Famous Paris Brothels
￼It’s the city of sex, passion and that certain erotic ‘je ne sais quoi,’ so if you’re visiting Paris any time soon, it would be a sin not to check out its naughty history. And because the French capital has always been one of the most beautiful and artistic cities on earth it’s no surprise to learn that, to the French connoisseurs of all things sex, the brothels here were among the most hedonistic, alluring and seductive in the world. Famous artists like Picasso and Lautrec would paint on the walls for free, sculptors would donate beautiful pots and vases, and visiting merchants would decorate the brothels with sumptuous fabrics and furniture. In the 19th century especially, Parisian bordellos boasted the most lavish interiors in the city, rivalling the state rooms of palaces and chateaux.
Although all Paris brothels were officially closed down in the 1940s, many of the original buildings remain, as do some of the now-priceless artworks. So if you want to follow in the footsteps of the grand courtesans and mistresses of French history, check out my handy walking tour of Naughty Paris and experience the echoes of Paris’s erotic past as you recreate your own ‘Belle Epoque.’
4 Rue de Vintimille
Montmartre 75009 Metro: Place de Clichy
Start the tour here at the Hotel Rotary. It’s now a chic boutique hotel but back in the 19th century it was a luxurious brothel. Just a few minutes’ walk from the Right Bank, the Moulin Rouge and the Casino de Paris, it was a popular destination for the city’s louche entertainment crowd and aristocrats who liked to mix in theatrical circles. Many prostitutes in late-19th century Paris were ‘actresses’ just waiting for their break, so the male visitors here were guaranteed manners as well as services, just in case they were “important” enough to offer one of the girls an escape from the brothel for a glitzy life on the stage. It’s not know exactly how the brothel looked at the height of its popularity, but today you can book the sumptuous Japanese Room for around €120 a night, which will definitely seduce you. Check out the ornate staircase in the lobby and imagine how many patrons have been led teasingly up the same steps over the years.
‘The Medieval’ brothel
32 Rue de Navarin
Saint-Georges 75009 Metro: Saint-Georges
From the Hotel Rotary, it’s just an 11-minute walk to 32 Rue de Navarin where one of Paris’s most specialized brothels lived. As you’d expect from the (unofficial) name, this brothel was themed around the Middle Ages, with dungeon facilities, cold stone rooms, a ‘church’ where black masses would be said before business was commenced and plenty of BDSM equipment like whips, chains and cuffs. Men who loved to be dominated would come here, to be whipped by forceful madams like Mademoiselle Douska who was famous for the torturous equipment she would often hide among her clothing to be whipped out (literally) at a moment’s notice. Today, the site is a convenience store absorbed by the traffic-filled congestion of 21st century suburban Paris, so you’ll need to use your imagination to wonder about the weird and wonderful things which went behind the drapes.
8 Rue de Navarin
Saint-Georges 75009 Metro: Saint-Georges
Also on Rue de Navarin is the Hotel Amour which, like the Rotary, is plying its trade on a more respectable level these days. Back in the 19th century, however, this building was a popular brothel with “men of means.” It was a spacious, five-story bordello with a reputation for having the happiest prostitutes in the city. The most iconic picture of the brothel shows beautiful naked women at each window, showcasing their ample assets. You won’t find the same street entertainment these days, but you might behind one of the many bedroom doors in this bohemian, arty boutique hotel. If you can, book the amazing Duplex suite complete with open- plan sunken bathroom, a bed deck and naughty photographs adorning the walls. Other rooms also have erotic artwork on display, as well as disco balls and other quirky design elements.
