Thursday, February 08, 2007

Paris is Burning!



Paris is burning!
Well, not the whole city, just le Baron.
Tuesday night. Circa 3 am. Hipster chic Parisians are sipping champagne, smoking cigarettes and rolling their “r”s. It’s a pretty calm night for the tiny yet always hopping joint. A few French b-list celebs are sitting in a booth, but nobody seems to care. 150 girls are waiting for the bathroom with just one stall. And outside, wannabe hipsters are being told “c’est privé ce soir” and shooed away.
Then, suddenly, the smell of gas overpowers the familiar nocturnal mélange of cigarette smoke and body odor from the hard-core dancers sweating on the dance floor. I;m standing near the bar. A large French man (read: more than 110 pounds) knocks into me and starts to sprint for the door. He’s followed by the rest of his entourage, then pretty much everyone else in the establishment. I dare to inquire. “There’s a fire!” There is mayhem at the coat check and I am forced to decide between death by fire…and death by hypothermia if I walk outside without my jacket. I choose fire and get in line. The two French guys next to me hit on me. Only in France, I think. Amidst a smoky explosion in a tiny crowded nightclub, instead of running for their lives, French men choose to work their game. And, mind you, continue to smoke their cigarettes. Ah, la France. Then, as if by some strange Christmas miracle (a couple of months late), lo-and-behold, with about 150 people waiting outside on the avenue marceau, I, Rebecca Lynn Leffler, found a taxi. Yes, that elusive, yellow vehicle of transportation we all know and love but can never seem to find in Paris, arrived before me, vacant and willing to drive me home. It’s true – nothing is impossible. So I’m assuming that le Baron did not, indeed, burn to the ground. (There would probably have been some sort of funeral-like service among my fellow nightcrawlers and I haven’t received an invitation so I’m going with …it’s all good now.) But this whole brouhaha started me thinking (I know, a rare occurrence these days):
What would a world without Le Baron be like? What would all the cool kids do without their nighttime haven?
And, because you know I love the metaphor: Parisian nightspots are like really delicious chocolates. They’re incredibly wonderful yet ephemeral. They explode with sensation, then lose their flavor and you are left wondering what to do next. Do you pick another chocolate? What if it’s not as good? Or what if it’s better, but you liked that chocolate and wanted another. What if the reason you liked that particular chocolate was that the taste on your tongue was familiar and – Okay, I see I’m getting ahead of myself here. My point is this: there is a severe problem in France, specifically Paris. Aside from the lack of taxis and, in my opinion, way too much cigarette smoke…here it is: Someplace becomes très chic, très selective, all of the cool kids want to go there then, just like that, someone decides it’s had its run and the cool kids pick another spot and the establishment needs to a) close entirely, b) cater not as cool kids or c) find a way to get the cool kids back.
Prime example of this unfortunate cycle: L’échelle de Jacob. (or “jacob’s ladder” in English) Known to its clientele as simply “l’Echelle,” this bar-lounge on the rue de Jacob in Paris’ très chic St-Germain-des-Pres district is a small, intimate lounge with comfortable velvet couches and a tall staircase (or “ladder” of the “Jacob” variety if you will) leading to a second level also filled with modern tables and lush cushions. The music usually starts out mellow, then gets louder and more fun as the crowd does the same. The martinis are delicious, the strawberry vanilla variety is a 15 euro piece of heaven if you ask me. And, up until a month or so ago, was the hottest ticket in town. Ok, not in town, but at least in the 6th arrondissement. Then, before you could say “sacré bleu!” (actually, don’t say “sacré bleu” it’s sort of passé), the cool kids packed their bags and ran, and the place is now filled with, well, how do I say this, less cool kids. The door is no longer selective, the place is empty on weeknights when it was once in its heyday, and I swear my passion fruit martini was totally lacking in flavah. So what gives? :Where have all the cool kids gone/” (to be sung to the tune of “where have all the flowers gone.”) (but not too loud, this is France, someone will yell at you if you’re talking over a certain volume.)
So who decides whether or not a bar or club is “branché”? And what are the tell-tale signs that your branché location of choice is headed for imminent uncool status, or, in other words, has contracted a common and contagious disease I will refer to as “L’échelle syndrome.” How can we bring back L’Echelle? Return the place to its one-time glory? Shall I draft a petition? Put an ad in this week’s ELLE or Le Monde? Perhaps the “accidental fire” at le Baron was really a tactic from another bar with a bad case of Echelle syndrome who wanted to woo its clients back? Maybe if celebrities started hanging out there, people would follow? “If you build it, they will come.” Build what?? Build whaaaaat?? Oh Kevin Costner, where are you? Paris needs you. I need you. L’Echelle needs you. I mean, there are other places to go, it’s true – Mathis Bar, La Perle, le bar Hemingway, the Plaza, the Hotel Amour, my latest coup de Coeur, the Park Hyatt bar… but, sadly, these fine establishments will one day meet their fate, and, before you can say “I’d like a vodka tonic please,” their time will come. But, until then, Baron ce soir anyone?

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