarter might not be a good place to raise a family. He came to this conclusion after my aunt, Margie, came home from school one day with a tale about how a “nice lady with lots of red lipstick” suggested a career in prostitution might be a consideration for someone as pretty as she was. Martial promptly moved the family to Orleans Avenue near City Park.

MB loved to tell the story of how he made cherry bounce in the attic of the Bourbon Street location. Since he started college when he was sixteen, he must have been quite young when he was making cherry bounce. That, and his expressed concern for disposing of the strained pits and pulp in a way his father would not discover what he was doing in the attic also suggested he was well under drinking age, even for New Orleans.

What to do with the pits and pulp? He was stuck with this cheesecloth pouch full of mush after he separated the solids from the drinkable liquid. MB was very smart, so was his sister, but his solution for getting the unwanted pits and pulp past his dad in the drug store downstairs was, shall we say, less than brilliant. But like most less than brilliant notions, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

He decided he would simply heave it from the attic window onto the roof of the building across Bourbon Street. The building there now must not have been there then, because there is no way he could have made that shot.

No matter, he forgot to tie the sack of cherry bounce leavings closed, anyway. And guess what happened in its trip across Bourbon Street? It came open, of course, and spread that pulpy red slush all over the people below!

Martial immediately became aware his son was up to no good in the attic, when irate people covered with cherry bounce remains came into the store demanding 341 Bourbon Famous DoorRedan explanation—and to have their clothing cleaned. MB said it cost his dad a small fortune in cleaning bills.

That’s Martial behind the counter of the Bourbon Street location before it became a bar.

You would think MB would have learned his lesson? He continued to experiment with his cherry bounce recipe for decades after. When I was a kid, there was usually a bottle of cherry bounce fermenting in a recycled whiskey bottle somewhere in the kitchen. He must have consumed it all himself, because I never even got a taste.

He corked one a bit too tight once. (I don’t think you are supposed to cork something fermenting?) It was sitting on the kitchen counter right next to the sink. It eventually built up enough pressure it blew the cork out, rather violently, I might add. Our maid, Adel, was washing dishes when it “went off.” The cork missile zoomed past her nose and ricocheted off the cabinet, went up to the ceiling, and bounced back down into the dishwater, splashing poor Adel.

In the bedroom, my mother said she heard a loud pop from the kitchen, followed by Adel exclaiming, “Oh Lordy, I’ve been shot!”

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