Sunday, April 8, 2012

Go to Hell and Eat Merde at the Café l'Enfer

The above is a photo ca. 1895 of the Cabaret (or Café) l'Enfer -- the Hell Cabaret. It existed in Paris around the turn of the century. It was basically a high-end themed restaurant, along similar lines to the Rainforest Cafes or weird crap one sees in New York today. A visitor described the experience:

We passed through a large, hideous, fanged, open mouth in an enormous face from which shone eyes of blazing crimson. Curiously enough, it adjoined heaven [Heaven Cabaret was located right next door] whose cool blue lights contrasted strikingly with the fierce ruddiness of hell. Red-hot bars and gratings through which flaming coals gleamed appeared in the walls within the red mouth. A placard announced that should the temperature of this inferno make one thirsty, innumerable bocks might be had at sixty-five centimes each. A little red imp guarded the throat of the monster into whose mouth we had walked; he was cutting extraordinary capers, and made a great show of stirring the fires. The red imp opened the imitation heavy metal door for our passage to the interior, crying, "Ah, ah, ah! still they come! Oh, how they will roast!"

[...]

"Enter and be damned, the Evil One awaits you!" growled a chorus of rough voices as we hesitated before the scene confronting us. Near us was suspended a caldron over a fire, and hopping within it were half a dozen devil musicians, male and female, playing a selection from "Faust" on stringed instruments, while red imps stood by, prodding with red-hot irons those who lagged in their performance.

Crevices in the walls of this room ran with streams of molten gold and silver, and here and there were caverns lit up by smouldering fires from which thick smoke issued, and vapors emitting the odors of a volcano. Flames would suddenly burst from clefts in the rocks, and thunder rolled through the caverns. Red imps were everywhere, darting about noiselessly, some carrying beverages for the thirsty lost souls, others stirring the fires or turning somersaults. Everything was in a high state of motion.

Numerous red tables stood against the fiery walls; at these sat the visitors. Mr. Thompkins seated himself at one of them. Instantly it became aglow with a mysterious light, which kept flaring up and disappearing in an erratic fashion; flames darted from the walls, fires crackled and roared. One of the imps came to take our order; it was for three coffees, black, with cognac; and this is how he shrieked the order: "Three seething bumpers of molten sins, with a dash of brimstone intensifier!" Then, when he had brought it, "This will season your intestines, and render them invulnerable, for a time at least, to the tortures of the melted iron that will be soon poured down your throats." The glasses glowed with a phosphorescent light. "Three francs seventy-five, please, not counting me. Make it four francs. Thank you well. Remember that though hell is hot, there are cold drinks if you want them."

Presently Satan himself strode into the cavern, gorgeous in his imperial robe of red, decked with blazing jewels, and brandishing a sword from which fire flashed. His black moustaches were waxed into sharp points, and turned rakishly upward above lips upon which a sneering grin appeared. Thus he leered at the new arrivals in his domain. His appearance lent new zest to the activity of the imps and musicians, and all cowered under his glance. Suddenly he burst into a shrieking laugh that gave one a creepy feeling. It rattled through the cavern with a startling effect as he strode up and down. It was a triumphant, cruel, merciless laugh. All at once he paused in front of a demure young Parisienne seated at a table with her escort, and, eying her keenly, broke into this speech: "Ah, you! Why do you tremble? How many men have you sent hither to damnation with those beautiful eyes, those rosy, tempting lips? Ah, for all that, you have found a sufficient hell on earth. But you," he added, turning fiercely upon her escort, "you will have the finest, the most exquisite tortures that await the damned. For what? For being a fool. It is folly more than crime that hell punishes, for crime is a disease and folly a sin. You fool! For thus hanging upon the witching glance and oily words of a woman you have filled all hell with fuel for your roasting. You will suffer such tortures as only the fool invites, such tortures only as are adequate to punish folly. Prepare for the inconceivable, the unimaginable, the things that even the king of hell dare not mention lest the whole structure of damnation totter and crumble to dust."

[...]

Then, suddenly turning and sweeping the room with a gesture, he commanded, "To the hot room, all of you!" while he swung his sword, from which flashes of lightning trailed and thunder rumbled.

We were led to the end of a passage, where a red-hot iron door barred further progress. "Oh, oh, within there!" roared Satan. "Open the portal of the hot chamber, that these fresh arrivals may be introduced to the real temperature of hell!" After numerous signals and mysterious passes the door swung open, and we entered. It was not so very hot after all. The chamber resembled the other, except that a small stage occupied one end. A large green snake crawled out upon this, and suddenly it was transformed into a red devil with exceedingly long, thin legs, encased in tights that were ripped in places. He gave some wonderful contortion feats. A poor little white Pierrot came on and assisted the red devil in black art performances. By this time we discovered that in spite of the half-molten condition of the rock-walls, the room was disagreeably chilly. And that ended our experience in hell.

Read the full account of Café Hell, and about the Café Heaven, at Voyages Extraordinaires.
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I should also add: I ruined a $1,000 laptop just to write this post for you guys! Yes, while trying to find info and pictures of the famous Hell Cabaret, I went to a website which installed a virus in my MacBook. It took multiple trips to the Genius Bar to get my computer functioning normally again. Thus battered, we emerge from Hell.

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