Years before Montmartre’s cabarets artistiques took Europe by storm, the Cabaret Paul Niquet thrived as a Right-Bank tavern popular among Paris’s laborers, vendors, and criminals during the early nineteenth century. It became notorious not only for its clientele, but also for its vivid representations in travel literature, fiction, popular song, and vaudeville. Even after its demolition by Baron Haussmann during the Second Empire, the cabaret remained a fixation among Paris’s musical and literary class. The interest in this lowly tavern reveals a sustained middle-class preoccupation with the spatial and sonic practices of the most destitute of Parisian citizens. Yet this preoccupation was not merely a condescending fascination with the poor. Niquet’s cabaret serves as a lens through which to examine social and sensory changes brought on by urbanization. Bringing urban geography into conversation with the historiography of French theater, this article contends that the city’s proletarian leisure spaces offered a relational form of sociability that was at odds with the spectacular aesthetic of Haussmannization. The sounds emanating from Niquet’s cabaret, from clanging glasses to spontaneous songs, defined the cabaret institution spatially: not merely in acoustic terms, but also as a democratized site of leisure for workers and literati alike.

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