Bal Tabarin, New York 1950s
French brothers Jean ‘Johnny,’ Laurent and Armand Hourcle operated the Bal Tabarin nightclub in New York City in the 1940s. Located at 225 West 46th Street, there were nightly floor shows featuring Can Can girls – female dancers performing high kicks and moving their skirts around their legs to show off their undergarments. Music was provided by not one but two orchestras. Dinner was served till late, and the minimum spend per head was $6 in what was billed as the city’s only French nightclub.
There were several Bal Tabarin nightclubs across the US during this era. Bal Tabarin is the French phrase for a Fool’s Ball - the name signaled reckless revelry. These outposts were tributes to the mythical original Bal Tabarin music hall in Paris in the city’s 9th arrondissement that featured stars like Josephine Baker (1906 -1975), one of the first African American entertainers to achieve acclaim on stage and in the movies.
As an expatriate vaudevillian in Paris, Baker performed for integrated audiences of American and French troops and worked for the French Resistance during WWII, receiving the Croix de Guerre for her efforts.
The cabaret at the Bal Tabarin in midtown Manhattan looks like it was a lot of fun and advertised itself as a bit of ‘Gay Paris in New York.’ The artwork on this menu cover mentions Phil May (1864-1903), a British cartoonist who helped create the modern, humorous cartoonist. Below is the signature – Pen pression -so we this must have been a tribute to May’s work. It closed in the 1950s thanks, some say, to the advent of television.
Courtesy Jeff Rosenberg Collection.
Each order includes a print of the interior menu.
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