Paris, France — a city visited by millions of tourists annually. Most come to visit the city’s enormous art museums, gawk at the Eiffel Tower, don trendy berets and snack on tasty crepes. Yet for those interested in a more provocative, more erotic experience in this breathtakingly romantic city, Au Bonheur du Jour (French for “Afternoon Delight,”) located minutes away from the Musee du Louvre, is a unique gallery space that displays an impressive collection of erotic photographs, books and paintings, as well as antique sex toys for your viewing and purchasing pleasure.
Owned and operated by Nicole Canet, a fifty-something former cabaret dancer, this unique gallery is located opposite the site of Le Chabanais, a luxurious brothel, where patrons such as artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Prince Edward VII of England (son of Queen Victoria) often visited to bathe in champagne and fuck young whores. The prince even had his own room there, complete with a fancy chair (which he called his “love seat”) for having threesomes with sexy Parisian prostitutes. Le Chabanais closed in 1946, when prostitution became illegal.
For Canet, who discovered the gallery space across from Le Chabanais “by chance,” selling and exhibiting vintage erotica showcases a fascinating historical aspect of Paris that less tourists will find familiar.
“The Chabanais was practically a national monument,” Canet said. “It was listed as a site to see by travel agencies.”
Some other outrageously sexual establishments during the belle époque included the One-Two-Two, a less exclusive brothel that catered to celebrities and soldiers alike and featured 22 themed rooms, including a pirate room (featuring a mechanical boat swing and water jets), and La Beouf a La Ficele, which boasted nude waitresses in high heels.
A Belle Époque man could always tell a brothel by the number on the plates above the door — a more colorful and elaborately decorated number plate meant pleasure was available just a few steps away.
One of Au Bonheur du Jour’s past exhibitions featured displays of brothel décor, including fascinating insights into some of the Disney-themed rooms, as well as a wooden box with fitted lenses used by men to view photographs of the women available for sex. Another explored the lesser-known practice of male prostitution in Paris.
Some former brothels are now full service hotels — the walls of the Hotel Amour in Paris’ red-light district are still decorated with images of erotica and pages from romance novels, while Hotel Rotary features boudoir style beds.
Next time you visit Paris, bask in the sexual establishments of the belle époque. Stay at a brothel, enjoy Madama Canet’s unique collection of novelty items, and while you’re at it, pay a visit to the Musee L’e’rotisme, a lesser-known museum dedicated to sexually themed folk art.