At the foot of the Montmartre hill, below the Sacré-Coeur, the Pigalle district stretches along the avenues of Clichy and Rochechouart. This lively and fashionable area is home to a number of concert halls and cafés, cultural venues and charming alleyways, from which the silhouette of the basilica can be glimpsed.
For everyone, Pigalle is synonymous with the red light district of Paris . Since the heyday of the bohemian era, this corner of the city has been a place of dissolution and perdition, a crossroads of crime, transgression and artistic inspiration, which so inspired the posters and portraits of Toulouse-Lautrec.
The birthplace of stripping and the famous can-can dance, Pigalle has always been a district of the night, of eroticism and also of crime. Today, the situation has changed: while remaining home to numerous adult entertainment venues, Pigalle has gradually shed its reputation as a bad neighbourhood, has managed to renew itself and has become a tourist attraction in Paris for all intents and purposes.
Pigalle is named after the Parisian sculptor Jean-Baptist Pigalle, who lived in Paris between 1714 and 1785 and has always fascinated with its libertine and seductive character.
The district is divided between North Pigalle, whose acronym is NoPi, stretching along the avenues of Clichy and Rochechouart, and South Pigalle, known as SoPi.
North Pigalle is the liveliest part, where cabarets, concert halls such as Les Trois Baudets and trendy cafés are concentrated. Ignore the mischievous signs of the adult clubs and get lost in the picturesque alleyways.
Instead, Pigalle south is the hipster hangout of Paris and one of the liveliest areas of the French capital. This former red-light district, once home to sex shops, cabarets and hostess clubs, has undergone a major transformation in recent years, so much so that it has become one of the trendiest neighbourhoods in the city, on a par with the Marais.
Although it still retains a vaguely daring atmosphere and you can still come across neon signs reminiscent of the area’s vulgar past, discerning and stylish hipsters can be found in an area that stretches from the Blanche and Anvers metro stations to Notre-Dame-de-Lorette and Trinité-d’Estienne-d’Orves. You will find an intense concentration of trendy boutiques, traditional bistros and classy cocktail bars.
SoPi is also a shopper’s paradise. Fans of fashion, design objects and interior decoration will be in seventh heaven here.
The most famous cabaret in Paris, founded in 1889, has kept several souls: theatre, cinema, music hall. Its famous quadrille, the French Cancan, has always captivated the libertine and seductive scene of the French upper middle class.
The Moulin Rouge became the haunt of artists such as Henri de Toulouse Lautrec or Auguste Renoir and today its shows are appreciated by tourists from all over the world. In contrast, in the adjacent building, the Machine du Moulin Rouge, there is dancing until dawn. This club boasts a busy schedule of electronic, rock and hip-hop concerts.
Nestled between the neighbourhoods of Pigalle and Montmartre, the Cité Véron could go almost unnoticed, but that would be a shame. A symbol of the old Pigalle and its licentious reputation, the Cité Véron is located at 94 boulevard de Clichy and is particularly recognisable by the blue and white enamelled slab above the passageway.
This little hidden passage hides a second gem, the Bar à Bulles, a timeless place, a green garden steeped in poetry, behind the wings of the Moulin Rouge. To take a break from the Parisian chaos, its terrace is perfect, populated by Japanese maples. Behind its long glass windows, the Bar à Bulles reveals a cosy and colourful atmosphere: velvet benches, lovingly antiqued tables and chairs, flowering abat-jours and hanging plants, like the time you feel here.
A few steps from Place Pigalle, you will find a popular street, parallel to the boulevard de Clichy. Music lovers will delight in the concentration of shops selling musical instruments and equipment, especially guitars and instruments for popular and street music.
This museum located in Pigalle, in the area of La Nouvelle Athènes, reconstructs a historical setting evoking the Romantic era.
On the ground floor you will find an exhibition dedicated to George Sand, with portraits, furniture, jewellery while on the first floor you can discover the paintings of Ary Scheffer, who lived in the house that is now a museum.
Gourmets will head straight for the lively Rue des Martyrs , full of food shops: bakeries, cheese shops, delicatessens and small grocery shops, all absolutely authentic.
Not to be missed on Avenue Trudaine is the open-air food market, the Marché d’Anvers, open on Friday afternoons from 3pm to 8.30pm.
Hidden between two buildings, this colourful playground is undoubtedly the most beautiful in the capital. It is one of the most Instagrammable places in the area and will allow you to take some truly unique photographs.
In the following map you can see the location of the main places of interest mentioned in this article
It was here that the transgression of the first Cancan shows were experienced, in which the uninhibited girls of the dance troupe threw themselves into this unbridled and uninhibited dance by showing their legs: the Moulin Rouge was the temple par excellence, frequented by writers and budding artists.
Over the years it increasingly took on the connotation of an erotic district, thanks also to the boost brought by the American soldiers who during the Liberation period frequented the night clubs that sprang up like mushrooms in the area. Here, the warring soldiers found comfort and distraction in the bouchonneuse, attractive girls so called because they were paid a percentage of the champagne corks, bouchons, that they managed to get their clients to uncork.
For a long time, the neighbourhood became an infamous area and a sex business with more or less declared brothels, prostitution, strip clubs, nightclubs, sex shops and an ambiguous and often disreputable clientele.
Since the end of the 1990s, the district has seen a slow but inexorable transformation: gradually the brothels and peep shows of the 1970s have given way to less shady but trendier venues, while some red-light rooms have been converted into cultural centres.
The neighbourhood’s residents have pushed the local authorities to initiate a slow change of direction: there are still a few icons of that sexy world, concentrated around Place Pigalle, but organic shops, sophisticated speciality food shops, ateliers and galleries are popping up with increasing frequency.
Young couples who have chosen to live in this neighbourhood are redefining its character, transforming it into an increasingly trendy area with restaurants, cafés, pastry shops, green spaces dedicated to children and families, creating a lively atmosphere full of new trends.
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