The awesomely insane Heaven and Hell nightclubs of 1890s ParisS

In modern times, you can find a stray cabaret or goth club in most modern metropolitan areas. But back in the late 19th century, your options were limited, albeit merrily deranged.

Paris of the 1890s had several supernatural nightlife options, each of them with marvelously outlandish gimmicks. In the 1899 book Bohemian Paris of To-Day by William Chambers Morrow and Édouard Cucuel, the authors visit several of the City of Lights darker drinking destinations, such as the Cabaret du Néant ("The Cabaret of Nothingness") in the neighborhood of Montmartre.

At this gothic nightspot, visitors pondered their own mortality as they drank on coffins and were served libations (named after diseases) by monks and funeral attendees. Recalls Morrow:

Large, heavy, wooden coffins, resting on biers, were ranged about the room in an order suggesting the recent happening of a frightful catastrophe. The walls were decorated with skulls and bones, skeletons in grotesque attitudes, battle-pictures, and guillotines in action. Death, carnage, assassination were the dominant note, set in black hangings and illuminated with mottoes on death [...] Bishop said that he would be pleased with a lowly bock. Mr. Thompkins chose cherries a l'eau-de-vie, and I, une menthe.

The awesomely insane Heaven and Hell nightclubs of 1890s ParisS"One microbe of Asiatic cholera from the last corpse, one leg of a lively cancer, and one sample of our consumption germ!" moaned the creature toward a black hole at the farther end of the room. Some women among the visitors tittered, others shuddered, and Mr. Thompkins broke out in a cold sweat on his brow, while a curious accompaniment of anger shone in his eyes. Our sleepy pallbearer soon loomed through the darkness with our deadly microbes, and waked the echoes in the hollow casket upon which he set the glasses with a thump.

"Drink, Macchabees!" he wailed: "drink these noxious potions, which contain thvilest and deadliest poisons!"

The awesomely insane Heaven and Hell nightclubs of 1890s ParisS

After slugging a few back in the Salle d'Intoxication, patrons moved on to the other rooms, where the hosts used the Pepper's Ghost illusion to make revelers melt away into skeletons. Sadly, this haunt didn't survive past World War II.


The awesomely insane Heaven and Hell nightclubs of 1890s ParisS The awesomely insane Heaven and Hell nightclubs of 1890s ParisS The awesomely insane Heaven and Hell nightclubs of 1890s ParisS The awesomely insane Heaven and Hell nightclubs of 1890s ParisS The awesomely insane Heaven and Hell nightclubs of 1890s ParisSThe awesomely insane Heaven and Hell nightclubs of 1890s ParisS

But Cabaret du Néant wasn't the only creepy nightspot in Paris. Later in Bohemian Paris of To-day, Morrow described his evening at the Cabaret de l'Enfer ("The Cabaret of the Inferno"), a Satanically themed nightclub in Montmartre that abutted another cabaret. And according to the author's account, it was perhaps the trippiest hangout of La Belle Époque:

The awesomely insane Heaven and Hell nightclubs of 1890s Paris"Enter and be damned, the Evil One awaits you!" growled a chorus of rough voices as we hesitated before the scene confronting us. Near us was suspended a caldron over a fire, and hopping within it were half a dozen devil musicians, male and female, playing a selection from "Faust" on stringed instruments, while red imps stood by, prodding with red-hot irons those who lagged in their performance.

Crevices in the walls of this room ran with streams of molten gold and silver, and here and there were caverns lit up by smouldering fires from which thick smoke issued, and vapors emitting the odors of a volcano. Flames would suddenly burst from clefts in the rocks, and thunder rolled through the caverns. Red imps were everywhere, darting about noiselessly, some carrying beverages for the thirsty lost souls, others stirring the fires or turning somersaults. Everything was in a high state of motion.

The awesomely insane Heaven and Hell nightclubs of 1890s ParisS

Once inside, the revelers witnessed a snake transform into a devil, were heckled by Satan, and were warned repeatedly of the scalding temperature. (To quote Morrow, "In spite of the half-molten condition of the rock-walls, the room was disagreeably chilly.")

Even though this venue isn't open today, it stuck around a while — that final photo depicts a police man standing outside the cabaret in 1952.

The awesomely insane Heaven and Hell nightclubs of 1890s ParisS

The awesomely insane Heaven and Hell nightclubs of 1890s Paris

The awesomely insane Heaven and Hell nightclubs of 1890s ParisS

The awesomely insane Heaven and Hell nightclubs of 1890s ParisS

The awesomely insane Heaven and Hell nightclubs of 1890s ParisS

The awesomely insane Heaven and Hell nightclubs of 1890s ParisS

And right next door to the Cabaret de l'Enfer was Cabaret du Ciel ("The Cabaret of the Sky"), a divinely themed bar where Dante and Father Time greeted visitors and comely ladies dressed as angels pranced around teasing patrons. As Morrow recalled, the evening's entertainment was presided over by St. Peter himself, who anointed the boozy crowd:

The awesomely insane Heaven and Hell nightclubs of 1890s ParisSFlitting about the room were many more angels, all in white robes and with sandals on their feet, and all wearing gauzy wings swaying from their shoulder-blades and brass halos above their yellow wigs. These were the waiters, the garcons of heaven, ready to take orders for drinks. One of these, with the face of a heavy villain in a melodrama and a beard a week old, roared unmelodiously, "The greetings of heaven to thee, brothers! Eternal bliss and happiness are for thee. Mayst thou never swerve from its golden paths! Breathe thou its sacred purity and renovating exaltation. Prepare to meet thy great Creator and don't forget the garcon!"[...]

The awesomely insane Heaven and Hell nightclubs of 1890s ParisS[Later], without the slightest warning, the head of St. Peter, whiskers and all, appeared in a hole in the sky, and presently all of him emerged, even to his ponderous keys clanging at his girdle. He gazed solemnly down upon the crowd at the tables and thoughtfully scratched his left wing. From behind a dark cloud he brought forth a vessel of white crockery (which was not a wash-bowl) containing (ostensibly) holy water. After several mysterious signs and passes with his bony hands he generously sprinkled the sinners below with a brush dipped in the water; and then, with a parting blessing, he slowly faded into mist.

The awesomely insane Heaven and Hell nightclubs of 1890s ParisS

None of these clubs are around nowadays, but you can read Bohemian Paris of To-Day at Archive.org. For a weird tippling spot of the modern day, see the Giger Bar, which is half-saloon, half-cocoon.

Via Silent Horror, Voyages Extraordinaires, Andreas Praefcke, Nicolar, Cool Things in Paris, Morbid Anatomy, Buttes Chaumont, and Long Forgotten.