5 Things to Learn from Pigalle
Oh, Pigalle. Where to begin.
Whether you’ve visited Paris before or will be touring it for the first time, it is likely that the district of Pigalle is already well on your radar. Pigalle is the infamous town that sits at the bottom of the Montmartre hill, just between the 9th and 18th arrondissements.
It is widely known as being the neighborhood of sex and debauchery — and this description wouldn’t be far off from the read thing.
During the revolution in Paris, Pigalle became the area to which artists and socialites flocked. It was a place where music and dance was celebrated, where champagne flowed with the conversation, and a lap dance was easier to order than food.
To put things into perspective; Pigalle is the home town of the Moulin Rouge. This is but a taste of what the district has to offer in terms of cabaret, entertainment and attraction.
In terms of sex and sleaze, Pigalle is no where near where it used to be. Today the district, though still fairly full of taboos, is also an eclectic area where may other enjoyable parts of Parisian life can be experienced.
Amongst the bars and peep shows, the streets are laden with boutiques, restaurants, bookshops and thrift stores. It is the kind of neighborhood where you can get a €10 manicure and a comedy show all on the same block. Everybody has something to sell in Pigalle.
The great thing about the better known districts in Paris is that there is always something to be learnt simply by paying them a visit.
In Bastille, for example, you’ll learn the intricate history of exactly how the city came to be. In Montparnasse you’ll learn about the migration of the French artists and how they survived through the ages.
And in Pigalle, well, you’ll learn a few valuable reality checks and probably a thing or two about your own sexuality. Visit Pigalle with a completely open mind, there is no better way to do so. Here are five things that we can all learn from this rambunctious neighborhood.
1. Paris is home to more than just the French
Something you’ll pick up on the minute you arrive in Pigalle is that this is a place that many diverse cultures call home. Pigalle seems to be where many of the foreign entrepreneurs landed up when they ventured to Paris in search of creating a better life.
Many of the street side businesses are owned by everyone other than actual Parisians. The Middle Eastern presence is strong in this district — a walk between the Pigalle and Anvers metro stops will show how many Arabic food spots there are to stop at .
These are a must for anyone who is experiencing Pigalle for the first time. Drop into one of the street vendor cafes and spend a few euros on a juicy falafel wrap drenched in fresh made hummus. There’s nothing quite like it in all of Paris!
Tourist life is busting in this district which makes it a place you’d be even less likely to encounter locals. The array of people that Pigalle draws in makes it the perfect place to sit and people watch as the day goes by.
The street side restaurants of Paris are the perfect place to do this. Particularly in the summer, I love watching Pigalle life go by from the cafe tables at Wall Street Pigalle. It’s just past the Blanche metro stop on the main road, Boulevard de Clichy.
Both their wine and tapas style snacks are the perfect pair to the chaos going on around the neighborhood. I once engaged in hours of conversation here with a man who had made his way to Paris from Sudan in search of better life and opportunity.
He now lives in one of the back alleys and makes money by offering to shine shoes outside of the theaters and concert halls of Pigalle’s main areas.
The great thing about Paris is that it is incredibly inclusive of all cultures and people when given the chance. Stories like this Sudanese man’s are not uncommon, and districts like Pigalle are where you’ll find them hidden.
2. Life is to be enjoyed
Not everyone is able to see the hidden charm of Piaglle, and that’s okay. But there is one thing that is abundantly clear when roaming this district and that is that life is definitely intended to be enjoyed.
Pigalle is not technically a wealthy district by any means, not if you compare it to some of the other arrondissements. In Pigalle, people get by. They work hard and they party harder — this is the essence of the space.
Whatever your reason for being in Pigalle, whether you’ve come in for a concert or you’re taking a free guided walking tour, you’ll enjoy the overwhelming sense of “anything goes” at all times. To some this can be daunting, to others it’s magic.
While much of Pigalle life centers around an honest days work, there is equally as much that revolves around the sensory overloading for the visitors coming in. On every corner there is a bar… or some sort of entertainment venue offering some sort of entertaining service.
If its not a bar then its a club. If not a club then a theatre! Amongst these venues, any and all cuisine you could possibly imagine.
While most evening entertainment venues around Paris start shutting down around 2am, Pigalle is known for keeping the doors open a little longer. This is part of the reason that the nightlife of Pigalle also picks up so late — patrons from other events around Paris head here late in the evening to keep the party going.
I like that we learn this lesson of enjoyment from Pigalle. Sometimes Paris has the tendency to take itself a little too seriously. The pristine, classy city can forget to let its hair down from time to time.
