Le Chat Noir (French for “The Black Cat”) was a nineteenth-century entertainment establishment, in the bohemian Montmartre district of Paris.

It opened on 18 November 1881 at 84 Boulevard de Rochechouart by the impresario Rodolphe Salis, and closed in 1897 not long after Salis’ death (much to the disappointment of Picasso and others who looked for it when they came to Paris for the Exposition in 1900).

Le Chat Noir is thought to be the first modern cabaret: a nightclub where the patrons sat at tables and drank alcoholic beverages while being entertained by a variety show on stage. The acts were introduced by a master of ceremonies who interacted with well-known patrons at the tables. Its imitators have included cabarets from St. Petersburg (Stray Dog Café) to Barcelona (Els Quatre Gats).

In its heyday it was a bustling nightclub that was part artist salon, part rowdy music hall. The cabaret published its own humorous journal Le Chat Noir until 1895.

This iconic poster by Théophile Steinlen poster art, is advertising an upcoming tour of Le Chat Noir’s troupe of entertainers,

T. Steinlein, a noveau artist, created this poster in 1896 for a cabaret known as Le Chat Noir, or The Black Cat. 

Steinlein was known for his lithographs and illustrations, and often depicted cats in his art, as he had a fondness for them. This advertisement is perhaps his most famous work, and I consider it one of my favorite design pieces of all time. It is a classic example of Noveau works, and I own a copy of the poster, it and its history are deeply fascinating to me.

As for the cabaret, Le Chat Noir was groundbreaking in its own right, as the first example of a modern cabaret, opening in 1881. It closed in 1897, which was a great disappointment to the many artists (including Picasso) who saw Steinlein’s work and wanted to check it out. It enjoyed many famous patrons, was the premier locale for the arts scene, and was the birthplace of many Ombres françaises (shadow plays), the inspiration for the phantasmagorias that were soon to become popular across Europe.

Another group that found patronage in Le Chat were the Incoherents. They were a radical, if short lived art movement that were the precursors to the avant-garde and anti art movements. Their work featured things such as “found” art objects, including the currently trending art of found poetry, as well as children’s drawings and surreal photographs.