Meet the 'nightlife mayor' of Paris (yes, that's a thing)

Clément Léon acts as a go-between for local residents and the city's evening businesses, which employ some 600,000 people.

Jacky Naegelen/Reuters/File
People relax on the banks of the River Seine in Paris in August 2009.

It’s not so often someone throws a bucket of water at you from a fifth-story walk-up, but that’s exactly what happened to me in Paris two years ago.

I was out with a group of Irish friends at 2 a.m., and we lingered in the street for a half hour – they singing Irish folk songs at the top of their lungs and I, the bemused American, looking on with glee. It wasn’t until the second bucket of water threatened to douse us that we knew the angry neighbor meant business: Shut up and go home.

In Paris, like in many big cities, there is a strict distinction between nightlife and sleeping hours. For the sanity of the neighborhood, bars and restaurants must close at 2 a.m. But Paris’s nightlife mayor, Clément Léon, says having a strict closing time for establishments is actually creating much of the discontent between residents and local businesses – chucking night owls into the streets all at once, where they tend to linger and get loud.

Removing uniform closing hours for late-night establishments is just one of Mr. Léon’s top initiatives for turning Paris into one of the world’s nightlife capitals. While the oddity a “nightlife mayor” may make some giggle, Léon says he is a vital link between residents, local businesses, and the government.

“Having a nightlife mayor is so important for Paris’s influence around the world,” says Léon, who took the position in November 2013. “Nightlife is not just about partying. It’s the businesses that go with it.”

Léon is one of just a handful of nightlife mayors around Europe, including Amsterdam and Toulouse in the south of France. His role largely consists of acting as a go-between for local residents and neighborhood businesses – gathering complaints or suggestions and voicing them to the government. He also works towards promoting nightlife, like cultural activities, as well as tackling transportation and other logistical after-hours issues. A critical aspect of the job, he says, is getting out into the community and making personal contact with locals.

Léon's position isn’t official – he was elected by a citizen vote initiated on Facebook last year. But in his first year "in office," Léon’s position created so much buzz that the nightlife issue was added to the docket during the recent local elections in France, and ended with newly elected Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo promising to designate someone to an official position in charge of nightlife.

There are a number of issues that Léon wants Paris’s government to seriously address, besides getting rid of a curfew for bars. One of them is improving the city’s nocturnal transportation by keeping two or three metro lines open all night. As of now, Paris’s metro – which shuts down at 2 a.m. on the weekends – pales in comparison to the all-night transportation offered every Saturday in Berlin and Barcelona. New York City has the only metro in the world that runs all night.

Léon also wants to see the opening of more nighttime cultural activities, apart from bars and clubs, like the artist squats, street art, and organizations that exist in Berlin or London.

But Eric Boulo, the project manager for Discom – a fair held last month in Paris that unites nightlife professionals – says it’s important not to relegate bars and clubs to the "dirty" side of nightlife and says they are an important part of Paris’s vie nocturne. However, this sector has struggled in the last decade.

“The number of clubs in France has gone down from 6,000 to 2,000 in the past 10 years, due to a lack of clientele,” says Mr. Boulo, adding that the indoor smoking ban in 2008 has made for fewer clubgoers.

With around 600,000 people holding jobs in the French capital during the nighttime hours – from 6 p.m. to 5 a.m. – nightlife is hardly something to brush aside as insignificant. Léon says that during his next mandate – whose length is, for now, unlimited – he will continue to bring vibrancy and competitiveness to Paris’s nightlife sector.

“Nightlife has huge importance,” says Léon. “It creates jobs and offers genuine culture. It counts just as much as what happens in the daytime.”

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