Unlike New York, London, Berlin, and Barcelona, Paris is not especially known for its nightlife. The métro closes too early (12:30 a.m. weeknights; 1:40 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays), the bars close at 2 a.m. (though clubs often stay open until dawn), drinks often cost around €15 a pop, crowds can be snooty, and sedate neighborhoods crack down hard on loud venues (the very same reason that so much wild nightlife in New York has migrated from increasingly suburban Manhattan to swaths of industrial Brooklyn). No wonder the longtime unofficial motto of Paris's frowning legions is "métro, boulot, dodo" — or "subway, work, beddy-bye."
However, one brave young man is vowing to change all that.
Late last year, Clément Léon, a rather bookish-looking 31-year-old author (of a book about the spirit of rock and roll, no less), was named — via an online election organized by nightlife impresarios — Paris's "mayor of nightlife." In that role — think of it as a public advocate for nightlife, with little formal power but plenty of bully pulpit — Léon is going to advocate for nightlife-friendly policies like extending public transportation later into the night and bringing club moguls and cops to the same table to work out compromises on venue shutdowns. He says that he even has the ear of Paris's new (and first female) mayor, Anne Hidalgo. We chatted with Léon about his plans, finding him rather serious-minded for a noctambule (night creature), but perhaps in Paris even the fêtards (party freaks) come with an existentialist streak.
So, how did you come to be Paris's mayor of nightlife?
I was elected — out of 13 candidates on the first round of voting, which was online, then out of six candidates in voting that took place in 45 different nightlife spots. I ran on a serious platform but with a funny poster. I go out all the time. Parisians are bored by their nightlife. I know that because I, too, am bored.
The bars close too early. The police manage nightlife in a very punitive manner toward bars and clubs; they don't care about the state of nightlife. And it's the same with City Hall, which doesn't put anything in place to make nightlife more accessible. But that's about to change. I was about to move to Istanbul or Bombay, but then I decided to stay here and try to change for the better this city that I love but that goes to bed too early.
Do you really think you can change policies like what time the bars and trains close? I've read that your position is mainly symbolic.
It is hardly just symbolic! If it were, I wouldn't be getting interviews all over the world. I have a voice now to put pressure on City Hall. Recently I met with one of Hidalgo's main operatives behind the scenes. They are going to set up a nightlife council with all the players — the venue owners and the police — to talk about how we can make Paris nightlife shine again like it once did.
What's your vision of an ideal Parisian nightlife?
One that would allow club and bar owners to open and close whenever they wanted, where people would be able to chat and mingle without discrimination, where the music would blend jazz, classical, hip-hop, electro, rock, and soul, and where people would be able to get home whenever they wanted via public transportation.
So where should we go out in Paris in the meantime?
You should go out in the Pigalle area, and what we call SoPi, or south of Pigalle. This has been a Paris party area for over 100 years. You should go to Rex Club. [Editor: It's in an amazing Deco building, with the gay bar du jour, La Bonne Nouvelle, just across the street.] There's lots of great clubs around Oberkampf and rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud. Also, le Zig Zag. [Editor: We'd also suggest La Java and La Bellevilloise, not to mention dancing in the tiny basement of the hipster-y gay bar Les Souffleurs in the Marais. And also drinking and dancing at the wonderfully laid-back and convivial Rosa Bonheur in the Parc des Buttes Chaumont on Sunday evenings.]
Do you have an all-time personal favorite?
I go a lot to Le Bus Palladium, one of the oldest clubs in Paris. It's really a rock-and-roll spot where you just feel great, where people are partying without looking each other up and down and being snobby. But I think my all-time favorite place would be [the defunct but legendary, Studio 54–like '70s-and-'80s nightclub] Le Palace, because there really was a feeling there of being able to meet all types of people, not just rich or poor, and of a place without racism.
What are Parisian nightlifers like compared to clubgoers in other cities?
A bit snobby and too reliant on social codes, but that is changing.
Last question: Any tips on how to pick up people in clubs like a Parisian?
French people are the best pick-up artists in the world. When you go to other cities, strangers are always impressed by our methods of seduction. Of course there are also jerks here who have no such talents. But it's like I always say to guys who are jealous of my conquests: "Guys, if you want to pick up the prettiest girls, go buy yourselves a brain."
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