When I tell the story of how Pascal and I met in Paris, I often make reference to the Moulin Rouge, the legendary Parisian cabaret located at the tip of Paris' red-light district, Pigalle (just a short walk from Montmartre where Pascal and I used to live). In the early days, this famous cabaret was a hotspot for "happening" painters, poets and bourgeois locals; today it is frequented mostly by tourists and corporate executives. But the venue, the dancers, and the show continue to maintain the Moulin Rouge tradition of opulent glitter and glamour. It is an extravaganza of music, dancing, feathers, rhinestones, sequins and champagne.
Like most things in Paris, the Moulin Rouge has a rich history. Here are just a few fun facts about the greatest cabaret on earth:
- The first Can Can dancers at the Moulin Rouge were not professionals, rather working class girls-by-day (linen maids, laundresses and seamstresses), rowdy, boisterous party girls-by-night. Most of the dancers became famous due to their peculiar and suggestive "stage" names such as la Goulue (the glutton), Nini Pattes-en-l'Air (a leg-over, muse of artist Toulouse-Lautrec), Grille d'Egout (drain cover) and la Mome Fromage (kid cheese).
- The first show was called Frou Frou. It was such a great success that the owner, a superstitious man, chose to title each revue with the names that begin with "F." To date, the shows have been: Frou Frou, Frisson, Fascination, Fantastic, Festival, Follement, Frénesie, 'Femmes, Femmes, Femmes', Formidable and Féerie.
- Speaking of "F"-words, the Moulin Rouge goes through a lot of feathers. They have their own preferred feather maker.
- The dancers' shoes must be able to withstand the girls dropping to the floor, doing the splits, and performing acrobatic tricks - all to the fast-paced, frenetic rhythm of the French Cancan. A traditional Parisian shoemaker, M. Clairvoy's makes special shoes just for the Moulin Rouge.
- Celebrities like Edith Piaf, Yves Montand, Ginger Rogers, The Village People, Liza Minnelli, Michael Baryshnikov, The Gipsy Kings, Elton John, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Juliette Binoche have all performed at the Moulin Rouge.
- Jackie Clerico, the same superstitious owner who insisted on "F" titles for the revues, staged the first topless dancers in 1962 and installed a giant aquarium that elevates from below stage for a nautical ballet. The aquarium (and the topless dancers) are still part of the revue today.
- The Moulin Rouge is the biggest champagne buyer in the world - around 350,000 bottles a year - more or less 1000 bottles per day!
- There are more than 100 artists on stage and almost as many waiters and bus boys to keep up with the champagne-drinking crowd.
- These days, the show costs anywhere from 92 to 180 euros (with dinner), but this extravagant, show-stopping cabaret is well worth it! Just like riding the gondolas in Venice, it's one of those touristy attractions you really shouldn't miss.