In Review: Les Folies Bergère, A Classic Paris Cabaret

The Stuff of Legends

Josephine Baker dancing the Charleston at Les Folies Bergère.
French Walery, 1926. Public domain.

The stuff of legends, Les Folies Bergère is one of Paris' most-revered classic cabarets and "theaters of the people". Opened in 1869 as Les Folies Trevise (after the name of an adjoining street), Les Folies Bergère has hosted performances by legends such as American dancer Josephine Baker, French writer Colette, and Charlie Chaplin. Known for its bawdy, bold acts, Les Folies Bergère has always been anything but highbrow.

Les Folies Bergere cabaret in Paris
 

The venue continues in this anti-elitist tradition to this, and has even inspired a tribute revue in Las Vegas. Why give this legendary spot a try? In a few words: A night out at Les Folies is guaranteed to give you a taste of a nearly-lost Paris. A place so iconic that it's been featured in countless films, novels and even paintings (such as the one below by Impressionist artist Edouard Manet).

The Bar at the Folies Bergere by Edouard Manet, oil on canvas England, London, Courtauld Institute and Galleries, 1882
 London, Courtauld Institute and Galleries, 1882/Superstock/Getty Images

Our Pros: Why to Go

  • Experience a legendary cabaret with a genuinely throwback ambiance
  • The historic venue features classic Parisian decor from the late 19th century
  • The program is varied and entertaining 
  • There's a full drink menu and nibbles, making for a fun and even budget-friendly night out

Our Cons: Why Give It a Miss? 

  • The orchestra seating is slightly cramped
  • For good views, you may need to purchase more expensive seats and avoid the "nosebleed" rows at the back and far sides

The Ambiance

Walking into Les Folies Bergère, one feels transported to a less gleaming, artistically rough-around-the-edges Paris-- the one tourists come in droves to find (usually ending up at Starbucks instead). The decor is a far cry from the posh theaters near the Opéra Garnier or the classic Comédie Française: garish wall paintings and faux gold borders make the ambiance nearly circusy; this is, after all, the theater of the people, designed for underground, often bawdy acts. Pretension has no place in this classic "theatre populaire".

We're escorted to our seats at the upper end of the orchestra, which has been set up to resemble a cabaret. We're seated at round tables with small red lamps. The mood is perfect for the ensuing show.

What Better Than a Sultry Performance of Cabaret?

My first encounter with Les Folies Bergère was for the occasion of the French re-imagining of Cabaret, the smash Broadway musical. I was only familiar with the 1972 film starring Liza Minnelli, so I was eager to see what kind of sparks a New-York conceived show about the free-spirited underground Berlin of the 1920's and early 30's, performed in one of Paris' most fitting venues, would generate. I wasn't disappointed.

Settling in

As scantly-clad performers take the stage and blow at saxophones in pre-show fanfare, we order a glass of champagne each (pricey, but ultimately worth the added touch of luxury) and settle in. The Paris reworking of Cabaret is every bit as delicious and tragic as I'd hoped, and with the orchestra a seeming extension of the set, the audience is made part of the action and drama.

The artistically-charged, libertine spirit of Berlin between world wars came to life at Les Folies Bergère, whose own solid history seemed to summon the ghosts back with added force.

Our Bottom Line?

While it's not "trending" at the moment, Les Folies Bergères offers travelers something that hipper nightlife spots can't: an authentic and entertaining encounter with aspects of Parisian culture that have endured for centuries, well beyond the fickle winds of fashion and social media fads. Social history, theatre, glamour, architecture: you'll get a taste of all of these by enjoying a night out at this iconic address.

Getting There and Contact Information: 

  • Address: 32 Rue Richer, 9th arrondissement
  • Metro: Grands Boulevards or Cadet
  • Bus lines: Faubourg Montmartre (bus 67 or 74); Cadet (26-32-43- 49 or 42)
  • Reservations: By telephone -- call (+33) 0892 68 16 50 or reserve online. Scroll down the web page to select desired show.
  • Open: Hours vary according to showtimes. See program for more details (in French).
  • Drinks: Service at bar and at orchestra tables. Beer, wine, champagne, mixed drinks. Snacks are also available.
  • Capacity:1,679 seats
  • Dress code: None is officially enforced. You may feel most comfortable dressing in casual to business casual or formal wear, depending on the event (check event page for any details or call if in doubt)