Districts like Pigalle serve as critical reminders that life needs fun and excitement & a touch of risqué never hurt anyone. Similar to Las Vegas, what happens in Pigalle; stays in Pigalle. Or so they say.
3. Take your time to stroll
Paris may be big, but it is not unreasonably to attempt to walk the city at every opportunity possible. The way the city is broken up into arrondissements helps better allow this kind of exploration.
The arrondissements give a good general idea of how far to span your routes and where exactly one ends and the next begins. Sometimes when traveling to a new land the beginning and end of neighborhoods can be a bit of a grey area.
Visiting a widespread place like Notre Dame is easier to comprehend when you understand that you need just remain in the 4th arrondissement in order to see it all.
In the same way, Pigalle is a district best explore by foot especially since it sits at the foot of Montmartre — which is a refreshing place to land up after a long day of Pigalle.
Pigalle demands time. There is simply way too much going on for you to rush through it, especially by car. The district reminds us to take our time, and take in our surroundings at a pace that is best suited to us. Consider a guided walking tour if you’re unable to map out the best route yourself.
As you work your way through the Pigalle streets, try image what life must have been like during the period of revolution and bohemian cultural exchanges. See the streets as they were compared to how they are now. You are in the very heart of one of the most historic destinations known to migrant life in the world — enjoy!
Must see sites during your time in Pigalle include the Moulin Rouge (of course), Théâtre La Cible and the beautiful Musée de la Vie Romantique.
4. Beware the pickpocket!
I wish I could say that this endemic is reserved to specific districts in Paris but that simply wouldn’t be true. The art of the pickpocket is something that resigns supreme through almost all the arrondissements.
Despite the illusion, Paris is nowhere near perfect economically. There are many residents of the city who live just over, or even under, the poverty line and life is anything but easy.
The Parisian streets are also home to a large influx of refugees who have fled to the city over recent years in search of safety and solace. Naturally, poverty is an issue for them too.
The one thing tourists bring is money, this will always be a very true reality. They are also generally less street smart because they are unsettled and in the middle of a foreign space to which they have zero understanding or street etiquette for.
For this reason, they become easy targets for the local pickpockets. Since Pigalle is so heavily saturated with tourists at any given time, it is a breeding ground for these tricksters.
One way or another you’re going to learn to beware of the Parisian pickpocket. Whether you fall victim to one yourself while in Pigalle, or witness one a few meters in front of you — this is not something easy to avoid on the Paris streets.
The good news is that with a little awareness you can easily keep your possessions safe from theft. A few of the more obvious ways include:
- Never, ever keeping a cellphone or wallet in the back pocket of your pants
- Always zip and latch a bag when it is not in use
- Try not have any loose valuables visible on your person
- Don’t hold your purse under your upper arm and think it will be “safer” there (I learnt this one the heard way)
The pickpocket problem is no reason to avoid Pigalle by any means. With a bit of street smarts you’ll be A-okay. If you can handle Pigalle, you’re ready to walk any neighborhood in Paris.
5. Architecture can always be reused
Back in the day when brothels and cabarets ruled Pigalle the architecture that came along with them was something extra to be marveled at. The high ceilings, ornate woodwork and baroque finishes stayed up even when the businesses of this time period came crashing down.
Pigalle was left with many abandoned buildings that once housed these very specific services. Over the years, the spaces were reclaimed and transformed into some of the most beautiful venues in all of Paris.
One of the most famous is the Maison Souquet Hotel located on Rue de Bruxelles in the heart of Pigalle. The building was once the location of a Belle-Époque brothel that saw thousands of visitors a week.
It is now a five star hotel that’s interior is as mind blowing as the history of the space itself. For a pretty fee, one of the old brothel rooms can be yours for the night — sans the scandal!
The Pigalle district is full of beautiful transformation sites just like this one. From once strip clubs to now theaters, once red light rooms to now falafel restaurants — you’ll quickly see how easily old architecture can be remolded into something equally as incredible.
Very few of the original buildings in Pigalle have been retouched or renovated far from their founding state. The only place that was redone was the Moulin Rouge on account of a fire that broke out and completely destroyed the original building. C’est la vie!
From pickpockets to foreign nationals, there are so many things to learn from the district of Pigalle.
Even though I visit often, I still walk away with some new, fresh realization every time. This is something I love about Paris in general; always someone to meet, something to see, somewhere to go and something to learn.
Let me know what you learn from Pigalle.