Mysteries of Paris #56 – The legendary Le Chat Noir Cabaret and Bar

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Like cats, this Cabaret has many lives! It opened for the first time on the 18th of November, 1881 at 84 Boulevard Rochechouart by Rodolphe Salis, a wine seller who was fond of poetry. Where the name does came from? The night when Salis came to visit the abandoned venue where he wanted to set his cabaret, he heard the mew of a poor black who was sitting atop a street lamp. He took it as a good omen, and decided to adopt the animal, naming his cabaret for it. Perhaps in homage to Edgar Allan Poe?

Inside the ancient Le Chat Noir
Inside the ancient Le Chat Noir

The first accommodations were cheap. Patrons were served bad wine, and the decor was not the best. However, it had a big success thanks to the arrival of a group of artists called “Les Hydropathes” (“those who are afraid of water”). The guests were greeted by a Swiss guard dressed in gold, appointed to bring in the artists and forbid entrance to priests and police! Many famous artists made a habit of the Cabaret.

Charles Cros, Alphonse Allais, Steinlen, Toulouse-Lautrec… Le Chat Noir is known as the first modern Cabaret. The place even had its own hymn. ! ‘’ Je cherche fortune Autour du Chat Noir, Au clair de la lune, A Montmartre, le soir. …” “I look for fortune around the Black Cat, by the light of the Moon, in Montmartre in the evening. …” The famous poster of the club drawn in by Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen is still well known and used on every types of media. T-Shirt, posters, mugs…

The Black cat is everywhere! Rodolphe Salis created the weekly journal also named The Black Cat which was published from1882 to 1895, and was a strong symbol of the 19th century spirit. Such people as Alphonse Allais, Guy of Maupassant; Barbey d’Aurevilly; Victor Hugo; Huysmans, Edmond of Goncourt were collaborated with Salis to publish this magazine. In June 1885, Salis decided to move into larger accommodations. He left the Rochechouart Boulevard and set the Chat Noir on Rue Victor-Masse. The new venue was sumptuous, a far cry from its humble roots. The new venue had three floors and featured decor where the black cat was omnipresent. This new cabaret was alive until 1897. The cabaret wasn’t able to outlast its owner, however. When Rodolphe Salis died, the artists left, and the cabaret closed.

The only remainder of the Chat Noir today is a plaque in the street. However, Salis did leave an impact that survived him. Thanks to Salis, the image of the black cat was rehabilitated. During the Middle Ages, black cats were thought to be incarnations of the Devil and were feared, abused and killed. With the imagery of this cabaret, they became a symbol of humor and wit. The Chat Noir’s original sign is now in the Museum Carnavalet; a reminder of the former glory of this cabaret. A new incarnation of the Chat Noir exists at the 68 boulevard de Clichy. It opened in the beginning of the 20th century by Jehan Chargot, who decided to revive and modernize the cabaret.

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