Here and There: Une Petite Histoire of Place Pigalle in Paris… and...

Here and There: Une Petite Histoire of Place Pigalle in Paris… and Seattle

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A 19th century poster with Toulouse-Lautrec lithography. Public domain

Place Pigalle is a public square located at the foot of Montmartre Butte between the 18th and 9th arrondissements of Paris, nestled in the heart of what once was home to painters’ ateliers, art cafés and nightclubs. Crowned by the Basilica of the Sacré-Cœur, Monmartre’s base is an area known as the Quartier Pigalle, located between the Boulevard de Clichy and the Boulevard de Rochechouart. Place Pigalle was named after the Parisian sculptor, Jean-Baptiste Pigalle (1714-1785), who was not only celebrated for his nude sculpture of Voltaire, which is housed in the Louvre, but also for many other dramatic sculptures residing in collections around the world.

Throughout the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, artists including Toulouse-Lautrec, Picasso, Matisse, Modigliani, Matisse, Renoir, Van Gogh and Degas frequented the many local cafés including the Nouvelle Athènes and Le Chat Noir. Mingling with these artists were composers, in particular the idiosyncratic Erik Satie, Chopin and the young Maurice Ravel. While at the same time, across the street at the Rat Mort Café and Café Cyrano, poets and writers such as Rimbaud, Verlaine, Zola, Sand and Breton also met. In 1928 Josephine Baker opened her first night club next door to Breton’s apartment. The world-renowned cabarets, Moulin Rouge and Au Lapin Agile, located just a hop, skip and jump from Baker’s night club on Boulevard de Clichy, are still there.

vintage postcard of the Place Pigalle. Public domain.

During the 1940s, the Quartier Pigalle acquired the reputation as a red light district. Its striptease clubs were frequented by the Nazis and later by the Free French, the formerly exiled government of Charles de Gaulle. After the war, Allied WWII soldiers nicknamed Pigalle “Pig Alley” because of the district’s sexually explicit nightlife. Today, most traces of Pig Alley have vanished, though a handful of sex shops remain. Now the revitalized neighborhood has trendy restaurants and bars, chichi boutiques and 5 star hotels.    

Over 5,000 miles away another memorable Place Pigalle– located in Seattle, Washington’s Pike Place Market– sits perched upon the grounds of what was once known as the Cliff House Hotel. Built in 1901 to house men traveling to and from the Klondike Gold Rush in northwestern Canada, this Place Pigalle was originally called the Lotus Inn.

Place Pigalle in Seattle. Photo: Sue Aran

The Pike Place Market, one of the oldest, continuously operated public farmers’ markets in the United States, was created in 1907 by local landowner and realtor, Frank Goodwin, who made his fortune during the Klondike Gold Rush. Goodwin took advantage of the recently built four-block boardwalk called Pike Place, which overlooked the mudflats of Elliot Bay, to construct and open the first covered arcade that sold reasonably priced fresh food, and called it Pike Place Market. The Outlook Hotel, located next to the Lotus Inn, was constructed the following year along with more above and below ground, multi-level market stalls.

The Great Depression (1929-1939) had very little impact on the market which offered the cheapest food in Seattle. In fact, during this time, the market actually expanded and Seattle soon claimed Pike Place “The Finest Public Market In The World.” Pike Place continued to thrive during WW II, and when the Outlook Hotel became available for sale, the infamous and wealthy madam, Nellie Curtis, bought it along with the Lotus Inn, renaming the combined property the LaSalle Hotel, thereby creating the biggest brothel on the waterfront.   

Place Pigalle in Seattle. Photo: Sue Aran

In 1951 Curtis sold the LaSalle to Dorothy Home. To discourage dozens of would-be brothel customers arriving every day, the new owner hung a sign outside the door reading “No Girls.” The LaSalle was renamed Place Pigalle Tavern after Paris’s red-light district. Place Pigalle continued as a seedy tavern with an Edith Piaf soundtrack until it was sold again in 1971 to Gary Ward, who turned it into a popular blues and jazz club. Seven years later Ward resold the property to Bill Frank who reopened Place Pigalle as a fine dining restaurant using only fresh food from Pike Place Market vendors. In 2007 Frank retired, turning the reigns over to Lluvia Walker who has kept the doors open to a new generation of clientele.

Place Pigalle in Paris, France is located in the 9th arrondissement next to the Pigalle metro stop on Boulevard de Clichy.

Place Pigalle is located in Pike Place Market at 81 Pike St, Seattle, Washington 98101, USA, Tel: (206) 624-1756.

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