AMONG the changes which have occurred as a consequence of the Great War, none is more striking than the increased appetite for relaxation and pleasure, which seems to have affected all classes. People who rarely went abroad before, now cross the Channel much as in former days they made a trip to Brighton and Margate, while the restaurants of London and Paris are crowded with clients drawn from an entirely different class from that which previously frequented such expensive establishments.
Another innovation is that neither middle or old age any longer debar the new pleasure seekers from taking part in the nocturnal joys to be tasted at modern cabarets and night clubs, where grey-haired veterans and portly dames, in the intervals of bombarding each other with celluloid balls, jazzing in a way which would seem to indicate that, in spirit at least, they have discovered the secret of perpetual youth. Really young people, indeed, are crowded out by the new and elderly contingent which a generation ago was wont to retire to bed at an hour when it is now only preparing for the round of revelry into which it enters with such zest.
(From Sea Shanties by H. P. Herbert,
(From Sea Shanties by H. P. Herbert, Fisber Unwin)
presence of middle-aged and old ladies is a novelty in Paris
night resorts, elderly men have always taken part in the
frivolous side of life in that city. Under the second Empire
and during the early years of the third Republic they were
conspicuous figures in the foyer at the Opera house, where,
between the acts, they were wont to go and talk to the ballet
girls who were usually very appreciative of such attentions.
The "vieux marcheur," indeed is a recognized figure in
Parisian life, where no matter how old he may be he can have a
very good time provided always that he had plenty of money to
spend. Under such happy circumstances he remains a petit
cheri to the demi-mondaine to the end of the
chapter, for as a rule the latter prefers the very old to the
very young, an "homme serieux" being far more easily
dealt with than a headstrong boy whose ideas of enjoyment
often consist in drinking an inordinate quantity of champagne
and smashing glasses, both of which foolish proceedings are
not at all the the taste of a Parisian cocotte of the
better class. The lack of young men in the night resorts of
Montmartre is also caused by the comparatively large sums of
money which is now necessary in order to have a night out.
There are of course Boites de Nuit of a comparatively
inexpensive kind and to those a good many young Englishmen and
Americans go and prepare themselves for the inevitable
headache from which most of them are bound to suffer the next
The presence of elderly ladies in French Boites de Nuit is an entirely new development: before the war, after midnight at least, they were safely in bed, with hot water bottles, in their hotels. Night life in this respect, as in many others, has undergone a striking change since the war, Anglo-Saxon women of mature age claiming a share in nocturnal dissipations which would have horrified many of them in the years before 1914.
The modern French title for what we should call a Night Club or public hall is a "Dancing," a name which one sees advertised all over Paris. One of the first "Dancings" was a second edition of the Clover Club in the Rue Caumartin opened in 1922 by Maurice Mouvet and Leonora Hughes who, together with some American singing, proved a great attraction to the Parisian, or, rather, to the many well-to-do foreign visitors who flocked to Paris after the war. A great draw at "Maurice's," as the Clover Club was renamed, was an American who sang sentimental ballads said to be so moving that French writers who did not know a word of English were apt to burst into tears!
The multiplication of "Dancings" is one of those developments which have changed the habits of Paris, a city which far more than London has been affected by the Great War.
The drama of
life within its boundaries nevertheless remains full of
interest, the only pity being that the spectators as well as
those who take part in it have to pay more! Pleasure and
luxury, in addition to having become rather democratic in
character, are more blatant than was the case in former days,
when a certain reserve was observed by pleasure seekers of the
fashionable world who in Paris played most of their pranks in
the cabinets particuliers of the Maison d'Orée
or Café Anglais leaving the public rooms of night
restaurants to provincial visitors and tourists. From time to
time, of course, such viveurs went to Mabille and
later on to the Jardin de Paris, but they seldom or never
danced there, thinking that was the business of the
professionals who were hired to keep the ball a-rolling. As
late as just before the Great War, about the only place where
ladies could be taken to for supper in Montmartre was the
Abbaye de Thélème, and at that time there was no
general dancing there, visitors being attracted by a series of
"turns," Spanish dancers and the like, who performed almost
continuously up to the small hours of the morning. In the
nineties Marie's, on the Boulevard de Strasburg, was for a
time a very popular and fashionable supper place, all the
smart "Horizontales," as cocottes were called in those
days — Otero,
Liane de Pougy, Irma de Montigny and other beauties well
known "dans le monde des ceintures qu'on dore,"
being seen there with their admirers. Here there was no
dancing, though a first-class Tzigane band led by the
famous Boldi, discoursed sweet music as long as any
visitors cared to stay. A feature of Marie's was the
excellent supper to be procured there — now,
in the night restaurants of Montmartre, one is glad to
be able to get anything fit to eat, the Maitre d'Hotel
and staff not manifesting much enthusiasm as regards
providing supper, though preternaturally keen to see
that every visitor should be kept well supplied with the
acrid and sometimes poisonous liquid costing two or
three hundred francs a bottle which every visitor is
obliged to order if not to drink!
