I would venture a guess that a good portion of the male tourists that visit Paris take it a show at the Moulin Rouge. Now I’ll have to admit that I also saw a show there on my first visit to Paris. Expensive, touristy, and overhyped, I definitely wouldn’t ever go back, but it was an experience to say the least. There are probably few similarities between the original can-can cabaret at the turn of the century and what the Moulin Rouge has become now. Nonetheless, it is the crown jewel of Paris’ red light district, Pigalle, and crowds pack the place every night of the week.
Opened in 1889, the Moulin Rouge is marked with a red windmill on the roof (moulin rouge means red windmill in French). Despite popular belief, it was not the original home of the can-can dance. The can-can actually started in the 1830s in the working class Parisian neighborhood of Montparnasse. It was originally designed as a dance for couples and throughout this time period more men than women partook. Always seen as scandalous, there were attempts to suppress it. However, the can-can lived on and continued to evolve, eventually finding its way to the courtesans who operated out of the Moulin Rouge.
The Moulin Rouge was made famous among the bohemian neighborhood of Montmartre by its most artistic disciple, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. He designed a plethora of posters and paintings to advertise the cabaret around Paris and the rest of Europe. Owners Joseph Oller and Charles Zidler were brilliant businessmen and understood what Belle Époque Paris wanted. They created an extravagant palace where members from all parts of society could mingle and be entertained. State of the art architecture for the time period allowed rapid set changes. Champagne flowed in large quantities, and famous Parisian female dancers entertained crowds.
After its creation, the history of the Moulin Rouge is much too complicated to detail here. You can read about it more. Despite being destroyed by a fire in 1915 and surviving two world wars, the Moulin Rouge has remained an icon of French culture as well as pop culture. Many books and films have been made about the world’s most famous cabaret, most recently Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 adaptation starring Nicole Kidman.
It comes as no surprise that cameras are not allowed inside the Moulin Rouge. I will let you in on the secret though, there are A LOT of almost nude women dancing around in fantastic costumes. There are a few men in the show, but much to my dismay, they remained fully clothed. You can check out the official website, which gives a hint at the performance style of the current show Féerie, but the pictures on the website are much more conservative than the actual show.
I have never been to a show in Vegas before, but some members of our tour group compared the Moulin Rouge to that. It is probably not the most exciting show and the value for your money is awful, but there is a historical and cultural value to the Moulin Rouge that just might intrigue you…or perhaps you just want to spend the evening with throngs of gawking Japanese businessmen looking at nearly naked women!