Revisit Paris Nightlife of the ’90s…the 1890s

By Jim Allen

The enterprising folks over at io9 dug into a little hidden treasure of nightlife history the other day that we couldn’t resist spreading the word about. Namely, Bohemian Paris of To-Day, a book published in 1899 about clubbing in 1890s Paris. Apparently, hedonism walked hand-in-hand with more sinister obsessions on the city’s club scene in that era, as the book details its authors’ exploits in some of the more unusual Parisian venues of the time, ones that would have made the current crop of goth kids blush.

For instance, if you even wanted to enter Cabaret de l’Enfer, or The Cabaret of the Inferno, you had to walk through a front door decked out like a demon’s mouth. Inside the club, things were similarly devilish — the entertainment included “devil musicians,” a floor show featuring a snake turning into a demon, and “caverns lit up by smouldering fires from which thick smoke issued, and vapors emitting the odors of a volcano.” Drinks were served by “red imps” who also kept busy by stoking fires and doing somersaults. Then there was The Cabaret of Nothingness, or as it was known to Parisian partiers,  Cabaret du Néant. In this Tim Burton movie come to life, coffins replaced tabletops, and “The walls were decorated with skulls and bones, skeletons in grotesque attitudes, battle-pictures, and guillotines in action.” As i09 helpfully points out, Bohemian Paris of To-Day is a public domain tome that can be found for free online, so you can explore the rest for yourself. And the next time some new nightspot comes off like it’s offering the most intense, underground experience ever, you can put things in a little historical context.

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