Au Lapin Agile

by Wendy VanHatten

Walking toward a museum in the Montmartre neighborhood of Paris, we noticed what we thought was a small restaurant. It was right across the street from Clos Montmartre, the vineyard nestled on the hills below the museum.

With the name Au Lapin Agile on the sign, we laughed at the translation. The agile rabbit…cute name.

Continuing on to the Museum of Montmartre, we noticed a painting by Andre Gill, named Au Lapin Agile. Same painting as the restaurant. Okay, time to learn more about this rabbit.

What we thought was a small restaurant is actually Paris’ oldest bar-cabaret and a Montmartre landmark. It’s been here since 1860. When it opened, its name was Au Rendez Vous des Voleurs, or at the rendez-vous of thieves. Apparently, Montmartre was not the best neighborhood at that time. Thieves would have been present.

Then, 20 years later, the name changed to the Cabaret des Assassins. Stories exist as to why the name changed. One says the owner’s son was murdered by a violent gang.

Another name change happened in 1875, as the artist Andre Gill painted a sign featuring a rabbit with a top hat jumping out of a large pan holding a bottle of wine. Supposedly, the painting was commissioned on the request of Madame Sals, the lady and cook of the house. Guess what she was known for?

Her rabbit stews.

The sign was displayed and the residents called the cabaret Gills Rabbit or Le Lapin a Gill in French. This name changed into The Nimble Rabbit. He is, after all, gracefully jumping out of the pan holding the bottle of wine. No spilling or dropping the wine.

And, not landing in a pan of stew. Quite the play on words and on the painting.

Artists came here to discuss their works, debate the meaning of art, soak up the latest vibes, and gain inspiration for their own craft. Picasso, Modigliani, Van Gogh, Utrillo, and others frequented the cabaret.

Famous paintings lined the walls at one time. Some have been moved to art museums around the world. Still others remain.

As for the cabaret, don’t expect a residential version of Moulin Rouge. It’s not that type of cabaret. No tourist entertainment, no can-cans, no scantily clad beautiful women in feathers and diamonds, and no expensive, moderate champagne. This is a small, village house. Not a lot of room inside.

If you like folk music, poetry, and an authentic representation of vintage Montmartre life, this would be the place for you. It’s low key, genuine, full of history, and definitely retro. It’s truly an artistic cabaret.

If You Go: Au Lapin Agile is located at 22 rue des Saules, Paris. Hours are 9 PM to 1 AM, every day except Monday. They do serve Ruinart Champagne.