The Parisian Nightlife from Heaven and Hell

Poster advertising the demons of Cabaret de L’ Enfor

 “Enter and be damned.  The Evil One awaits you.”

You are living in Paris in the last half of the Nineteenth Century.    You fancy yourself an artiste.  Maybe you are not currently making art, or writing in a garret, but you run with a pack of bohemians that are aspiring to make some waves in those circles. 

You sleep late, preen a bit, prepare yourself to meet up with friends, where you will wander in and out of cafés all day, joining and detaching more friends along the way.  You love to see the colorful striped silk skirts, swaying on the ladies, to prop your elbows on checked tablecloths, take in the fruity fragrance of wine, the yeasty aroma of fresh-baked breads, while large, dark, plumed hats rock about on nearby heads. 

You love the life you have made for yourself, squeezing leisurely days in between those in which you must try to earn a living as a colorless clerk in a rather mediocre shop.  Nightlife is what you and tes amis live for, and you must try to conserve some energy for it.

After the last meal of the day, a meal that is nursed along by all parties, you decide it is time to venture into the night air and walk along the sidewalks, down by the Moulin Rouge.  The absinthe is calling…a small army of allumeurs are already lighting the gaslights of the city. 

Enter Cabaret de L’ Enfor through the mouth of a demon

Twenty minutes later you are entering the giant gaping mouth of a demon.  Somehow, you avoid being nicked by his huge large sharp teeth.   The incisors are as deadly as rhinoceros horns.  “Enter and be damned.  The Evil One awaits you.”  You hear low menacing voices chanting and growling these words as you enter what seems to be a rocky cavern.  The walls and ceiling are made of stony demon sculptures, swooping low.

You can now hear thunder rolling, and echoing in the chambers.  Right before your eyes, a serpent-like creature transforms into a devil.  You can see molten silver and gold, trickling from cracks in the walls.

When you have finally adjusted to the inside light, it seems that, yes, hell is where you are.  Melancholy and eerie music greets you.  Passages from Faust are emoting from stringed instruments.  The musicians playing the music are boiling in a giant cauldron.  Red-garbed imps poke the musicians with pitchforks.  Flames occasionally shoot from small volcanoes as the odor of sulfur and brimstone waft about in the smoky draft.  More devils in red garments are serving items from the bar, and menu—surely the offerings must be piping hot and poisonous, here in the Cabaret de L’ Enfer (Inferno).

Not to worry, the adjoining cabaret—right next door—has Heaven as its theme, with ethereal décor and angels and cherubs floating about to assist guests.  One cherub has the sole purpose of polishing halos.  If you have had enough of Hell, simply walk into Le Ceil, Heaven, next door—you may feel instantly exonerated.

For whatever reason, the in nightclubs of the late 1800s in Paris carried themes of Heaven, Hell, and death.  Not a detail was spared.   They were so popular that they cropped up later as blatant copies in New York City.

Along with Heaven and Hell, there were the cabarets with other odd themes:  Cabaret du Neant spotlighted death—the tables were polished coffins on biers.  Fake bones and skeletons served as decorations, chandeliers, and eating utensils.   A creepy Pepper’s Ghost routine was projected on stage. 

Café du Bagne had a prison theme.  Diners ate and imbibed in a noisy prison eating hall while being served by convicts in inmate attire, dragging balls and chains behind them.  Cabaret dus Truands had a medieval theme.  The waiters were troubadours and wenches—giant spiders crawled about.

Yes, nightlife was far more creative and interesting before they had television and an internet.

Sara Marie Hogg is the author of It Rises from the Pee Dee. Please click HERE to find the novel on Amazon.

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