Oh Pigalle, where do we begin? Paris’s naughty black sheep - the night-time realm of sex and debauchery where anything goes. Sure, the streets have gotten quieter, gangsters no longer reign, and, while strip-tease may have been invented here, the brothels have long closed down. But the evenings are as lively as ever. With legendary live music venues, underground clubs, hot new bars and all-night sex shops, there’s never a dull moment in Paris’s former red light district. So where should you go, exactly? That’s what we’re trying to answer after 24 hours (plus two hangovers) in Pigalle. From the Moulin-Rouge to Saint-Georges station, we reveal all…
8h: Wake up bright-eyed and bushy tailed (or, in our case, hungover) after a good night’s sleep at the Grand Pigalle Hotel
Okay, so we started on the drink a night early. But we’re in Pigalle! When in Rome and all that. Our stay at the Grand Pigalle Hotel on the rue Victor Masse gets us back on our feet: with its swanky décor, comfy beds and chic wallpaper, this is an immensely classy morning-after-the-night-before. We wash away any sign of last night’s excesses in the luxurious bathroom and finally we’re ready to go out and wander the streets of this bohemian quarter.
9h: A good breakfast makes everything better
Our poor, hung-over eyes were not prepared for the punishing sunlight. But we know exactly what we need: a nice, big breakfast. The Rose Bakery, with its minimalist decor on the rue des Martyrs does just the trick. Organic, fresh, homemade, sweet, savoury – everything here is delicious and sophisticated. From berry crumble to carrot cake to brownies, the choice is endless and we want it all. In the end we finally go with a salad, the cake of the day and freshly squeezed juice. We’re ready to take on the day.
10h: Pretend we’re sporty
Refreshed and replenished, we get on our best trainers and charge onto the Playground Duperrée. Lodged in between two buildings, this incredible coloured terrain is without a doubt the most beautiful in the capital. And it’s all thanks to Stephane Ashpool, founder of the Pigalle brand, and artistic directors Ill studio. While the place is beautiful, our attempts at a slam-dunk leave much to be desired and we feel we’re not doing the place justice. We accept that we will never be Kobe Bryant and leave after one hour, seeking solace elsewhere.
11h: Let’s go shopping
Downtrodden after our basketball fail, we make our way to designer boutique Pigalle Paris for some retail therapy. We lust after the hare hats and mohair jackets. But then we come back to reality – where we don’t have unlimited funds – and make do with a (very cool) t-shirt (€40). We go back up the rue Henry-Monneir and come across a seemingly nameless shop - “Le chat et le souris”, an assistant informs us inside. We’re confronted by a chaotic array of bizarre, dust-covered objects, dating as far back as the 1950s, alongside quirky jewellery designed by the shop’s founder Isabelle Anglade, and vinyl records - punk, jazz, blues, all at amazingly low prices. Three old women join us followed by French rock group Housse de Racket. It’s time to leave.
13h: Kebab Time
Up until this point we’ve really been looking after ourselves – healthy breakfast, a bit of sport. But now we really fancy a kebab. And in Pigalle, we’re spoilt for choice. We swap the traditional white sauce for mango chutney, a perfect match for tandoori chicken, aubergine masala, raïta (a yogurt-based Indian dish) and peas - the kebab of the moment at Zarma on the rue Jean-Baptiste Pigalle, a tiny place with a lovely warm welcome. Plus, the founder is a former food journalist, specialising in street food around the world, from Berlin to Turkey to Lebanon. This is a real connoisseur we’re dealing with. After a pressed pear juice and an orange blossom and pistachio éclair, we’re ready to set off again. Safe to say we’re in a good mood.
14h: On to the museums
You can’t spend 24 hours in Pigalle without absorbing some of the culture. And, because we’re a bunch of romantics at heart, we start with the Musée de la Vie Romantique. Hidden at the bottom of the rue Capital, surrounded by ancient trees, the establishment has joined two artists’ studios to Dutch-born painter Ary Scheffer’s house, dating back to the 1830s. Back in the day, Liszt and Dickens would be slumped together around the piano, rubbing shoulders with all the gang – Delacroix, Chopin and George Sand. We immerse ourselves in this long gone era, absorbing the Romantic-period surroundings and wandering through the temporary exhibitions.
We then veer off in a completely different direction (literally and figuratively) as we head to Pigalle’s emblematic Musée de l’érotisme… Alongside the temporary exhibitions there are four permanent exhibitions on contemporary, religious and mainstream art and brothels. Racy.
Bringing our cultural voyage to a close, we drop in on the Musée du Phonographe, which is sadly under threat of closure. Nestled in the 53 Boulevard Rouchechouart, this astonishing place has a grand collection of gramophones, some of which have been featured in top blockbusters - from La Vie en Rose to Inglourious Basterds.