9 Rue de Navarin
Saint-Georges 75009 Metro: Saint-Georges
Directly opposite the Hotel Amour, Chez Christiane was listed in the infamous 19th century sex tourism guide “Le Guide Rose” as a place famous for fetishes and “special passions.” Frequented by very rich French businessmen, royalty and plenty of artists, any fantasy at all could be bought here, no matter how dark. Collars, chastity belts, whips, chains and even a St. Andrew’s Cross were common fixtures here, so it makes Hotel Amour, across the road, sound tame in comparison. It was still a lavish place to come though, and the girls (and the games) were certainly not cheap. ￼￼￼
Le One Two Two
122 Rue de Provence
Saint Lazare Paris 75008 Metro: Saint-Lazare
20 minutes walk from Rue de Navarin is the notorious Le One Two Two. This brothel opened in 1924 and quickly became the main rival to Paris’s premier bordello, Le Chabanais (see below.) The 22 rooms here were deliberately designed to offer visitors a virtual sex trip around the world exploring different sexual cultures and fantasies (Kama Sutra, transcendental sex, Egyptian pharaoh, pirates etc.) The higher you climbed the stairs, allegedly, the more wild the rooms became. It was pretty crazy here, somewhere for which the phrase “anything goes” really was invented. There were stables of straw, real igloos, velvet-padded walls, a Roman garden and a mock-up of the famous Orient Express train (complete with conductor who would ‘interrupt’ clients in the middle of sex.) There was also a restaurant next door called Le Boeuf a la Ficelle, where guests were served by naked waitresses dressed only in small aprons and meals were served on painted plates which, when they were mopped clean, would reveal a very naughty illustration underneath. The brothel also had a small stage where kinky little revues were put on each evening to get patrons into the mood.
The One Two Two was so infamous (Marlene Dietrich, among others, often came here,) they made a film about it in 1978, basing the story around its founders, Maurice Jamet and his wife Doriane, who was actually once one of Le Chabanais’s best courtesans. Sadly, Doriane ran off with a rich man shortly before the outbreak of World War Two, leaving her husband to find a willing mistress to continue on with the One Two Two legend, When brothels were criminalized in 1946, The One ￼Two Two closed down and is today a pretty ordinary looking office building hiding naughty whispers of decades past behind its large, red doors.
La Fleur Blanche’s Brothel
6 Rue de Moulins
Palais-Royale 75001 Metro: Pyramides
Another 15 minutes walk south and you’ll come to Rue de Moulins. At number 6 is where La Fleur Blanche used to be. Meaning “the white flower”, this brothel was the favorite of artist Henri de Toulouse Lautrec, who basically moved his whole social life into the building to save him time and travel. A sickly man, and very short, the brothel girls were always amazed at the little guy’s superhero stamina and nicknamed him “The Coffee Pot,” because he was neverending and would keep them up all night (!.) Lautrec often paid for the services of the girls by giving Madam Blanche paintings, or offering to create murals on the walls.
Many of his masterpieces were actually painted within the brothel and provide an invaluable insight into the day-to-day activities of Parisian bordellos; from laundrymen arriving and the communcal meals enjoyed by the girls, to the routine medical inspections and the tedium of days as the prostitutes waited for business to pick up, lying lazily on sofas until the busy evenings arrived.
12 Rue Chabanais
Vivienne 75002 Metro: Pyramides
Just around the corner from La Fleur Blanche was probably the most famous brothel in Paris, Le Chabanais. From the 19th century until the mid-1940s Le Chabanais was, to wealthy playboys and high-class courtesans, the place to come for erotic night-time pleasures. Those enjoying the naughty version of the famous Grand Tour (a long summer vacation which took in cities such as Venice, Rome, Nice, Paris and Vienna) would make a beeline for Le Chabanais, such was its reputation.
Inside, there were several themed rooms such as the “Chambre Louis XVI” full of chandeliers, velvet and trompe l’oeil. Then there was the Moorish Room which evoked the erotic atmosphere of a Moorish castle in the heady heat of southern Spain. In the Pompeiian Room, the artist Toulouse Lautrec painted murals of naughty centaurs complete with erections, while the Japanese Room actually won a design award at the 1900 Paris World’s Fair.
