Parisian Life

Paris’ celebrated houses of ill repute

Initially located in the centre of Paris, many close to the Royal Palace, brothels eventually relocated to Paris’ ancient city limits: high-class establishments close to the Opera, more ‘common’ brothels situated themselves further to the outskirts.

The celebrated house of Madame Gourdan welcomed guests at 23 rue Dussoubs in the second arrondissement between 1774 and 1783. It’s here that Du Barry, King Louis XV’s last official mistress (Maîtresse-en-titre), may have learnt a thing or two… Not far down the road, at 43 rue de la Lune, was another brothel the door and spyhole of which are still visible today.

Closer to the Opera House, 6 rue des Moulins was the home of La Fleur Blanche, also nicknamed Les Belles Poules. The house of ill repute celebrated by Toulouse Lautrec in “Au salon de la rue des Moulins” in 1894 is still visible today, at 9 rue de Navarin, a tiny neo-gothic Troubadour style hotel.

Despite there being only 30 or so brothels in the 1920s, they competed in terms of sophistication and star clients. There was the “One-two-two” at 122 rue de Provence, or the “4” at rue de Hanovre. Then there’s the well-known “Chabanais”, founded at 12 rue du Chabanais by one Madame Kelly in 1878. This temple of pleasure was home to 35 “ladies” chaperoned by assistant-Madams, with a Japanese room, Moorish room, Louis XVI room, Pompeian salon…

The last establishment to open its doors was “The Sphinx” in 1931, on the Left Bank, at 31 boulevard Edgar Quinet. In a former funerary marble shop (we are after all facing the Cemetery of Montparnasse), this brothel with its Egyptian-Rococo décor adjoined the catacombs. Everyone who was anyone in Paris’ artistic pre-War scene passed through its doors. One small detail, female clients were welcome although that were not permitted to enter the bedrooms. This palace is nothing but a memory however, as it was knocked down in 1962…

Irrespective, in 1946 such environs were banned from the city, with Marthe Richard ordering their closure on 13 April 1946.