Paris does the can’t-can’t as noise laws kill nightlife

Paris may attract more visitors than any other city, but after dark the City of Light risks becoming the Capital of Sleep unless something is done to perk up its nightlife, according to the latest French protest movement.

“We must do something or soon everyone interested in nightlife will be forced into exile in London or Berlin,” said Eric Labbé, an aficionado of electronic music who has launched a campaign to help to save the Paris club scene from extinction.

His petition has attracted 13,000 supporters who are appalled at a rigorous clampdown on noise and the closures of famous clubs. Part of the problem, says Labbé, is the growing intolerance of the increasingly bourgeois Parisians about noise after dark. This has resulted in the police imposing a “law of silence” on a city which was once hailed as a centre of nocturnal revelry.

Paris nightlife is becoming so dull, says the petition, that people in search of nocturnal thrills go to London and other European cities for fun. The point is made by a photograph attached to the petition which shows an announcement on a poster outside a club: “Closed due to dead city. Please apply to the neighbouring capital.”

Despite its age-old image as a beacon of hedonism, the golden age of Parisian nightlife was before the war, when writers such as Ernest Hemingway portrayed life in the city as one endless party.

The Moulin Rouge and its cancan girls have kept alive the idea of Paris as a city of fun, but supporters of Labbé’s petition lament that such institutions are only for tourists.

“Today we are a museum city,” said one. “There’s more excitement to be had in London or New York.”

A smoking ban in force since January is being blamed for complicating matters for nightclub owners as revellers spill onto the pavements to smoke and make noise.

Complaints from neighbours result in fines for clubs and several well-known nightspots have had their licences taken away, including Le Batofar, a nightclub ship moored on the banks of the Seine.

La Locomotive, a hallowed club in Pigalle where the Beatles and Rolling Stones once played, has gone bankrupt. It is to be taken over by the Moulin Rouge, which plans to turn it into a restaurant and shop.

The protesters, who will hand in their petition to the culture ministry at the end of the year, are demanding “tolerance zones” in areas known for their nightlife, an initiative that seems to have won support from Bertrand Delanoë, the mayor of Paris. He recently launched a bilingual internet website called Paris Night Life to promote the city after hours.

A “night-time competitiveness” study commissioned for the town hall showed Paris ranking fifth behind Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin and London.

“We want to revive the image of Paris by night,” said Jean-Bernard Bros, Delanoë’s deputy in charge of tourism.

The mayor had already attempted to pep up Paris with his Nuit Blanche initiative, an annual all-night art festival. Now he is considering organising soirées in cultural institutions such as the Pompidou Centre. Another idea is to appoint more officials, or “nocturnal ambassadors”, to find ways of boosting the city’s nightlife.

Conspiring against this is a lack of public transport after 1am, when the Paris Métro is closed and buses, let alone taxis, are few and far between.Driving anywhere after a drink is not the solution, either: in the new draconian Paris, even cyclists get breathalysed.