Weird but Awesome
Those that are drawn to the more creepy side of life will be thrilled to find out that 1920s Paris was obsessed with all things macabre. And that goes for nightclubs, too. During the 20th century, a number of different cabarets opened across the city, complete with gargoyle ceilings, bone chandeliers and nightly shows that were just as creepy as they were strange.
L’Enfer is still the most famous of these vanished Parisian establishments thanks to photos by Eugène Atget and others of its hell-mouth entrance. Among the other novelty cabarets on the Boulevard de Clichy there was Le Ciel (Heaven) next door to L’Enfer, and the death-themed Cabaret du Néant (Cabaret of Nothingness, or Limbo as Jullian has it). The exterior of the latter was suitably funereal but otherwise mundane, although once inside you were in crypt-like surroundings. Another cabaret with a striking exterior that I hadn’t come across before was at no. 100 Boulevard de Clichy. The Cabaret des Truands (Cabaret of Truants) had a generally medieval interior with staff dressed like serving wenches and troubadours, but the exterior could almost be that of a fairground haunted house, replete with spider webs and plaster grotesques. Descriptions in English are unclear but the spiders seem to relate to a shared establishment, L’Araignée. It’s surprising to think of all these extravagant façades standing in a single (long) street in the heart of Paris, but then Montmartre in the late 19th century was the wild nighttown.
Cabaret du Ciel de de L’Enfer
Le Cabaret de L’Enfer was a Hell-themed café in Paris’ red light district (aka Pigalle, the neighborhood of the Moulin Rouge), created in the late 19th century and operating up ’til sometime around the middle of the 20th. I first heard of this place years ago, before I ever lived in Paris. I was living in Philadelphia and my roommate knocked on my bedroom door one evening to show me the photo below in the latest issue of National Geographic. It sure is nice to have friends who know what you like. Incidentally, I just found the National Geographic writeup in their website archives here.
Why, just look at those old-timey folks enjoying a drink in Hell! What I wouldn’t give to hang out there. I had no idea, staring at this picture in my bedroom in Philly, that I’d one day end up living right down the street from where this was taken; L’Enfer was located right on the Boulevard de Clichy, which was about fifty paces from the front door of my second apartment in Paris. I certainly wish the cabaret were still there (and also that everyone still dressed like that).
Unfortunately, there’s very, very little solid information to be found regarding Le Cabaret de L’Enfer. In all my searching, I’ve only been able to nail down the fact that it was definitely on the Boulevard de Clichy, somewhere near Place Blanche, and a couple people online have recently told me it was in the space where there’s now the Monoprix at 55, Boulevard de Clichy, which sounds perfectly plausible (one Twitter-er remarked, “Suspicion confirmed: Monoprix is Hell,” haha) but I haven’t been able verify this anywhere. I also haven’t had any luck trying to track down L’Enfer’s specific dates of operation, information about its design and construction, etc. I’ll keep looking, and I’ll certainly update this article if I find anything else.
Cabaret du Neant
In the 1890s, the Cabaret du Néant (of Tavern of the Dead) first opened its production in Paris and later in New York City. After entering the Cabaret, spectators followed a “monk” down a blackened hall to a café with candles on coffin-shaped tables where they could order refreshments from waiters in funeral garb. A lectured called their attention to paintings of figures that dissolved into paintings of skeletons. While bells tolled and a funeral march played, the monk led the audience to a second chamber; here, a volunteer was asked to step up on a stage and enter a standing casket. After the volunteer was wrapped in a white shroud the spectators gasped at an apparent “X-ray” effect–actually a simpler optical effect–as the man dissolved into a skeleton and then once again returned to plain sight as the skeleton disappeared. In the last chamber, using a similar optical effect, a live spirit appeared to walk around an audience volunteer who mounted the stage to sit at a table.
L’Araignée-Cabaret des Truands
On a more modern ote I thought you might be interested to see 2 bars that were designer by HR Geiger who recently died. The first one he tried to open was in Tokyo but because of restritions that are very strict in Japan due to frequent earthquakes and the likes, the project was (very unfortunatelty) abandonned by Geiger but some of associates persevered and managed to open it. Still it will never be nothing like he wanted it to be in Japan but nonetheless it is quite striking. Here is the official link to this bar that is now officially closed. Just click on the main entrance picture below.
H.R. Giger’s art is among the most recognizable in existence—it’s very easy to identify something he made, and the unbelievable bar attached to the museum dedicated to his work in Gruyères, Switzerland, is no exception. Amazingly, it’s not the only one in existence—at various times four locations have been able to boast a Giger Bar, two in Switzerland (the other one is in Giger’s birthplace, the town of Chur), one in New York City, and one in Tokyo. But the ones in Switzerland are the only ones that are open today.
The New York branch was located in Peter Gatien’s legendary Limelight nightclub in the Chelsea neighborhood, but once it closed in the 1990s, the Giger Bar closed with it.