For anyone visiting Paris, a visit to the Centre Gai et Lesbien is essential. Located at 3, rue Keller in the 11e arrondissement, not far from the Bastille métro station, the CGL offers a friendly welcome from the volunteer staff. Up-front and in-your-face, it makes no attempt to hide behind anonymity. There are a café, a library, meeting areas, and sometimes art exhibitions. Nearby, in rue Keller, is an SM/Leather gay bar Le Keller.
Non-cruisy, CGL offers a warm welcome to all visitors, whether Frence or foreign. Most of the gay and lesbian groups and businesses launched the Centre and maintain it. It is open from 14:00 to 20:00 Monday to Saturday: but note that Fridays are for women only. On Sundays it hosts Café Positif from 14:00 to 19:00. Facilities for people who are deaf, or require legal advice, or just a friendly ear to listen to are available. These are obviously intended for Parisiens and Parisiennes: but if your 'significant other' has copped off with the local talent, they will listen to your cri de cur and probably direct you to the Marais, Paris's gay district.
This is not a French equivalent of Old Compton Street. Forget tackiness, attitude, and superficiality: the Marais has style, taste, even friendliness; and a lifestyle that leaves the London poseurs looking like inane nonentities. The cafés and restaurants are more expensive than London prices. Like the Castro in San Francisco, the Marais was colonised by gays who then restored it. Its centrepiece, the the Place des Vosges, is one of the most beautiful squares in Paris. You can find rainbow flags in the front window: but only when permitted by the homophobic mayor.
Two other absolute musts are Les Mots à la Bouche at 6, rue de la Bretonnerie, (Métro: Saint-Paul); and Le Piano Zinc in the rue des blancs Manteaux, (Métro: Rambuteau). Les Mots is, roughly, the equivalent of Gay's the Word in London. In addition to French gay literature and porn mags that you won't find in these offshore islands, there is an English language section. It is well laid out, and, as in GTW, the staff are well-informed and friendly; but you will pay more, as VAT is levied on books in France.
Le Piano, on surface level, is a bar. It's the only gay bar in the whole of Paris where lesbians are also welcome. As you go downstairs you reach a level where there is a mini grand piano. Anyone with pretensions to musical skill can play and sing to the accompaniment of the customers, from Piaf to Barbara. The quality of playing and singing is superb. This is not karaoke: it is a friendly gathering of gays enjoying each other's company and their national culture. Share the experience with a French friend, if you can.
Believe me, to visit Paris is to fall in love with it. But remember: queens in Paris tend to lose their heads!
The age of consent, 16, is the same for all, straight and gay.
There is also gay radio, "F6", 98.2.
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