16.30h: Snack Time isn’t just for the kids
After all that culture we’ve managed to work up an appetite (again). We head towards the rue des Martyrs and find ourselves faced with a dilemma: Le Comptoir Belge (traditional Belgium waffles) or l’Hotel Amour (tea in a cute courtyard). We go with the waffles – we’re already on a slippery slope after those kebabs so why not. And we have no regrets – the place sticks firmly to tradition, snubbing the standard Nutella for beautiful Belgian chocolate, accompanied by devilishly sugary, perfectly cooked pastry. Irresistible.
17h: Make like a touristPigalle may have a sordid past, but its architectural beauty is undeniable. We take along a camera, sunglasses and – minus the selfie stick – we have the tourist look down pat. Inevitably, we end up in 82 Boulevard de Clichy, gazing upon the neighbourhood emblem that is the Moulin-Rouge. Founded in 1889 by Charles Zidler and Joseph Oller, the cabaret is undoubtedly the most famous in the world.
From rue de Victor Masse, to the rue de Douai, the area is bursting with Instagrammable buildings and locations. In fact, we couldn’t fit all our photos onto this page, so here’s an example: feast your eyes on the Société des auteurs et compositeurs dramatiques (SACD).
18h: Immortalise the day in black ink
We take our jobs as journalists very seriously… so off we head to the capital’s renowned tattoo parlour Tin-tin. We discuss options with parlour-owner and her band of merry tattoo artists. We’re torn between the very clichéed “I heart Pigalle” and the more meaningful “Jusqu’a ici Tout Va Bien”. But eventually we go for a mini horned devil – Pigalle is a bad influence.
19h: Start the night off gently
As night falls, skint students and hipsters replace tourists, beers cans are cracked open and the sex shops finally light up.
We cosy up in the area’s latest trendy bar: Les Justes. Its unusual name – “the fair ones” – reflects the fact that for every cocktail ordered €1 will be given to charity. “We’re trying to do something ethical,” explains the owner. With its soft lighting and comfy ambiance, we practically have to slap ourselves into action and order our first cocktail of the night. We all go for a Smith: thyme-infused vodka with apple juice, hazelnut syrup and Celery Bitter. It’s perfectly chilled and thirst quenching – like a boozy smoothie. Next up, the delicious 1701 (whisky, artichoke liqueur, freshly squeezed lemon, homemade vanilla syrup and sesame seeds) followed by the extraordinary Pampa – a prune gin and grapefruit cream concoction with Tabasco sauce, lime and ginger ale. It’s official: we’re tipsy. Quick, time to soak it up!
20h: The stomach calls
On to dinner and we’re drawn between La Maison Mère and Le Dépanneur - but we instead go for La Pantruche. Its name may be derived from old French slang (‘the Parisian’), but that’s about the only old thing about it. This typically Parisian bistro is everything a bistro should be: it’s noisy, with mirrors everywhere, and tables pushed far too close together. The menu combines simplicity and sophistication, and has been created by Franck Baranger, former chef at Le Bristol. From starters to dessert, it’s impossible to choose between Baranger’s mouth-watering creations.
21h: Get sweaty at Le Trianon
Pigalle is full of legendary venues (La Cigale, Les Folies Pigalle…), but we have a soft spot for Le Trianon and its elegant architecture. Built in 1984, this former music hall has seen some of the greats: from Jacques Brel to US rapper The Game. Beer sloshes everywhere and we’re dancing so hard, we regret not applying a touch more deodorant this morning.
23h: The bar hop begins
This is where the nights gets a little hazy. We leave Le Trianon at 11pm for former hostess bar Pile ou Face where we may have hit the whisky menu a little too hard… The clock strikes 1am and we find ourselves at Pigalle Country Club (also needs a translation, will do this this afternoon). Our inner Vincent Vega comes out and we dance the night away rock ‘n’ roll-style. Somewhere along the way we manage to knock over some poor girl’s glass, loudly declare that we absolutely are not drunk (to anyone who will listen) and sing into the microphone at Pigalle’s exclusive bar Orphée.
After three hours - social butterflies that we are - we move onto Carmen. Bizet composed the eponymous opera in this former hotel built in 1875, hence the name. Adorned with statues, gigantic mirrors, and immense frescoed ceilings, it’s a truly magnificent venue. The sound system blares a blend of music genres and the mini-club downstairs is too hard to resist.
7h: One last drink before we pass out
It’s 7am. The sun is rising and the night owls are still going strong. We head towards the well-named L’Embuscade (‘Ambush’) for one last drink, a small Cape Verdean local. Their rum and tropical vibes make us want to stay forever but, finally, it’s time to stagger home.