November 9, 1923
From M. Jean Cocteau
Concerning Le Boeuf Sur le Toit
Mmes. et MM.,
You are fortunate enough, I am sure, to have heard of the cabaret Le Boeuf Sur le Toit. This vibrant nightclub, a milieu of artists, musicians, and writers, pulses with the dance rhythms of jazz and the energetic gaiety of a new era. For Parisian nightlife, no bar is more vogue1 than The Ox on the Roof (for our Anglophone readers). As John McMullin said in an article of Vogue magazine earlier this year, “At the ‘Boeuf sur le Toit’, the presence and brilliance of well-known people, the deafening music of the negro ‘jazz’ band, and the smallness of the crowded rooms makes the atmosphere unique, even in Paris”2. The French public certainly needs a haven for the creative and inspired; this cabaret provides an outlet for release of the anguish and turmoil experienced in the past decade, and a beacon of hope for the impassioned generation seeking solace from post-war trauma3.
The War has left us with tragedy and great loss, no doubt. How are we to move on if we are weighed down with such devastating grief? We must charge ahead into the future with renewed vigor and determination, we must leave behind that which is lost, we must enjoy life to the fullest while we are able. Don your finest gowns, most fabulous suits4, and join us for a night you will not forget at the most exciting cabaret of our time: Le Boeuf Sur le Toit.
The fine composers of Les Six have worked with me to create a nightclub5 unrivaled by any seen in Parisian nightlife of today. “Le Gaya” on the rue Duphot was simply far too small and crowded to accommodate all those who wish to be part of this creative atmosphere, so we moved the club to 28 rue Boissy d’Anglas and renamed it after Milhaud’s tango-inspired ballet6. Now it is a locale for all the major artistic personalities of our time, including writers, composers, painters, dancers: André Gide, Francis Picaba, any of Les Six (depending on the night), Stravinsky, Satie, Diaghilev7, Picasso8, to name a few.
If you wish to escape from the gravity of the post-war reality, Le Boeuf Sur le Toit is surely your greatest opportunity for solace. This cabaret is truly a “nothing-doing bar … Nothing happens, or what does happen is so crude, so ridiculous, that it is as though nothing happens”9. Here one can chat about the most mundane topics with the most impressive writers France has to offer, dance unabashedly with those elegant professionals seen at the most recent ballet, lose all track of time while listening to the rhythmic pulse of jazz10. The music of Jean Wiéner and Clément Doucet is particularly delightful; they play the “purest, most authentic jazz with a bare minimum of instruments”11.
I urge you to stop by Le Boeuf Sur le Toit and experience its light-hearted and carefree atmosphere. In a time of grief and memories of all lost in the war, this cabaret is a necessary outlet for enjoying life’s visceral pleasures: fine clothing, enchanting company, and playful, energetic music.
1. Gendron, Bernard. Between Montmartre and the Mudd Club: Popular Music and the Avant-garde. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002. 98.
2. McMullin, John. 1923. “Features: Paris and London when Night-Life is in Flower.” Vogue, Jun 15. 37.
3. Dregni, Michael. Django: The Life and Music of a Gypsy Legend. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. 39. “World War I had left France with a wounded soul. After staring into the eyes of Armageddon, the established order of life and beliefs were shaken: almost two million French soldiers were dead, four million wounded, and vast portions of the country devastated. Facing the future now meant forgetting the past.”
4. McMullin. 37. “A woman in an evening gown, a big hat, and an equally big beaded bag … A man in a topper, with a flower in his buttonhole and a conspicuous display of white shirt-front”
5. Jackson, Jeffrey H. Making Jazz French: Music and Modern Life in Interwar Paris. Durham: Duke University Press, 2003. 118.
7. Chaney, Lisa. Coco Chanel: An Intimate Life. New York: Viking, 2011. Chapter 19 (page numbers not given.)