More than two decades after the last Peoples Drug Stores signs were taken down, the iconic white neon lettering that reads “Drugs” lit up once again; this time in a modern restaurant reincarnation of the retail pharmacy.
Alexandria natives Teddy Kim, Seth McClelland and Ian McGrath wanted to bring the nostalgic ’50s drugstore and lunch counter vibes to a present-day cocktail bar, leading them to open The People’s Drug last month. “Growing up here in Alexandria, we remember going to the Peoples Drug and for us that was a highlight of at least my life,” McClelland says.
“The lunch counter became a de facto meeting place. You’d walk in, you’d grab a vanilla coke and cheeseburger and it was a place where folks could get together and see their neighbors and friends,” he adds. “That was something we wanted to kind of reimagine in today’s community and bring something back and modernize the offerings.”
In keeping with the lunch counter theme, the menu features a handful of sandwiches. “All the sandwiches are plays on classic American sandwiches that oftentimes had roots in immigrant communities,” he explains. “There’s a Cuban mojo braised pork sandwich that evokes Miami and a skirt steak sandwich reminiscent of a Philly cheesesteak.”
They’ve also upgraded the classic McDonald’s hamburger: the People’s Burger has Banyuls caramelized onions, pickled cucumber, cheddar, oyster mushrooms and People’s special sauce, which is a take on the Big Mac special sauce.
The cocktail program is also a throwback. “We feature classics, meaning cocktails made or invented before 1919,” McClelland says. They also have a selection of daiquiri variations.
Beers and wines are mostly canned, which is another nod to the decade. “People just got really excited about canning things in the Campbell’s soup era,” he explains.
The owners wanted their version of the People’s Drug to mimic the optimism of the ’50s, too. “It was this whole new era of bright colors and brand new Chevrolets and Peoples really embodied that,” McClelland says. “Their lunch counter really paved the way for things like McDonald’s and the drive-in and these meeting places where you went out to get food with your friends and you went out on dates.”
Authenticity in decor was also a priority. They sourced 2-by-4-inch porcelain subway tiles, as opposed to the more readily available 3-by-6-inch ceramic tiles. “That distinction may seem small, but to us it wasn’t,” McClelland says. “The smaller porcelain subway tiles really keep the energy of that old school shop.”
The ceiling is adorned with salvaged tin tiles and hanging Edison bulbs, and the neon sign hangs on the wall above a white marble bar. The glassware is all vintage as well. “We raided little old ladies and antique sales and we’ve got a lot of the old ice cream parlor cups and bowls and coupes and Champagne glasses,” McClelland says.
“We’re taking the vibe of that time and we’re taking sort of the feelings people had about going to a place like this and then we’re allowing folks in 2018 to have some similar feelings,” he says. // The People’s Drug: 103 N. Alfred Street, Alexandria