Paris: City of (switched off) light?

Paris's all-night hangouts have been on the decline for years, thanks to gentrification, early-rising baby boomers, and security conscious police.

Jacky Naegelen/Reuters
A relaxed evening along the River Seine in Paris.

• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

Perceptions cast across the pond die hard, like Paris as an all-night city. Americans reading Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast” or watching the film “Moulin Rouge!” (2001) can imagine Paris as a postmidnight cornucopia of cafes and bistros that run hard until the rooster crows – a 24/7 New York with Old World charm and berets.

But that’s fairly passé. All-night hangouts have been retrenching for years. French intellectuals are now on TV, paired up with nightclub owners, in deep lament over the loss of nightlife. The Loco in Pigalle, one of Paris’s rouge zones, is closing. Bohemians have added another name to their identity, “bourgeoisie.”

To be fair, this trend – brought by gentrification, early-rising baby boomers, security conscious police, and general weariness with noise – is found in many former night owl towns in Europe. Late-night spots are fewer in London. In Vienna in the mid-1990s, one could hit Café Museum or hole up in a clean, well lighted place and talk German identity and postmodernism with volk from Belgrade and Hamburg until 4 a.m. Not so easy today.

Bobos are writing grouchy letters about noise on Ave. Moufftard in Paris where the sounds of breaking bottles amplify 10-fold among 19th-century buildings. Metropolis, a dance club that opens at midnight, is out near Orly airport.

Club owners do note tighter rules and licensing laws. Street noise got worse when patrons were forced outside after a smoking ban in 2008. Eric Labbe of ElectroKitchen doesn’t buy those explanations: “We are in a global security-oriented logic that isn’t reduced to problems of noise or nuisances. Quietness. Security. They [authorities] prefer people at home rather than in the street.”

But don’t overread Parisian anxiety about nightlife decline. It’s French.


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