Moulin Rouge in Paris
Moulin Rouge, Is It Worth a Visit?
Do you love the French cancan? If you do, you may be tempted to get tickets to see the Moulin Rouge show. But there are so many things to do in Paris, will the Moulin Rouge be worth it? Should you go with dinner and the show or just the show? Brenda and Gary, my guests on today’s show, help you answer that question for yourself.
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With its 120 years of history, the Moulin Rouge is the archetype for cabaret performances, often imitated, and world-famous. But what is it really like once you get inside? What sort of act has it become? Gary and Brenda tell us what they experienced, what they were hoping to see, and what they actually saw. Enjoy the show!
Gary’s VIP Experience at the Moulin Rouge
Starts at 5’54”
Gary Turco tells us about his experience at the Moulin Rouge in Paris. He and his wife Leslie were on their honeymoon in Paris and they had read that Moulin Rouge was too touristy. But they decided to go anyway because it is something Leslie had had on her bucket list for a long time.
What Gary found is that, yes, the Moulin Rouge is touristy, but it is also quintessential Paris and the Belle Époque. The Moulin Rouge opened in 1889 (the same year as the Eiffel Tower), and it is worth a visit just based on historical significance.
Because they had read negative reviews (along with some really positive ones, as is often the case!) they set their expectations low but decided to go anyway. Because they were on their honeymoon they decided to book the VIP Moulin Rouge experience without dinner. They had heard that the food wasn’t that great, so they ate nearby instead. But having seen the dinner his neighbors ate, he wishes they had booked the dinner as well.
Included in the Moulin Rouge VIP Experience is a souvenir package, a bottle of Champagne, macarons, and a great center-stage table. The Moulin Rouge staff really goes all out for VIP guests: they got to skip the line to get in (after they identified themselves as a VIP patron), they were ushered in quickly and efficiently, and it felt like the staff put on the red carpet for them.
They thought the show was a lot of fun. Some parts are silly for sure. For example, miniature ponies are included in the show, there is a woman swimming in a large fish tank with giant snakes, there is a guy with a puppet show. All of the songs are in French, but whenever anybody narrates something, or there are speaking parts, that’s all in English. There is some nudity, but it’s done in a classy way and it feels comfortable. Gary’s favorite act was a couple on roller skates because it felt like they were taking their lives into their own hands and they were spectacularly good at it.
Leslie thought Moulin Rouge was one of the best things they did on their honeymoon. But you have to know what you’re getting into. It’s a Cabaret act, not a serious drama. You are going to have some laughs and light-hearted entertainment, nothing too deep.
Brenda and Jeff at the Moulin Rouge
Starts at 17’10”
Brenda felt like Moulin Rouge was very touristy. She was interested to see it based on her exposure to Toulouse-Lautrec, the famous movie with Nicole Kitman (also called Moulin Rouge), and other cultural references.
The official Moulin Rouge website, where you make your reservation in advance, is really nice. You pre-pay, you choose between two different menus, then they send you instructions on when to get there, etc. There is a dress code, button-up shirt, dress or nice pant-suit for a woman, but it is not strictly enforced.
Historical Background on Moulin Rouge
The Moulin-Rouge is in the 18th arrondissement, not far from Montmartre. The closest metro station is called Blanche (line 2). Its red windmill has become iconic, but it comes from the fact that there used to be wind mills all over that area of Paris (as many as 30 at once). Moulin-Rouge was founded in 1889 and has been much imitated all over the world. Why is it a red windmill? Because the owner wanted it to be visible from the Grand Boulevards. Maybe it was true back then, but today it is not.
The late 1800s and early 1900s were a time of peace and prosperity in France. French people were discovering Japanese art and artists loved to go to the Cabaret. There was an air of freedom and relief in the air, which brought a lot of customers to this new and exciting venue.
Artists at the Moulin Rouge
The most famous among artists who patronized the Moulin Rouge is Toulouse-Lautrec who loved this milieu and drew the dancers and cabaret scenes all the time. Elyse gave a great recap of Toulouse-Lautrec’s life and career in episode 20 on Albi. But every artist who mattered at the time, Proust, Braque, Modigliani, even a very young Picasso, patronized Moulin Rouge and other similar establishments that were popular at the time.
The Spirit of the Belle Époque
The Belle Époque is a time when French people were seeking beauty and pleasure and looking at women’s body was scandalous, forbidden, enticing. Showing women’s arms and legs drew large crowds of men.
Early shows at the Moulin-Rouge were inspired by the circus. It was a place where one could go dance every night at 10PM for 10 years. Then in 1902 show are more like plays with live music. Then came Mistinguett who was a famous dancer (she’s the one who introduced all the feathers and gold) and ran the show until 1928.
Through both world wars the Moulin-Rouge had to close at times, but it lived on. Edith Piaf sang there quite a lot and so did the American Josephine Baker. The Moulin Rouge was definitely a grand place, and extremely influential and innovative. The question is, is it still that way today?
The Food at the Moulin Rouge Today
Brenda thought the food at the Moulin Rouge was uninspired and dry. Maybe the Moulin Rouge is resting on the laurels of the establishment? The bottom line for her is that it was disappointing, but OK. Dinner is served before the show starts.
The Show at the Moulin Rouge Today
Brenda went expecting the Cancan (big dresses, high energy dancing) and feels like what she got was Las Vegas show-girls instead. Topless women, done tastefully and not lewdly, but still lots of topless women. Brenda was seated at a table with some English visitors who had brought young girls and they were surprised how much the show revolved around the show-girl style.
The performance was called Fééries felt disjointed and random to her. She too remembers the giant tank with large snakes, the miniature ponies and didn’t find a thread or story to tie it all up.
There was a moment at the end of the show when they came out and performed a cancan style dance with the big dresses, and Brenda would have liked more of that, but that’s not what she got for the most part. That traditional cancan dance is the one they choose to display on their website, but it’s not what they do in the show.
Do More Cancan Moulin Rouge!
Brenda was hoping to be taken back to the glory day of the Moulin Rouge, feel like she was stepping back in time to the glory days of this famous place, but other than during that one act at the end, she did not. It would be so fun to see some of the acts that Mistinguett put together, or Josephine Baker! Other shows in the neighborhood do show-girl shows, and it’s too bad that the Moulin Rouge feels like they should compete with that. A best hits from the Moulin Rouge of yesteryear would have been amazing!
Is the Moulin Rouge Area Safe at Night?
Both Brenda and Gary felt that the Moulin Rouge area is safe at night, even though there are a couple of off-colored establishments, it is not a scary area.
Brenda recommends you don’t have dinner at the Moulin Rouge, but just go see the show if you’d like to see it. Just keep in mind that you’re NOT going to see very much cancan. Gary loved the VIP experience at the Moulin Rouge and thought the service was unbelievable.
So, what will you do? If you decide to go, please comment below to tell us what you thought!