Jack Cullen

Paris: Tropic Cafe, Banana Cafe, Le Feeling, Le FreeDJ, Open Cafe, L'Impact...

Confessions of a Gay Road Tripper Pt 1

samedi le 17 juillet

I’ve never been the sex club type, more one for dancing to The Saturdays, but on the first night of my road trip across Europe I’ve somehow lost my clothes and I’m underground somewhere with two strangers – Louis and Mathieu.

I got an A* for GCSE French, but ordering a prawn salad isn’t going to help me now. “What did he say?” I whisper to Jason who is American and whose French is more subject specific than mine. “He said ‘Is that one finger or two?’”

The cave is lantern-lit and connected to other caves where men are bent over barrels or leaning holding onto to stalactites. How did I get here?

The short answer is: Paris has a dreadful gay scene.

For a capital city, it’s embarrassing. Chernobyl has more to offer. Never again will I moan about the sameness of Soho or the commercial overload of G-A-Y. Here’s an honest lowdown on gay Paris for you:

Tropic Café (66 Rue des Lombards) is one of their premier venues. It’s shit. The crowd looks like a Tom Ford lookalike contest and because everyone is seated and served at their table the social interaction is on a par with a hospital canteen.

Banana Café (13 Rue de la Ferronnerie) is another gay venue, just around the corner. Despite the effort they’ve put in with the huge neon banana, we can see it’s empty from outside and the chimp on the door still wants €10 for the privilege for touring this vacated space.

Le Feeling (43 Rue Sainte-de-la-Bretonnerie) looks like a Wham! video. In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s George Michael sitting alone at the bar checking his Grindr. A man in leather trousers and a stained flowery shirt staggers towards the entrance in time to the Gloria Estefan remix and leans against a fire hydrant, “B’soir Messieurs”. With a lot of Martini, I could warm to this place, but tonight it’s a definite no.

Le FreeDJ (Rue Sainte-de-la-Bretonnerie) is actually one of the better venues. Some of the men have hair and the music if definitely from the charts or thereabouts. Inside we spy a couple of largish Yorkshire bankers telling two wide-eyed French boys about the North of England’s fashion scene, “’’Arvey Nicholls, ‘Ugo Boss, the lot.”

Open Café (17 Rue des Archives) offers, according to a French gay magazine, “les soirées exceptionnelles” where “On mate le passage des beaux garcons.” This translates as “Exceptional nights, where one can watch the pretty boys passing by” and so is accurate in that there is certainly nothing pretty inside. A double gin and tonic costs €16.50.

So far, so shit. And then we hear about a place called L’Impact Bar. A place that is open until 6, a place where apparently they don’t let you in if you’re too old or unattractive. The only scary part is, everyone is naked. Dare I go? I stare at a shop window full of naked mannequins and make my decision.

The exterior of L’Impact is an unassuming black door with a bell which I press. A man of about 20 opens the door and looks me up and down, he asks if I’ve had a lot to drink, “not enough” I reply quickly and he opens the door. Inside I pay €15 and he gives me a bin bag, indicating another door for me to walk through. Usually I’d think that expensive, but my first thought is “Wow. This whole experience costs less than a double gin and tonic in that lurid Open Café.”

L’Impact has a friendly atmosphere, there are no perverts and I’m relieved to finally see some attractive men. Slim Parisians lean about smoking, chatting and joking. Everyone is naked except for their trainers. The bin bag is for your clothes and they store it behind the bar. Drinks are put on a tab according to your wristband. Downstairs I meet Louis and Mathieu.

dimanche le 18 juillet

I’m still hungover when I wake up in my hotel room and so, after considering a spot of window shopping outside Dior, decide to drive to some well known cruising woods in the south-west suburbs of Paris, Bois De Verrieres (just off the A86). French cruising is glorious compared to Britain, mainly because of the weather. Although there are a few off-putting men and one or two prostitutes to be avoided, I enjoy a leisurely stroll in the sunshine, past derelict outhouses, graffiti covered shelters, forestry and pastures of wild flowers. I find myself a nice patch of grass and tan myself in the sun for a few hours. Ah, la vie en rose.

As I sit on a tree trunk, folding my shorts, chatting to a new friend Jean-Baptiste, the empty streets of gay Paris and my caving adventure with Louis and Mathieu already seem like a distant dream.

The official website for L’Impact Bar

Jack is currently in Toulouse, and will be writing Part II on Bordeaux’s secret nudist beach, the dark side of Toulouse and one or two motorway lay-bys inbetween. Check back soon!

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