Cabarets in France

January 2022

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Emblematic party venues where dancing, singing and performances come together, cabarets continue to spark the imagination by taking you on a journey through a unique show. Buy your ticket to see an incredible Revue show over the course of an evening. At the Moulin Rouge, the cabaret tradition is upheld with the greatest artistry. We shine a spotlight on these French-born performance venues where you can beat your own drum to the rhythm of the city!

The birth of cabarets in France

According to Larousse, a cabaret is defined as an Entertainment establishment where the programmes consist of singing, dance routines and revue shows’. The Petit Robert adds a gastronomic dimension to this: ‘Establishment where a show is presented and where customers can consume beverages, dine and dance’. Taken from the Dutch word ‘caberet’ or ‘cabret’, which denotes affordable accommodation and from the Picard word ‘camberete’, which means ‘small room’, the cabaret originated in France and made a particular name for itself in Paris.

At the end of the 19th century, painter Rodolphe Salis left Châtellerault for Paris. The capital was his chosen destination for opening an artistic and literary cabaret, Le Chat Noir, in 1881. This establishment marked the beginning of the history of the cabaret in France. Because although cabaret-guinguettes for Sunday dancing already existed in the early 19th century, Salis’s venue was a completely new type of cabaret. Before this, no French dictionary used the word ‘cabaret’ to denote a place where you could watch a show or dine and spend the evening.

This led to other cabarets springing up in its wake across Parisian music halls, then elsewhere in France, Europe and beyond. The very nature of cabarets changed: from a simple dinner/show, audiences could now watch cabaret revue shows, humorous cabarets, cabaret concerts and more. In the United States artists even performed burlesque, a mixture of striptease and entertainment. On stage, these artistic shows were very much styled in the American way – and tickets were selling like hot cakes. But French cabarets, particularly Parisian ones, would remain the most iconic thanks to the uniqueness of their shows, which accounts for their continued success right up to present day.

Parisian cabarets

Le Chat noir

Originally opened at 84 Boulevard Rochechouart, in the Montmartre district, Le Chat Noir was frequented by intellectual bohemians. People flocked there to hear cabaret artists, watch Chinese shadow puppets or meet artists and writers over the course of a dinner or evening. The French singer Aristide Bruant also composed the song Ballade du Chat noir, still famous now. In 1896 the poster Tournée du Chat noir, painted by Swiss artist Théophile Alexandre Steinlen to promote the Parisian cabaret, became the symbol of Belle Epoque Paris. Even today, you can find it in souvenir shops or in the booksellers along the banks of the Seine in Paris.

The ABC music-hall

In 1935 the former Plaza theatre on Boulevard Poissonnière was transformed into a glamorous music-hall by producer Mitty Goldin (whose real name was Mitty Goldenberg). She decided to give it the name ABC so that it was ‘at the top of Parisian programmes listed in alphabetical order’. Before it shut its doors in 1964, the music-hall saw a succession of performances from some of the leading names in French music, including Arletty, Édith Piaf and Charles Trenet. However, from 1965 the ABC was turned into a cinema, signalling the end of evening shows with live music.

The Moulin Rouge

An iconic cabaret that still continues to inspire audiences, the Moulin Rouge was opened in 1889 by a Catalan and a Frenchman, Joseph Oller and Charles Zidler respectively, who already owned the Olympia. On 6th October of the same year, the arrival of a new music-hall at the foot of Butte Montmartre was talk of the town. Featuring a huge dancefloor, mirrors, a garden with a giant elephant and donkey rides for ladies’ entertainment, there was a party atmosphere throughout the show and over the course of dinner, too! It wasn’t long before the Moulin Rouge balls were a key fixture in the calendar, an encounter between Parisian nights and famous artists. People went there to discover a new dance: the Cancan and its dancers, which are still remembered today thanks to the paintings of artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

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Affiche Chat Noir

An emblem of Parisian nightlife during the Belle Epoque, the cabaret spirit is still very much alive thanks to the Moulin Rouge and its Féerie Revue show. A way of reliving the effervescence of Paris at that time over the course of an evening and dinner, while sipping on a glass of champagne.

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