Friend of IT Alyssa Abkowitz is just back from a jaunt to Paris, where she uncovered a bar perfect for those who want a little bit of creepy with their jazz.
On a recent rainy Tuesday evening after a bike ride around the city, my Parisian friend Anne-Sophie took me to a pub tucked away on a narrow street in Paris’ Latin Quarter. Called La Guillotine, the bar looks like a typical hangout for Parisian “bobos” (someone who is a mix of bohemian and bourgeoisie), ex-pats and Sorbonne students. Below the dimly lit bar lies a marvelous little room called Le Caveau des Oubliettes. Steep stone stairs lead into the cave filled with small wooden tables. Here on most nights, beginning around 10 p.m., an unannounced mix of jazz and blues groups seduce an eclectic crowd in a room that once housed the forgotten.
In medieval times, Le Caveau des Oubliettes, which translates to “the cave of the forgotten,” held prisoners awaiting the guillotine. The tight door and thick stone walls masked the prisoners’ wails and howls. Iron handcuffs on the walls, chains along the staircase, and a barred window remind listeners of the room’s past and give the intimate club an uniquely eerie feel.
The other part, of course, is the size. With less than a dozen tables, many newcomers don’t know to show up at least 30 minutes before show begins. That’s because once the door from La Guillotine upstairs is open, there’s a mad dash downstairs to snag a place to sit and sip cocktails while swaying to the music. There’s no cover charge, though most people order a drink out of courtesy in lieu of the free entrance.
Here’s the best part: the cave is smoke-free. In February, France instituted a smoking ban inside most public places, including restaurants and bars. In the past, Anne-Sophie says the smoke would be so thick in Le Caveau that it would be hard to see the musicians just a few feet in front of you.
While some critics have argued that the smoking ban has changed the feel of café society in Paris, the crowd in Le Caveau doesn’t seem to care. Wine and beer flow as people dance to the soulful music of a jazz trio that that night, was comprised of a Parisian, an Italian and a singer from Chicago. The pelting of the rain outside can’t be heard in the cave of the forgotten tonight.
La Guillotine Pub and Le Caveau des Oubliettes are located at 52 Rue Galande.
Photos: Alyssa Abkowitz