The Moulin Rouge: Immerse Yourself in the 134-Year History of This Parisian Cabaret

december 2023

All the stories behind the Moulin Rouge

moulin rouge affiche toulouse lautrec

Paris in the late 1800s was a spectacle of lights and delights, with the Montmartre district at the heart of its bohemian revelry. Among its numerous bars and dance venues, the Moulin Rouge rose, literally and figuratively, as a beacon of entertainment. Established on the grounds of the former Bal de la Reine Blanche, businessmen Joseph Oller and Charles Zidler transformed the original locale into what they boasted to be “the first women’s palace, the largest, most elegant and most luxurious temple of dance.”

And indeed it was. After the opening night, the Moulin Rouge quickly became synonymous with the energetic and provocative dance style known as the French Cancan. The vibrancy of high kicks and ruffled skirts became the cadence by which the cabaret built its fame, and a true symbol of the Moulin Rouge thanks to Toulouse-Lautrec’s posters.

Over time, the Moulin Rouge witnessed several metamorphoses, enduring fires and renovations to maintain its grandeur. It also bears the indelible imprint of prominent personalities that shaped its narrative, like Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, who created iconic posters for the cabaret, and performers like Minstinguett who shined on stage.

Each show since 1963 has been christened with a title starting with ‘F’, culminating in the latest spectacle, ‘Féerie’. The cabaret’s eclectic array of performances and reviews has spanned circus acts, operettas, balls, variety shows, and more, leaving no stone unturned in the quest to dazzle its audience.

A popular and unique dance

But at the heart of the Moulin Rouge’s fame lies the French Cancan. This dance, based on high kicks and energetic movements, has enthralled audiences for generations. It all started in Paris in 1820 when men improvised solo dancing to let off steam, tired of the rigid conventions of the time. Women tried it too, surpassing the men with their prowess and releasing shockwaves with their daring moves in the process. There even was an attempt to ban the cancan!

french cancan moulin rouge
© Bal du Moulin Rouge

How the Moulin Rouge inspired the famous American film

The Bohemian culture and hedonistic lifestyle also inspired director Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 motion picture, ‘Moulin Rouge!’, winner of countless awards. This musical, starring Nicole Kidman as Satine and Ewan McGregor as Christian, but also Jim Broadbent as the parodic Harold Zidler, is a kaleidoscopic homage to the cabaret’s spirit. The film captures its essence in a melodramatic love story between Satine, the star courtesan of the Moulin Rouge, and Christian, a penniless poet.

Kidman’s performance is integral to the film’s blend of romance and tragedy based on the spectacle of the cabaret world. She received the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical for the role of Satine, while director Baz Luhrmann won the Best Motion Picture – Musical Award for this original dramatic love story.

The film reignited a passion for the theatrical, so much so that the Rouge Musical made its Broadway debut at the Hirschfeld Theatre, transplanting the cabaret experience onto the stage with an ensemble cast, from Paris to New York. For this Broadway version of the musical, it is said that Baz Luhrmann wanted to keep his original movie star cast. But the Hirschfeld theatre stage instead gave a warm welcome to Courtney Reed, playing the role of Satine, and Casey Cott demonstrating his love on stage as Christian, while André Ward and Tituss Burgess respectively filled the theatre with enthusiasm as Toulouse-Lautrec and Harold Zidler!

moulin rouge
© J. Habas

The Moulin Rouge nowadays

By creating the Moulin Rouge, J.Oller and C. Zidler transformed a once-closed venue into a legendary cabaret that has stood the test of time. It continues to enchant audiences with his Revue Show, defining the contemporary era of this historic theatre. This Revue show is masterpieces of costume design, and wins the hearts of spectators around the world thanks to the creative effervescence that characterizes cabaret. The Moulin Rouge revue shows have even inspired award winning musical movies like “Moulin Rouge!”, which in turn was adapted into a Broadway production for the theatre in New York. But the Moulin Rouge remains, after 134 years, an emblem of the city that birthed it—a red windmill spinning tales of romance, revelry, and the relentless pursuit of art.

The Workshops and the Maisons d’Art of the Moulin Rouge

If you are intrigued by the craftsmanship behind the Moulin Rouge best costumes and original stage design, the Workshops and the Maisons d’Art offer a fascinating glimpse into the creative process. Explore the intricate details of the costumes that grace the stage during the spectacular Féérie show.

Ligne dégradé
atelier couture moulin rouge
© Philippe Wojazer
maison février moulin rouge
© Maison Février
maison clairvoy moulin rouge
© Philippe Wojazer

The Bar à Bulles and the “Toit” rooftop terrace

You can also explore other unique venues associated with the Moulin Rouge. Relax in the more intimate setting of The Bar à Bulles, where you can sip your drink under the Japanese maple trees in the secret terrace, or unwind with the spirit of the cabaret in the air on the confidential “Toit” rooftop terrace.

Ligne dégradé
bar à bulles paris
bar à bulles paris
toit du bar à bulles
© Le Bar à bulles

La Machine of the Moulin Rouge

For those seeking a rhythmic end to their evening, La Machine of the Moulin Rouge, one of the most ambitious nightclubs and best concert venues in the city, opens its doors to an eclectic musical experience, featuring a line-up of DJs who infuse the night with music as vibrant as the Moulin’s past.

No other than The Beatles, The Who or David Bowie performed there, before it became a hotspot for techno music in the 90s. Today, La Machine of the Moulin Rouge is a committed stronghold to artistic and musical creation, supporting openness and discovery. You can enjoy an array of different styles depending on the program: electronic music, techno, hip-hop, house music, but also rock, metal or jazz shows.

Ligne dégradé
la machine du moulin rouge
la machine du moulin rouge

Other news

Moulin Rouge by Les Couronnes de Victoire: an ode to love!

2024 is a very special year for the Moulin Rouge, which is preparing to celebrate its 135th birthday! To start this symbolic year in style, the cabaret is partnering with Les Couronnes de Victoire to create a limited-edition capsule collection.

Introducing the Moulin Rouge by Sophie Cano collection: a dazzling ode to elegance and magic

Marking its 134th anniversary in style, the Moulin Rouge has joined forces with Parisian designer Sophie Cano, who unleashes her creative talents in an exclusive collaboration.
film moulin rouge

Moulin Rouge Movie: synopsis & casting

Are you ready to uncover the myths and secrets behind the Moulin Rouge musical? Discover the award-winning movie’s dramatic love story and captivating backdrop.
balade le long de la seine paris

Winter Wonderland: Unforgettable Activities to Experience in Paris During the Winter Season

Are you ready to be swept away by Paris’s winter activities? Ice skating, festive markets, and cozy cafés: your guide to an unforgettable winter in Paris.

Christmas in Paris: Best Activities to Do

Explore the best of Christmas in Paris: enchanting markets, lights, ice skating and unique festive experiences in the City of Lights.
patinage paris

Winter activities in Paris: our top 10 must-take trips and unusual experiences

Paris is full of original things to do in winter. Discover our top 10 tips for fun-filled activities and entertainment to enjoy with family or friends in the French capital.