Montmartre, as late as the end of the last century, was little visited by tourists, who were content with the facile pleasures of the night restaurants of the Boulevards and the terpsichorean delights of a visit to the Jardin de Paris, varied by occasional evenings passed at the Café Concerts like the "Ambassadeurs." In those days, when motors had not yet come into use, "la Butte," though fast losing its semi-rustic character, was still the resort of artists, poets and singers whose life and spirit was essentially French.
Today all is altered and the Parisian openly admits that Montmartre has become little more than a sort of pleasure fair run for the purpose of exploiting English and American visitors. To such a degree is this the case that, if a row occurs in any of the Boites de Nuit on the Butte, the police are often unwilling to interfere, that is, provided no French people are concerned. The general feeling in Paris indeed is that foreigners are best left to settle their own affairs, and the proprietors of night resorts are quite ready to let visitors from abroad smash anything they like provided they know that the damage will be paid for, with something to spare. These restauranteurs are pretty good judges of a client's financial stability, and will only tolerate rowdy visitors in their establishments who are known to have pockets well furnished with thousand franc notes. Some years before the war a band of young South Americans gave great trouble in certain cafés near the Place Pigalle, throwing glasses about and using knuckle dusters to the dismay of other visitors. In several instances the police were called in to restore order, but since the war there seems to have been less of this sort of thing.
In Paris, as everyone knows, night resorts are run upon very free lines, the ridiculous, cruel and canting practice of excluding women, who are tolerated in France where, provided no scandal occurs, everyone is free to behave as they choose, grandmotherly legislation prompted by Puritanism not being popular across the Channel.
Parisian restaurant keepers, unlike their London colleagues, have the right of excluding any visitor without giving a reason. A year or two ago while going into the Abbaye de Thélème I saw a middle-aged English or American woman entreating the doorkeeper, who was barring her entrance, to let her in. The woman in question was well dressed, and wore a fair amount of jewellery, nevertheless the janitor remained deaf to her appeal. "Full up, I tell you," said he, in very excellent English. "You said that last night," replied the woman, "Surely you can't be full up again?" "Yes we are," said the man, "and always shall be as far as you are concerned, you had better go somewhere else, Madam, for you're not going to come in here." I could not imagine why the woman had been so sternly treated. The explanation probably was that she had at one time or another created a disturbance in the Abbaye. Very good order is maintained in the night resorts of Montmartre, it being very rarely that the police have to be called in, a different state of affairs from that prevailing in London where if anyone behaves in a merely unconventional manner he is at once treated as if he were a dangerous criminal and handed over to the police.
As a matter of
fact in Parisian Boites de Nuit excellent order
usually prevails while open drunkenness is rare. Now and then
scenes, generally the result of jealousy occur, a girl
smarting under the humiliation of seeing one of her admirers
supping with a rival throwing a champagne bottle at the
latter's head or some jilted lover expostulating in a forcible
way, but the Maitres d'Hotel, well skilled in dealing
with such cases, generally manage to smooth matters down
without allowing any fracas to disturb the general
harmony of the evening.
Occasionally, as is bound to happen in such company, late at night someone gets up and boxes somebody else's ears; this has even been done for a bet.
A black boxer of colossal frame sitting in a Montmartre night haunt was sometime ago smacked in the face by an immaculately attired young man who neither the boxer or any of the party sitting with him had ever seen before. To the surprise of all the victim merely rubbed his cheek in a comical way, while his features expanded into the broadest of smiles.
"Aren't you going to hit him back?" shouted someone from the other side of the room.
"No, sonny, he wins a fiver and it doesn't hurt me!"
Not so good natured was "Battling Siki," the Senegalese boxer, who, it would seem, vanquished Carpenter by a fluke. This boxer, who had started life in a very humble position, became a great nuisance in Montmartre cafés after his victory, the possession of money having quite turned his head. The smart night resorts would not admit him, for his swaggering ways and outrageous behavior were apt to end in scenes of disorder and drive good clients away. Siki, therefore, was obliged to limit his activities to wine shops and bars where the company was rough. Fond of creating a sensation and inordinately vain, this boxer, whose head had been turned, used to go about Montmartre in the evenings, leading a more or less tame young lion. When his first began to do this, a crowd not unnaturally followed him. Siki, who was a man of moods, did not always like this, and on one occasion when he defied about a thousand people who had collected on the Boulevard, he was only saved from a severe handling by the action of the police, who, in the boxer's own interest, arrested him, ostensibly for bringing the French military uniform in contempt. Siki, it may be added, was wearing a Fez and a pair of shorts, the regulation dress, said the police, of the North African Rifles.
