If you find yourself cutting a line down London’s King’s Road, keep an eye out for the McDonald’s sign on the corner of Royal Avenue. Though now dedicated to quenching the hunger of tourists with salt, grease and cheese, this building was once home to The Chelsea Drugstore, an establishment so notorious it attracted the attention of both Stanley Kubrick and The Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger. Let’s take a closer look.
In the 1960s, the King’s road was the beating heart of swinging London. Home to countless boutique stores, this two-mile stretch between Sloane Square and Waterford Road in Chelsea was the stomping ground of the city’s movers and shakers.
Mick Jagger knew King’s road well and could often be spotted shopping in the area. He ended up immortalising one of his favourite spots in the Stones’ 1969 track ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’, which features the line: “I went down to the Chelsea drugstore / To get your prescription filled /I was standing in line with Mr. Jimmy / And, man, did he look pretty ill.”
Modelled on Paris’ Le Drugstore on Boulevard St. Germain, The Chelsea Drugstore was impossible to ignore. With its mirror glass exterior, the modernist structure stood apart from the area’s existing architecture, much to the chagrin of Royal Avenue locals, who found the shopfront nearly as offensive as the thigh-high boot-wearing clientele who stepped inside.
They were even less impressed by the fact that, at the peak of its popularity, it was open 16 hours a day, seven days a week. During that time, it also boasted its own “flying squad” – a team of female delivery drivers who wore purple catsuits and delivered customer orders on matching motorcycles.
The same year The Rolling Stones released ‘You Can’t Get What You Want’, the Chelsea Drug Store appeared in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. By the time the director used it to shoot the Disco Bootik scene, it had been open for less than a year but had already developed quite a reputation. While it was more of a mini-mall than a drugstore, it did contain a chemist.
It’s just that it also included record stores, clothing boutiques, newsstands, food outlets and strippers, the sheer spectacle of which somewhat overshadowed the humble pill dispensary. The original Chelsea Drug Store remained open until 1971, when it was forced to close its doors, only to reopen the following autumn. This incarnation survived well into the punk era before closing in the late 1980s.
You can check out Kubrick’s footage of the interior below.