No walk through the artist’s Montmartre would be complete without mentioning the louche side. Along with the tax free drinking, brothels catering to every combination and whimsy dotted the streets around Place Blanche, Pigalle, and Montmartre. Not much has changed in the 21st century, though the tax-free status has surely vanished. Back in the day, these areas were outside of the urban center so a devil-may-care attitude towards regulatory authority prevailed.
A belle époque facade barely visible at 72, Blvd. de Rochechouart bears witness to the passions and frolics of the gay nineties. Today, that address is the L’Elysee Montmartre, nightclub. Opened in 1881, the Chat Noir, 84 rue de Rochechouart was a favorite haunt close to the brothel at 2 rue de Steinkerque where Toulouse-Lautrec struggled with the effects of the absinthe that contributed to his deteriorating health and possibly, his early death at 36. After the last bistro closed for the morning, he would wrest a few more hours of fun sketching and painting the femmes of the night.
An industrious tramp around the area reveals only a few facades, art nouveau colored glass windows and a vintage wrought iron canopy over a doorway on rue Steinkerque, precious few traces of those earlier risque tenants. Among the cloth dealers and discount stores offering cheap household goods and shoes, it’s possible to spot some professionals, but the ostrich plumes and silk chemises worn in the opulent privacy of a brothel depicted by Toulouse-Lautrec have given way to fake fur and fishnet on the street.
Brothels are not enduring establishments, so the nightspots that provided subject matter for Toulouse-Lautrec in the rue d’Amboise or rue des Moulins, and in rue Joubert are long gone. Toulouse-Lautrec was fond of spending time in the Lesbian bar, La Souris, in rue Breda, now named rue Henri Menticer. His many eloquent pastels of the women are at the Musee Toulouse-Lautrec in Albi, his birthplace in south-west France.
The cafe-restaurant Le Grande Pinte, at number 28, ave. Trudaine, was founded in 1879 and was a neighborhood meeting place for many artists. It is still a restaurant, Le Paprika. In the 1980s, the place was called La Bouche Riche; names change, but the place remains.
When known as Le Grande Pinte, Andre Gill, Carjat and the future King Edward VII supped there and the decor simulated themes from the Middle Ages, echoing the fascination of the English Pre-Raphaelite painters and poets for anything Medieval. The main floor of Le Grande Pinte was a cabaret founded by Laplace, a former art dealer. For a while, the cabaret was called l’Ane Rouge. The Prince of Wales was a frequent and dedicated visitor to the brothels in the quarter.