There are those who claim that Paris has lost its edge; the taste for boundary-breaking excess that inspired bohemians and intellectuals in the 1960s and beyond.
But the French capital is in fact in constant flux, adapting to the desires of visitors and locals seeking something more titillating than the traditional bar-and-nightclub fare.
A tour by AFP of underground nightspots sought to uncover some of Paris’ more unusual attractions — from an S&M club to a masked ball announced at the last minute — and found the city’s legendary elan intact.
– Night of the demons –
Once a year, the “Nuit Demonia” brings together fans of spanking, tantalising female toes and sadomasochism.
To enter this annual fete for fetishes you must wear leather or latex from the waist down. What you wear up top is your business: a sign near the cloakroom proudly proclaims that “nudity is tolerated”.
Voyeurs, role-players, those who like whipping or being whipped — all are welcomed here to enjoy “unfettered play” in three large caverns under the historic Alexander III bridge that spans the Seine in the heart of Paris.
For those who seek more privacy, the venue also offers more intimate nooks and crannies.
Some party-goers arrive with suitcases, lugging around any number of outfits and sex gadgets, from riding crops to implements to be used on those aroused by pain.
The audience is young, a mix of gay and straight. And their goal is clear — to have sex, lots of it, and live out their erotic fantasies among non-judgemental peers.
There are high-cut shorts, bawdy bustiers, leather thongs and garter belts aplenty. Some wear masks, either because they want to remain anonymous or to arouse the curiosity of others. Others sport muzzles or dog collars.
In one corner, there is a “massage” area where women are invited to lie face down on a table while a female companion tends to them with a vibrator.
And dotted all about are exhibitionist couples locked in embrace. Some cast them a fleeting glance. Others stop. And stare.
– Animal instincts –
If S&M is not your thing, there is always the zoo.
Those looking for an equally unusual but less risque night out can head to the Vincennes zoo in eastern Paris to commune with the hippos and zebras at nightfall before converging on an central gathering point to dance the night away.
Out of courtesy to the wildlife, this is a silent disco, with music from different DJs pumped through headphones.
– Paint the town red –
At a hotel in central Paris undergoing renovations, guests arrive for an evening of drinking, dancing and graffiti artistry.
Armed with cans of spray paint they apply a colourful undercoat to the walls and ceiling of a penthouse suite overlooking the Paris Opera that will soon get a complete makeover.
– Warehouse boogie –
In a rundown part of the northern suburb of Aubervilliers, an abandoned warehouse accessible via a patch of wasteland strewn with construction rubble hosts an unauthorised rave.
The word goes round on social media.
At the entrance, guests can pick up packs of condoms, eyedrops (for marijuana smokers) and earplugs.
No-one here is over 30. Many on the dance floor inhale laughing gas from inflated balloons for a quick, cheap high.
– Mad Max masquerade –
If you’re in the market for something more sophisticated, such as a masked ball in a secret location, you will have to get in with the “it” crowd.
Guests receive the address — on this occasion, a private residence in the Vincennes park, east of Paris — a mere hour in advance.
The 60-euro ($66) entrance fee sets the tone — these soirees are for slightly older, wealthier party people, who come dressed as members of various tribes, whether Vikings, Mad Max gang members or monks with naughty nuns for “sisters”.
Fluorescent body painting, playful “light torture” chambers and make-believe glory holes where the inserted hand gets tickled with a feather all help to keep the guests entertained.