Moulin Rouge

People talking, laughing, waiters juggling champagne bottles and menus: this is what the Moulin Rouge dining room looks like to a foreigner before the show begins.

But let's back up a bit.

It's 2001 and the internet is still a free-for-all. There are no worries about what "stalker" might be on the end of the network trying to take advantage of you. Fake news networks don't really exist. And social media hasn't happened yet. In fact, Napster (a music sourcing network) has only recently been sued by Metallica, and music, so long as you don't share what you download, is still free to those who know what they are doing.

And my computer is filled to the brim!

So, my friend from up the street comes over and suggests I download a new song by Christina Aguilera, Lil' Kim, Mya, Pink called "Lady Marmalade". I've never heard of the song. I don't listen to the radio much and I don't follow movies. It's just not who I am. And frankly, I'm surprised she is as aware of pop culture as she is; not having a computer herself, how does she know all about pop culture?

That was my first introduction to Moulin Rouge: the movie, the pop music from the movie, and the awareness of the Parisian club altogether.

Of course, it was only time before I took art history and learned of the famed artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

discussion of a Toulouse-Lautrec painting

But still, this was the extent of my knowledge when I first saw the famed red windmill on my first jaunt to Paris in 2014.

So how did I find myself milling amongst the patrons, having my bags checked at the front door, and drinking champagne at a table with my husband whilst half clad women danced the can-can and performed acrobatics in front of us on a rainy January night in 2016?

Well, first I must admit that Montmartre, France is one of my favorite areas of the city. If you climb to the top of the hill, you get a magnificent view of the city from just outside the beautiful Sacré-Cœur (which I hear offers an even more beautiful view if you manage to climb to the top). What seems like tens of millions of shops cater to the tourists selling mini eiffel towers, glittery postcards, and a large assortment of junk that seems almost like it originated from a cheap mass-manufacturer in China (not that I've ever been to China to compare! 😮 ) And then, there is La Poutre, the restaurant where I first fell in love with raclette.

Honestly, the whole of Montmartre provides an incontinuity that I love. The people of Montmartre are laughing at tourists with their full restaurants and junk souvenirs, and yet the tourists flock in mass to Montmartre anyway. Because why not?

And beyond that, part of me wanted to experience the history and beauty of Montmartre that Toulouse-Lautrec found within the encaged walls of the Moulin Rouge. While there may be a million other (less-touristy) cabarets to be found in Montmartre, I felt there was only one that would satisfy and fulfill my desire to see history in the making, the world as it was to a beloved artist and history before cabaret and the infamous can-can was a thing.

The Moulin Rouge opened it's doors in 1889 in the Jardin de Paris, at the foot of the Montmartre hill. The idea behind Moulin Rouge as created by its owner Joseph Oller and his manager Charles Zidler, was to enable the wealthy to "slum it" in what they considered a fashionable district. The club was a place for people from all walks of life to mingle and be entertained. The first shows were circus-oriented and the performance only later began pushing boundaries and challenging status quo.

Preview of the show (NSFW)

Féerie, the show being performed the night Justin and I attended the Moulin Rouge, is a mixture of many different acts. As listed on their website, you have The Moulin Rouge Yesterday and Today, The Pirates, Au Cirque (circus theme), The Moulin from 1900 to… (including the cancan), and, of course, various "international acts" such as swimming with a snake, a roller skating act called "The Roller Pilar", and stunning acrobatics to take your breath away.

Now, let's talk about what you really came to know: Is this show safe for kids?

Let me put it to you straight: the majority of this show features topless women. I'd give it to you in percentages, but I just don't remember the percentage. Either way, it was high. In fact, high enough, that photography is not allowed in the theatre. There are signs on every table proclaiming this, and I would not be surprised to hear of someone getting kicked out of the auditorium for taking pictures. After all, this is meant to be a private show for a paying audience. And given the amount of hard work that goes into putting this show on, as a paying audience member, I recommend respecting these agile men and women for all that they do and are capable of. It is truly astounding. :)

The Moulin Rouge offers two nightly shows; one at 9PM and one at 11pm. If you come at 7pm, you can have dinner in the theatre, but, for this added benefit, you pay quite a bit extra. You also will get seated before anyone else that is attending the 9PM show, so for that it may be worth it to you to arrive early and have dinner. Your seating definitely depends on how soon you are in line, so arrive early for your ticket, no matter what show you attend.

When Justin and I arrived at the Moulin Rouge for our 9pm show, the dinner crowd was just finishing up and preparing for the show to begin. Wait staff was scurrying about attempting to meet everyone's needs and get the drinks served. A small glass of champagne was quite an extravagant expense for … what some might consider an extravagant night. Prices for the Moulin Rouge show can be had for approximately 100 Euros per person. If you add on a bottle of champagne, dinner, or even drinks during the show, I think you can see how expensive a night at the Moulin Rouge can be.

Our seating for the show was off to the left side of the stage on the very edge with only two rows from the front. We were able to see well-enough, but I could see how a center-view could be beneficial. (Sometimes it's hard to tell how extravagant the acrobatics are when you are viewing from off-center.)

image from

Overall, Justin and I had a great time at the Moulin Rouge. It's probably not something we will ever do again, but we are glad that we went once. It also probably didn't help matters that our French skills are sorely lacking, so we didn't always understand what was going on or being said. There isn't much speaking anyway, so for that you can count yourself lucky, if you don't speak French. The ticket takers, bag checkers, and wait staff do speak English though making it easier for a tourist to navigate this fantasmic "tourist trap", so don't worry about that.

If you do go, you will be amazed and amused for the full hour and a half performance. The beautiful costumes and dances will distract from the performer's nudity, and you will be transported to a world where anything is possible.

HOWEVER, if nudity makes you squeamish, you have young children that won't understand, and/or you are low on money, don't feel like you will be missing out if you don't see a show at the Moulin Rouge. Instead go to Cirque du Soleil in the US (never been but it seems similar?), or for a more traditional style cabaret (in Paris), check out Au Lapin Agile (25-30 Euros approx.), where French comedians and musicians jump on "stage" to share their unique work (great for those who speak French, not so much for those of us who don't).

Having read more about what Moulin Rouge is and is not, what are your thoughts? Would you go just to say you had been? Would you pass it up for something a little more decorous?

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