Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Leeches, catnip oil, strange potions

The place floats by in a one-sentence paragraph, one more detail in “a city of things unnoticed”:

Within a serene brownstone on Lexington Avenue, on the corner of Eighty-second Street, a pharmacist named Frederick D. Lascoff for years has been selling leeches to battered prizefighters, catnip oil to lion hunters and thousands of strange potions to people in exotic places around the world.

Gay Talese, New York: A Serendipiter’s Journey (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1961).
J. Leon Lascoff opened a pharmacy in 1899. His son Frederick followed him in the business. J. Leon Lascoff & Son, Apothecaries (or Lascoff Drugs), closed in 2012. From 1931 to the end, the store stood as 1209 Lexington.

There is much affection for Lascoff Drugs online. Forgotten New York and Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York have substantial posts on the pharmacy. (The latter also has an epitaph.) Flickr has a goodly number of photographs.

From a 1953 New York Times story about the store’s collection of old mortars, pestles, and apothecary jars:
Nearly 2,000,000 prescriptions have been filled since Dr. J. Leon Lascoff, father of the present owner, founded the shop in 1899. Among these was one from Los Angeles for hiera picra, a drug virtually forgotten since ancient Egyptian times. The late Martin Johnson used to stock up on catnip oil at Lascoff’s to lure lions in Africa. A millionaire once bought bottles of attar of roses, at $35 an ounce, to perfume his home. Prize-fight managers still get leeches at Lascoff’s, although a hypodermic needle would reduce a black eye better.

Dr. Lascoff fears his collection is getting too well known. Recently, while haggling over an antique mortar in a Columbus Avenue “thrift shop,” the proprietor told him:

“Take it for ten bucks. There’s a crazy druggist on Lexington Avenue at Eighty-second who’ll pay you double for junk like that.”
The 1209 address is now occupied by Warby Parker, described by a real-estate broker as “a wonderful addition to the community.” Things could be worse: the Lascoff neon sign (here’s a closeup) remains on display, minus Lascoff Drugs but still bearing the word Prescriptions . Clever.

Also from New York: A Serendipiter’s Journey
Chestnuts, pigeons, statues
“Fo-wer, fi-yiv, sev-ven, ni-yen”

comments: 2

Chris said...

I'm pretty sure that Warby Parker location is the same one my wife and I visited a few years ago. The decorating was book-themed, with assortments of books from various independent literary presses (New Directions, etc.) strategically displayed. It was, after all, the Upper East Side.

Michael Leddy said...

It would seem so — Google Maps shows it as the only Warby Parker on the Upper East Side.