Ah, the traditional Paris cabaret. A show that has little to do with contemporary Parisian culture and everything to do with nostalgia, a good heaping of kitschy fun and a love for longstanding erotic codes. You won't, admittedly, find many Parisians lined up to catch a show at one of these places. But if you're hankering for French can-cans, Vegas-style glitz and lots of skin, these top traditional Paris cabarets will provide delicious cliches up to your elbows-- for a hefty price, of course. There are plenty of more subdued, serious or arty cabaret-theatres in Paris, too, but we're focusing on the classics here.
Located on the Champs-Elysées, the Lido opened its doors in 1946, shortly after the end of World War II and the liberation of Paris. The ambiance of exhilaration and a distinctive Parisian classiness has stuck. Often cited as the preferred cabaret of local socialites and celebrities, the Lido has hosted a score of renowned performers over the years, from Elton John to Shirley Mac Laine. The mainstay revue, famed for its elaborate, elegant costumes and multicultural twists, features 60 dancers, 600 costumes and 23 different sets.
For romantics, no visit to the city of lights would be complete without a night at the original Moulin Rouge cabaret in Paris. Built in 1889, the club was the essence of a bohemian, Belle Epoque Paris, where artists converged to produce and attend colorful and avant- garde performances. The Moulin Rouge in Paris has inspired scores of Hollywood homages, the most recent being director Baz Luhrman’s 2001 glitz fest starring Nicole Kidman. It also provided inspiration for 19th-century painter Toulouse Lautrec, whose portraits of Moulin Rouge performers are today housed in Paris’ Musee d’Orsay.
One of the racier traditional Paris cabarets, the Crazy Horse prides itself on its distinctly burlesque aesthetic and more contemporary style. It's seen a surge in popularity recently thanks to revues from burlesque superstar Dita Von Teese (who returned for a second show in 2009) and from French bimbo-slash-intellectual-slash-actress Arielle Dombasle. This one's strictly for adults, whereas older teenagers might be brought along for a show at the Moulin Rouge or Lido.
If you're looking for a Paris cabaret in an artier, more contemporary vein, the Zebre de Belleville is a good choice. Located smack in the middle of ultraurban, multicultural Belleville, the Zebre (whose facade is graced with a large signpost featuring the eponymous animal) regularly puts on revues that stray from Parisian cancan standbys to explore themes more fitting of contemporary dance and circus acts. There's also a nightclub on certain evenings. Aside from the zany, offbeat cabaret revues, you can also expect to pay around half of what you would at the Lido or the Crazy Horse for a dinner and show-- a significant advantage by any count.