Documented by the sometimes whimsical paintings of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and continuing to capture our imagination today, the tradition of the Paris cabaret dates back to early 1880s, when Le Chat Noir (The Black Cat) opened in the decidedly Bohemian Montmartre neighborhood. At the time, it served as a showcase for young talent who were paid in absinthe, and would resemble the open mic nights of today more so than the organized debauchery of Baz Luhrman’s film, Moulin Rouge.
In fact, it was not until the Moulin Rouge opened in Paris in 1889 that the notion of the cabaret as extravaganza began and an era of he French Cancan dance and naughty entertainment became the nightlife trend for Parisians. By the beginning of the 20th century cabarets had spread worldwide, morphing into speakeasies in the U.S. during Prohibition.
After WWII, The Lido ushered in yet a new era of cabaret, attracting big stars; The Moulin Rouge took a page from New York’s book and offered a supper club atmosphere, with similarly famous performers interspersed with dance numbers and other entertaining acts. That’s pretty much as it remains today, albeit with 100% less famous singers and a lot more of the early cheekiness. How much? Well, let’s just say that you could leave the kids at home.
The remaining champs of the cabaret circuit include the Lido de Paris, Moulin Rouge, and Paradis Latin, and if you’re looking for an evening out that celebrates a centuries-old Parisian tradition, you can’t do much better. Whether you reserve a place for a full dinner or a seat at the bar, it’s worth it to see beautiful dancers continuing a distinct piece of Parisian culture that is, quite frankly, thrilling.
- Contributed by Christine Cantera