The nimblest translation of “tongue in cheek” into French is probably “deuxième degré” (second degree), but this doesn’t quite capture the Pop-art playfulness of the Gazoline Stand, which has created a new Parisian oxymoron by being the city’s most fashionable gas station.
FUEL FOR HUMANS AND AUTOMOBILES, reads one of the signs on the façade of the recently renovated fueling stop, among the very oldest in the French capital, on the Boulevard des Invalides, in the bourgeois Seventh Arrondissement, just around the corner from the Musée Rodin.
Hungry motorists or bikers can take a time-out over an espresso from a Victoria Arduino machine, a beautiful coffee-maker whose automotive counterpart is a Rolls-Royce. There are aluminum picnic tables set up outside the shop, where visitors can also enjoy a delicious vegan or chicken hot dog in a brioche roll, with melted cheddar, crispy fried onions, and yuzu mayonnaise. Other delights include lacy orange-flower-water-scented crêpes with butter and sugar, and offbeat sodas from the International Soda Club, including a Japanese cola flavored with Kumamoto tomato.
Inside, where you pay for your fill-up from pumps that read, UNLEADED 95: NO PHEW FOR THE PLANET and DIESEL+: NO BETTER, there’s nary a pine-tree-shaped air freshener or a tube of Pringles to be found.
Instead, the tidy shop is filled with an eclectic selection of merchandise, including a hoodie that reads, Death to Hipsters, a white T-shirt with a silkscreen of a cartoonishly destructive oil field, LE POMPISME ANARCHISTE PARISIEN (Parisian Anarchist Pompism) charging cables, computer accessories, and pads and pens. The Kit Kat bars are even Japanese-matcha-flavored.
It has all been curated by the gas station’s owner, the amorphously creative Parisian art director, fashion designer, D.J., and entrepreneur Ramdane Touhami, who may be best known for L’Officine Universelle Buly, the cult-success brand of beautifully packaged perfume, toiletries, and cosmetics that he created with his wife, Victoire de Taillac-Touhami. (It was sold to LVMH last fall.)
The Kit Kat bars are even Japanese-matcha-flavored.
De Taillac-Touhami formerly worked as head of publicity at the now closed Colette, Paris’s hippest concept store. The couple also resurrected Cire Trudon, a French candle manufacturer founded in 1643.
Wearing a tomato-red wool docker’s cap, an apricot cashmere overcoat closed with a yellow rope belt, and charcoal-gray flannel meditation pants on a chilly recent morning, the impish Touhami was clearly having fun with his new toy.
“I dreamed of having a gas station when I was a kid,” he says. “But I actually created the Gazoline Stand as a place for my teenage kids, because they go to high school nearby, and there’s really no place for them to hang out in this quartier. I also wanted to put the service back into the idea of a service station.” A friendly attendant not only handles the fill-up but washes the windshield. “There’s also no reason someplace ordinary like a gas station shouldn’t also be fun and interesting.”
For the moment, he doesn’t plan to make the Gazoline Stand a chain, because running this business has had its challenges. “The Seventh Arrondissement is a pretty racist and reactionary part of Paris,” says Touhami, the son of a Moroccan immigrant laborer who grew up in a village outside Toulouse. “A lot of people in the neighborhood are worried that we’re going to start selling kebabs.”
Instead, Touhami’s next project is a new boutique featuring his own branded mountain sportswear called Ramdane, and off-hours, like any modern Renaissance man, he likes to take it easy by spinning vinyl records, including the Isley Brothers, at the little bar he owns on the Rue Chabanais, in the Second Arrondissement. Touhami and his colleagues at the Gazoline Stand are happy to provide directions.
Alexander Lobrano is a Writer at Large for AIR MAIL. His latest book, the gastronomic coming-of-age story My Place at the Table: A Recipe for a Delicious Life in Paris, is out now
The Gazoline Stand, at 17 Boulevard des Invalides, in the Seventh Arrondissement of Paris, is open daily from seven a.m. to seven p.m. (thegazolinestand.com)