“Groupon are doing a deal on a cabaret in Opéra, do you fancy it?” A group message pops up on Facebook, with this promising plan for Saturday night. The accompanying link tells me that La Belle Epoque is a small cabaret with over 75 years of history. “Yes!” my hands type away as my mind wanders to the possibility of a soirée of stylish titillation à la Crazy Horse.
When the day finally came I made sure I arrived with an empty stomach- our Groupon deal included a three course meal with a glass of wine and I wanted to make the most of it. I met up with a few other expats outside Opéra metro, it was already dark and the buskers surrounding the area’s eponymous Opera house had started to pack away their instruments. The night in Paris, however, stays forever young and Parisians huddling around the small circular terrace tables were only on their first glass of wine and 10th cigarette of the evening.
Guided by our GPS, we made our way towards La Belle Époque, giggling as we prepared ourselves for an evening full of frenzied French cancan. As we turned the corner one of us quipped “I think it might be this way…”, the street was basked in a disreputable red light and I fleetingly questioned the choice of this evening’s entertainment.
As soon as we entered the building we were thrust into the arms of La Belle Époque’s resident cancan girl for a photo opportunity. “At least we know we’re in the right place”. After being ushered to our seats I examined the room. It was filled with tables and chairs waiting for their diners. A stage filled the width of the room at the far end. It was an intimate scene, which almost made me feel uncomfortable due to our proximity to the stage and what was about to unfold on it.
We dined on our food, which was the typical French fare, and rather hastily put down our wines as the room’s lights dimmed. A disembodied voice bellowed into the small space as an array of coloured lights darted around the stage. The French cancan girls were not the first performing and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but when I heard Claude François’s unmistakeable Disco tunes fill the room I was almost compelled to put my hands over my eyes due to the sheer cheesiness of the spectacle. Instead, I brought my hands together and started clapping along with the rest of the room. A glittering ball rolled on stage, the ball, I discovered, was actually a group of girls in sparkling lingerie and 70s glitter wigs. I couldn’t help but laugh- and check if my friends were doing the same. We all exchanged “laughing while shaking your head” signals, and continued to clap along. We had some more wine, there were “female impersonators” more glittery women, some more wine and even magician performances (oh and some more wine).
Finally, we heard Offenbach’s unmistakeable Infernal Gallop, the cancan girls high-kicked their way on stage and the room roared. Dresses were swooshed around and bare bottoms were put onto display. Everyone laughed, cheered and banged their fists on the table in time with the music. I felt transported from the seedy underbelly of the 70s to a rowdy scene from a Toulouse-Lautrec painting. I was laughing away with my girlfriends- until I saw the cancan girls start pulling people onto the stage. I nudged my friend and felt a hand grab mine. It was too noisy for the cabaret dancer to hear my protestations, so I grabbed my friend’s hand as I was being carted off. There was no way I was doing this alone. The dancers showed us how to kick our legs in the air to the music (we got the hang of it pretty quickly) we shuffled along the line, howling with laughter and only regretting wearing a skirt a tiny bit. We finally made our way back to our seats, impressed that we could say we had been in our very own Parisian cabaret.
Okay, so La Belle Époque may not have been the soirée of seduction I had in mind…But it certainly was a lot of fun!