Thursday, April 25, 2013

Stop Me if You Have Heard This Before

Well, you can’t really stop me, but you can skip over the following paragraph. But then you won’t know if you’ve heard it before.

As students at the University of Iowa, both Chuck and I had many of our classes in East Hall. In fact, we met when he “picked me up” in the Ed-Psych Library. And East Hall was just a short couple of blocks from Pearson’s Drug Store where, for a mere pittance, a college student could get an egg salad sandwich, chips, and beverage for lunch. Alas, Pearson’s has been “chain drugs” out of business and has been replaced by—I think—a bank. But we both have fond memories of sitting at the lunch counter and eating egg salad on white fluffy bread.

So when we drove past Star Drug and saw the iconic Coca-Cola sign and the marquee proclaiming Breakfast*Lunch*Soda Fountain, we knew that “The Oldest Drug Store in Texas” would be added to our list of must visits.

The Star Drug’s porcelain neon Coca Cola sign with the signature of the artist, Jules Lauve, is one of the oldest—if not the oldest—one known to exist.

“Star Drug Store dates back to the 1880’s, and the horseshoe-shaped, tile soda fountain counter was added in 1917.

While the claim to be the Oldest Drug Store in Texas may be a stretch considering it no longer functions as a pharmacy, the owners and operators since 2001, the Tilts family, took five years to painstakingly restore the building and façade, severely damaged by a fire in 1998.

Loft apartments now occupy the space upstairs where the pharmacist originally had beds for clients to rest in long enough to verify there was no allergic reaction to the medication dispensed. The historical neon Coca-Cola sign out front and the mural along the alleyway lack the fading and patina of natural aging, but once you step inside, you step back in time” (

“In 1886, the Scanlons…purchased land and built two buildings known as the Levy Building and the Star Drug Store. The Scanlons hired one of Galveston's most renown architects, Nicholas Clayton (Ed Note: See April 22nd blog), to design the buildings. He created attaching facades with asymmetrical window groupings consisting of arches and elaborate decor.

“The original structure of the Star Drug Store was wood; this changed when Charles J. Michaelis, a local druggist, bought the building in 1906. Michaelis hired a contractor named J.W. Zempter, who without compromising Clayton's design, converted the building to brick.... In 1917, the Star Drug Store was fully operational, and a horseshoe shaped, tile soda fountain counter was added to the pharmacy….

“Ownership changed hands several times before a severe fire on Friday, March 13, 1998, closed the store indefinitely. In November 2001, the Tilts family purchased and began restorations to the building.

“This five-year project included rebuilding and restoring the facade, two loft apartments upstairs, the historical Coca-Cola neon porcelain sign and the drug store…. The original horseshoe counter…still reigns as the Star Drug Store's most recognized emblem.

“On September 12, 2008, Galveston experienced a devastating disaster, Hurricane Ike. The Star Drug Store sustained over six and half feet of water inside its premises damaging most of the downstairs furniture, equipment and retail items. With the dedication and help of family, friends and co-workers, the Star reopened three months later on December 17, to once again serve its…patrons” (

Today, Star Drug no longer functions as a pharmacy, so the name is more historical than descriptive. Glass cases and other displays of gift items have replaced the more traditional appurtenances of a turn-of-the-century drug store.

Unfortunately, egg salad sandwiches did not appear on Star Drug’s menu, so Chuck looked elsewhere for inspiration. Would he find it in a glass of lime soda? (Sweet lime syrup in a color not naturally occurring in nature and seltzer water.) He briefly flirted with the Sandwich Sampler (Island Chicken Curry Salad, Tuna Salad, and that Southern favorite—Pimento Cheese) but upon reflection decided that neither the tuna salad nor pimento cheese were his things. So, instead, he figured that the Old-Fashioned Patty Melt with melted Swiss and grilled onions had a drug store lunch counter feel.

When I think patty melt I think grilled rye bread, but this one came on—no surprise here—Texas toast. Actually, I thought that this was better than the traditional rye. His burger patty was a half-pound of Angus beef and was nicely juicy. From the list of sides that included chips or a side salad (Caesar, Italian Pasta, Dill Potato or Fruit Medley), he selected the potato salad that was a hefty portion of red skin-on potatoes in a creamy dressing accented with dill.

The menu listed seven salads that can be ordered alone, as part of a sandwich, or as a side with an entrée. But one could also order the Seven Salad Sampler with small portions of each, and this was my choice. Starting at one o’clock on the plate (below) were fruit salad, Island Curry Chicken Salad (pineapple chunks, almonds, chicken breast in a light curry dressing), tuna salad, potato salad, Italian Pasta Salad (tri-colored corkscrew pasta, olives, and Parmesan cheese), Southern Seafood Salad (a slaw of shrimp and imitation crab), and Classic Caesar (romaine, feta cheese, croutons).

With one exception, none of these was bad, although none hit a home run. I couldn’t discern much pineapple in the chicken salad; the tuna had obviously not been made with albacore, although the horseradish it contained was an interesting touch; and the fruit salad was basically canned fruit cut to make a chunky fruit cocktail. And why does anyone use imitation crab? Because it’s cheap—that’s why. (“…the pulverized, rubbery remains of a bunch of random fish can be easily injection-molded into damn near any seafood product under the sun and labeled surimi, right under where it pretends to be crab meat at your local grocery store” []).

The loser was the Caesar Salad. How do you mess up a Caesar Salad? By using romaine that was so past its prime that all of the ribs had turned a definite brown and croutons so stale that they can cause a broken tooth.

I suspect that Star Drug might function better as a soda fountain where you order a chocolate malt with two straws and share with your Favorite Traveling Companion. But as a lunch counter it only earns 3.0 Addies.

To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.

1 comment:

city said...

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