Le Chabanais was founded by a Madame Kelly, who sold shares in the brothel to her wealthy friends from the Jockey Club de Paris. Frequent visitors to the brothel included Cary Grant, Mae West and even a British monarch – the notoriously naughty King Edward VII. In fact, the copper bath used by the King during his visits to Le Chabanais was later bought by Salvador Dali and installed in his semi-permanent room at the nearby Hotel Meurice. During World War Two, the brothel was even ‘commandeered’ by German officers for their night time relief, until it was closed in 1946.
Everything inside Le Chabanais, from the erotic paneled radiators and the King’s “love throne” (he was so heavy he needed a special chair made to stop him crushing the girls…) to the gilt armchairs and ornate mirrors, were sold in a private auction in 1951. Today Le Chabanais is a shop facade with apartments on the upper floors and the only thing which remains is the discreet double elevator inside which allowed guests to enter and leave without being seen by anyone else.
Opposite Le Chabanais is a glorious little gallery museum called Au Bonheur du Jour (“Afternoon Delights) which exhibits lots of paraphernalia from the golden age of the Paris brothels. Pop in here for a quick education on the sex trade of the 19th century and see some exquisite items like antique sex toys, naughty paintings and erotic photographs.
Aux Belles Poules (“The Cute Chicks”)
32 Rue Blondel
Bonne Nouvelle 75002 Metro: Strasbourg Saint-Denis
15 minutes from Le Chabanais is the Aux Belles Poules (“cute chicks”,) sat in the heart of one of Paris’s most famous red light districts – Saint Denis. The interior was covered in dozens of brightly- painted wall tiles depicting erotic scenes (called ‘living paintings’ by the owners) and the staircase, hallway and surviving tiles are all protected under French law. The brothel’s most famous visitors were probably Anais Nin and her husband Henry Miller, who used to come here to watch the live sex shows with names like “the wife wakes up,” “naval officers on leave,” and “the crazed nun.”
The brothel would issue its own currency; little metal coins embossed with the name, address and a picture of a chicken. These coins would be given by existing clients to new guests as a kind of ‘introductory gift,’ allowing them to purchase their first girl for free (or at least with a heavy discount.) This quirky method of doing business ensured repeat business and also encouraged regular visitors to introduce new members and thus cement the longevity of the brothel. Unfortunately, like the rest of Paris’s bordellos, Aux Belle Poules was forced to close in 1946.
Today, Rue Blondel remains a street with a shadowy reputation – it’s slightly off the beaten track but still close to the bright lights of the Right Bank. It’s best to go in the day time to see what’s left, but it’s easily recognizable by the glossy red and green tiles on the exterior. If you manage to get inside (it’s been a shop, student accommodation and Chinese clothing warehouse over the years) then you might be lucky enough to see what’s left of the famous ‘living paintings,’ so take your camera just in case. At the very least you’ll get a very real sense of the amazing things which happened here just from wandering under the paneled ceiling of the lobby and gazing upon the super-erotic tiles which souvenir hunters found too difficult to lift off the walls.
Miss Betty’s Brothel
36 Rue Saint Sulpice
Monnaie 75006 Metro: Mabillon
Finally, you will have to cross the Seine to reach the final naughty destination. The walk is around 30 minutes but you can also hop the Line 4 Metro from Strasbourg Saint-Denis to Odeon. Not much is known about this brothel except that it was famous for its excellent provision of dominatrices who would delight in torturing and humiliating men of a certain persuasion. There was allegedly a “crucifixion parlor” and a torture room called “Satan’s Hell.” Miss Betty’s was most popular with priests, which isn’t that surprising considering the large church of Saint Sulpice was directly right across the road, literally ten feet away. The brightly coloured house numbers of Parisian houses was usually a clue as to what lay beyond the gates – this house in particular has a gaudy gold and blue number decoration sitting above the thick wrought iron gates to help guide the curious towards it. If you wander around certain districts of Paris and pay particular attention to the older houses whose numbers remain as they were a century ago, the colors and decoration will often betray properties which used to be bordellos.
Also during your visit, check out the Musee de l’Erotisme at 72 Boulevard de Clichy in Pigalle; a sex museum which has an entire floor dedicated to the old Parisian brothels.