Yes, believe it or not, there used to be a gay district before the Marais. Indeed, the Marais developed as such only in the 80s. Rue Sainte-Anne and the surrounding streets, in the 1er arrondissement, was the epicenter of Parisian gay life in the 70s, until the Marais took over in the mid-1980s.
Why has it vanished? The main innovation of the Marais, formerly a exclusively Jewish area, was to have bars wide open on the street. The bars of Rue Sainte-Anne belonged to the old type, where one had to ring a bell so that they could get into them. In the Marais, people didn’t have to hide anymore: homosexuality became legal in 1981, when the left-wing government of François Mitterrand legalized sex between persons of the same sex. That’s why people wanted a change from the old bars associated with the fear of the police arresting them.
So what’s left of this past? A few nightclubs and bars are still there. And they are quite interesting, since they are, obviously, not part of the Marais. That’s their charm.
Club 18, located on 18 rue de Beaujolais claims to be the oldest gay club in Paris still in operation. And contrary to what you might think, the crowds their are pretty young: mostly people in their early or mi-twenties. The current staff of the bar has adopted quite a successful commercial approach, with regular parties happening, such as the “Singles” party, where people are identified with a number they wear on their clothes, and where a postman plays the role of the go-between and delivers messages to connect the customers. It works well if you feel pretty shy. But be careful, in a gay club, singles not always are singles…
L’Insolite is another club nearby. This time, most people are slightly older: in their thirties of forties. But there’s a relaxed atmosphere which makes this club very friendly. It has a mainstream playlist choice which might prove repetitive if you go more than once, but it’s a safe choice. You have to enter through a building located 33 rue des Petits-Champs and then to ring at a door in the inner courtyard. You will find it.
So basically, if you are looking for a change from the Marais, this is a true alternative which is not as crowded, and which can prove to be more friendly. And it’s a walking distance away from the Marais.
The area itself is central but somehow very quiet. The beautiful Place des Victoires features a statue of Louis the XIVth as a successful warrior, but he actually lost a few wars he led. The Palais-Royal, which is basically a park surrounded by buildings, is absolutely gorgeous. One other interesting aspect of this part of Paris is that it has a lot of genuine Japanese restaurants. They range from cheap “cantines”, such as AKI to more expensive ones, with the famous japonese omelette. One good question is: after Rue Sainte-Anne, will the Marais disappear as well, because of the surge of online cruising, and because of gentryfication? It’s a real question, but we do hope that real bars and clubs will always be necessary for gay people to meet and to have a true social experience: that’s what makes life so thrilling!