Before Siki left France for the United States, to go and box there, he parted with his lion. Owing to the difficulty he found in getting people to give the animal a lodging he sold it to a wild beast tamer who was exhibiting at the Neuilly fair. One evening he grew lonesome for his African pet and asked the tamer to lend it to him. While he was walking down the Avenue de Neuilly with the lion on a leash like a big dog, the animal took a dislike to a passerby and gave him a good clawing.
M. Munier, as
the victim was named, sued Siki, the town of Neuilly and the
tamer, with the result that Siki and Neuilly were adjudged not
responsible, and the tamer had to bear the brunt of the
Though the better kind of night haunt in Montmartre is well conducted and safe, there are low resorts which it is dangerous for a stranger to visit. It was at a small café on La Butte that before the war a certain young peer met his death owing, it was said, to a fall downstairs. The real cause, however, according to a rumor possibly based on truth, was not a fall, but a blow received by the ill-fated nobleman while he was being hustled by some Apaches with whom he had got into a dispute. Be this as it may, Paris at night is none too safe a place for a young man with plenty of money and not too much sense, a large number of disreputable characters of both sexes being always on the look out for victims from whom money is to be obtained.
Modern Montmartre, it may be added, still abounds in vendors of cocaine, which is sold at an extravagant price to clients who may be relied upon not to give the source of their supply away. The chasseurs and the waiters at second-class restaurants occasionally do very well in this line, though, in justice to the French authorities, it must be admitted that they are liable to be severely punished if caught.
The chief victims of the cocaine habit are demi-mondaines, whose nerves are upset by passing night after night in a heated and unhealthy atmosphere. Continuously keeping late hours is also a contributory cause.
A modern mania is the craze for going from cabaret to cabaret till the small hours of the morning. The reason why people are so fond of doing this, is hard to divine, but the fact remains that very few merry parties are content to visit only one "Dancing" in the course of a night out. Nevertheless all such resorts closely resemble one another, the decorations being the same, the bands playing the same tune and the champagne being of the same indifferent brand: finally the company is much the same, people moving from one night resort to another as if to fulfill a set program of nocturnal joys. The only good thing about this passion for migration is that in driving from one Boite de Nuit to another one is bound to breathe a little fresh air, the atmosphere at Montmartre "Dancings," where no one dares open a window, becoming in the small hours of the morning absolutely stifling.
I remember an attractive little demi-mondaine complaining of the mania for throwing away money in Boites de Nuit. One of her rich admirers, she said, after having given her dinner and taken her to a play, always insisted on going up to La Butte and remaining there till dawn. "He thinks, I believe," said she, "that he is giving me pleasure by going from one of these boring places to the other: it is true that I receive a number of dolls and other presents at some of the best of them. Nevertheless, I should be much happier if I were allowed to go to bed about midnight and be given one third of the money spent on an interminable number of bottles of indifferent champagne. Unfortunately, I cannot tell him that or he would be offended, so on we go night after night, always the same dreary round! The sham joys and forced merriment of Montmartre have long ceased to amuse me but they apparently amuse him and there is no escape."
No one realizes the tedium of this sort of life better than those who minister to the whims of night-birds.
"What is your ambition once you have made enough money?" someone asked the proprietor of one of the most fashionable Parisian "Dancings."
"To be able to
stay at home at night and never to hear the popping of
champagne corks again!" was the reply. Nevertheless, those who
have got used to seeing the dawn creeping in through the
windows are rarely content to retire permanently to the
country unless they have become ill or old, and very often
professional night-birds, who have taken to leading a quiet
life before their time, fade away and die like some rather
unhealthy hot-house flower which is not able to resist
exposure to the open air. Though sitting up late has, I
suppose, a bad effect upon the human constitution, it is
remarkable what great ages some confirmed night-birds have
I remember a great Baccarat banker — a rich city man noted for his passion for playing throughout the entire night — hale and hearty at seventy-five! At the age of eighty-two, however, he sent a New Year's Eve telegram to his old friends at a Parisian gambling club, in which he said that, though absent in body, his heart was with them at the green cloth. "May age," added he, "unfortunately prevents me from crossing the Channel at this time of year, but I feel that if I could still travel a late sitting would do me a great deal of good!"
