Newsletter Archives

June 2000 - Gay Paris - Le Quartier Sainte-Anne

In the 1st and 2nd arrondissements of Paris, about equidistant from the Palais Garnier and the Bourse de Paris, lies rue Saint-Anne. The surrounding area is filled with buildings, arcades, statues and fountains that are reminders of the glory days of the wealthier citizens of Paris in the late 17th and the 18th centuries. But in the 20th century, this area of Paris became the first to concentrate clubs, discos and restaurants catering specifically to gays.

Le Vagabond was the first such establishment to open in 1956 in rue Thérèse; it targeted older men as its clients. Three years later, a club called Le César was opened by a lesbian couple in rue Chabanais. Then in 1964, the neighborhood night life became “exclusively gay” with the creation of the fashionable Le Pimm’s. The brainchild of Fabrice Emaer, this club invented a “new way to be gay” for the French – it solicited clients who were chic and à la mode, and promoted American music.

Emaer opened a second club in 1968 at 7, rue Sainte-Anne, which he called “Le Sept” (Seven). This club also sported a restaurant and a dance floor in the basement, and dancing became the primary activity of the clientele. Le Sept soon displaced Le Pimm’s as the place for gays to be seen in Paris, and the regulars became more and more affluent.

Several other clubs and businesses opened in rue Sainte-Anne and adjacent streets, each with its own socio-economic and politically-oriented client base. Le Bronx was a working class club, as was Le Scaramouche. But Le Scaramouche catered to those with political leanings to the left. Le Club 18 attracted a more chic, rightist clientele. Thus the Sainte-Anne clubs encouraged stratification among the gay population, including the eventual exclusion of women at some establishments.

By the mid-70s, these businesses were so popular that it was impossible to navigate rue Sainte-Anne by car in the evenings. Police raids were frequent, but it was said that they tolerated the neighborhood activities overall because rue Sainte-Anne conferred the advantage of “containing the homosexual problem” in Paris. The owners of one particular hotel in the area would often call the police to “clear out” one or more bars on the street. Ironically, when the center of gay activity shifted from this quarter over to the Marais and Les Halles, the hotel lost its primary client base and went bankrupt!

By the early 1980s, quartier Sainte-Anne was no longer the hub of gay life. The area is now replete with Japanese restaurants, and still offers an abundance of historical sites for view on a casual stroll.

The lively 17th century Passage de Choiseul (one block to the west) was the site of the publication of renown poets including Paul Verlaine. It still houses the back door to the Théâtre des Bouffes Parisiens, formerly directed by Jacques Offenbach. And down rue Saint-Augustin, you pass the lovely place Gaillon on the way to avenue de L’Opéra, Place Vendôme, and the Jardin de Tuileries.

The Square Louvois (one block to the east) was the site of Paris’ 9th opera house, razed to the ground to obliterate the scene of the politically-motivated murder of the son of the future king Charles X. It is adorned with a beautiful Visconti fountain. Farther afield are two of the most splendid arcades in Paris – Galerie Vivienne and Galerie Colbert. These have been completely restored according to their original plans, and are delightful places to meander and browse among the boutiques and bookshops on a lazy day. Palais-Royal is also in the immediate vicinity, and is not to be missed.

A few gay and lesbian businesses remain in the Quartier Sainte-Anne. Among them are the well known lesbian bar La Champmeslé, open since 1981, and Le Vagabond, still drawing men over the age of 60 after 44 years.

Paris Panorama Newsletters for 2000