"Dancings" and bars change their
ownerships so quickly and often in Paris, that what is a
fashionable and popular resort one month becomes
deserted or ceases to exist the next. The facility with
which such places can be opened is largely responsible
for this. In London, where considerable difficulty
prevails in obtaining a license for a new bar or
restaurant to sell alcohol, the goodwill of such an
establishment is of considerable value. In Paris, beyond
complying with certain not very onerous formalities, any
one seems able to start a night resort where they like,
provided of course, that a special tax is paid when the
establishment is kept open after midnight. As, however,
this indirectly falls upon visitors, it is little or no
hardship to the proprietor who, for a time at least,
generally makes a good thing out of his venture.
A curious thing about modern night resorts is that the exhibition dances, which are to be seen there, are almost invariably executed by men and girls of English or American nationality. The French, indeed, do not seem to have any special aptitude for jazz, in which their women rarely shine. Nevertheless it continues to be more popular than the Tango, an importation from South America, which, however, has its own special devotees.
In the Paris edition of the New York Herald for June 12th, 1926, there was praise for jazz from quite an unexpected quarter.
"I adore jazz, American jazz."
This sentiment, voiced by M. André Messager, conductor at the Opera-Comique, a composer noted for the simple lyricism of his melodies and operettas, has startled the French musical world. Hitherto it has considered him as one of the strongest supporters of anti-jazz music.
"Jazz! I am not the only musician who has come to love it," explained M. Messager. "And why shouldn't we? It has given us new rhythms, novel harmonizations and a revolutionary instrumentation. Moreover, it has awakened new emotions. In other words it has created an entirely new thing."
"It is worthy to rank with the works of Franck, of Schumann and of Wagner."
As late as twenty years ago there were still a number of Paris cafés which had a special character of their own, while an indefinable something, made up of certain qualities deeply rooted in the national life, gave such places a charm which is now no longer to be found. In the most fashionable restaurants French people are now rarely to be seen, while in the smart cabarets and dancing places, now for the most part cosmopolitan resorts devoid of local color, Parisians, owing to their lack of means, may be said to be merely tolerated, though Parisiennes are still to be found.
An old Boulevardier, who took some trouble to find out what the percentage of French compared with foreigners was in certain fashionable and expensive resorts, recently declared that out of three hundred persons dancing one night at "Florida," a "Dancing" in the Rue de Clichy, Montmartre, two hundred and eighty-five were of foreign nationality! There are times, indeed, when the only French in some of these "Dancings" are the waiters, and one or two of the band. The inevitable result of this sort of thing is that there is no longer any local color, except in the cheaper public dancing halls, to which visitors to Paris never go.
The main mass of the elderly people to be seen in Parisian Boites de Nuit come, I believe, from the Middle West, a part of the United States noted for its austerity. Be this as it may, when in Paris visitors hailing from that region seem to make a point of seeing every form of night life, though it must be admitted that some of them have a sort of set look of disapproval which seldom leaves their faces. The majority of elderly dancers seem to be of a class which, having plenty of money to spend, does not quite know how to spend it except by throwing it about in restaurants and night resorts.
Some time ago a writer amusingly
complained that in what he called "le Paris du dollar"
the Frenchman had taken the place of the old-fashioned
tourist of other days.
"Directly his nationality is recognized," said he, "he is given the worst place either near the serving table or in the cloakroom passage. The Maître d'Hôtel scarcely deigns to notice him at all, while the Chasseur barely thanks him for the moderate tip which the poor man is able to afford. He is treated, usually, as if he ought to be thankful to be allowed to enter the place at all, indeed any visitor imprudent enough to speak really good French is apt not to be admitted unless he can convince the porter at the door that he has really ordered a table and is in a position to spend as much money as does the cosmopolitan crowd for whose benefit the "Boites de Nuit" exist.
As a matter of fact, Montmartre, though its dancing places and cabarets are nightly filled with visitors from all over Europe, is no longer the only pleasure quarter in Paris as it was some years ago, all sorts of nocturnal haunts having spring up in other parts of the city including Montparnasse, where a number of free and easy Brasseries, which were once frequented only by students, have been converted into flamboyant restaurants calculated to attract the cosmopolitan crowd. Modern Montmartre indeed may be said to live upon the legend of its past glories, which is still current even in the most remote parts of the old and new world, visitors from which having passed several evenings in the nocturnal haunts of La Butte, go home believing that they know everything about Paris and even about France.